Picture two classrooms, one in Japan and one across the globe in England, each equipped with interactive whiteboards (IWB). An English student gives a talk in Japanese, which is transmitted to the whiteboard in Japan. As the talk progresses, the Japanese students pick the speaker up on his mistakes.

The format is then reversed with English students helping the Japanese kids with their English, all in real time.

If the scenario sounds fanciful, it shouldn’t. A test case set up by Hitachi to show off the potential of their IWB and Twinning software achieved just that, giving a hint at the huge potential that IWB technology possesses once fully rolled out.

Essentially unchanged since forever, IWB manufacturers say that education is being enriched and improved, with interactive whiteboards and peripherals making multimedia available in the classroom.
‘Students are used to being surrounded by technology and interactive whiteboards allow teachers to compete by making learning a rich visual, interactive process,’ says Yolanda Chan, Vice President of Promethean Asia Pacific, which is a leader in the global market in interactive whiteboards.

That’s the idea anyway, and end users, teachers and students at the coalface in Australia, seem to be in agreement, given the wildfire rates of adoption and enthusiastic feedback that IWB suppliers are reporting.

Do they work?
While it is still early days in Australia, research1 conducted by Becta, a UK government agency, last year indicates that students are learning faster and better in classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards.

Becta oversees the procurement of all information and communications technology equipment and e-learning strategies for schools in the UK, where IWB are in the majority of classrooms.

The whiteboards seem to have their most profound effect on maths and science teaching. In maths, average and high attaining boys and girls made the equivalent of an extra 2.5 to 5 months’ progress over the course of two years. There was less effect on progress for boys and girls of low prior attainment. However, in science, low attaining boys made as much as 7.5 months’ additional progress.
Promethean’s Yolanda Chan says that the technology’s success is down to its ability to connect student and teacher.

‘It’s no longer possible to slip through the cracks. Through products like our response system Activote, every student’s response and comprehension of a given task is recorded in the system,’ she says.

What teachers say

St Aloysius College in Adelaide has a total of 14 SMART Board™ interactive whiteboards from Australian distributor Electroboard, five in the primary school where they are used across the curriculum and four in the secondary school, two in science labs and three in classrooms.

Since their installation, teachers using an IWB at the school have seen a rapid improvement in the learning and development of their students. 

  ‘I now cover much more in a lesson or on a particular topic and all my lessons are planned with the Smart Board at the forefront,’ says Kathryn Beilby, a teacher at the school.
Hitachi’s StarBoard product is making a real impression on staff at Melbourne’s selective school
MacRoberston’s Girls High.

Margaret Israel who is an English teacher and the school’s professional learning coordinator says that teachers and students at Mac.Rob are taking to the StarBoards, which have been in many classrooms for just over a year.

‘The decision to install the boards was a consequence of a grant of money being made available. Many teachers have nominated learning how to use interactive whiteboards in the classroom to engage students and to enhance learning outcomes as a focus of projects undertaken for their annual review,’ Mrs Israel says.

She says that the ability to capture notes, which are then emailed out has enthused her students.

‘The word my girls used most often about the boards was ‘cool’. They also liked being able to have notes captured and emailed to them, which freed them up to pay attention during class time.’

‘The teachers use the boards to varying levels, some have become very innovative with them while others use the boards to teach film analysis and to present material on DVDs because the screens are so good.

‘We’re currently working with Soundhouse who are providing us with training in-house,’ Mrs Israel says.

Interactive whiteboards – who has what

Promethean
Promethean CEO Jean Yves Charlier says that Promethean’s strong presence in the IWB market is down to the company’s focus on education.

‘Where we differ is in that Promethean’s system was developed with education as its sole focus, we work closely with teachers in the development of our product and indeed many of our staff are former teachers.’

Promethean sees big things ahead for its business in the Asia Pacific, encouraged by 25 per cent growth last year and projecting a similar result this year, the company has invested heavily in a new manufacturing facility in Shenzen, China.

Promethean’s award-winning product line-up includes the Activboard and the latest Activboard+2, billed as a durable interactive whiteboard technology. They also provide Activstudio, a software platform for secondary teaching and Activprimary, whiteboard software designed specifically for use in primary schools and kindergartens.

Promethean calls its rugged response system Activote and is touting its online resource Promethean Planet where over 130,000 teachers around the world share ideas and lessons.

SMART Board

Electroboard make a fair point when they say that the Smart Board product invented the IWB segment, being first in in the market six years ago and that, says Rob Mayer product manager for Electroboard – sole Australian distributors – means the Smart Board has the jump on its competition.

It begins with Smart Board’s resistive surface and dual layer technology. Simply use your finger to navigate the SMART Board while highlighting and writing notes over any application.

‘The operation has been designed to be as intuitive as possible, the Smart Board’s layout will look familiar to anyone who has used a PC or a Mac and the software’s integration with common applications like Word and PowerPoint make for real efficiencies,’ Rob Mayer says.

Users of Smart Boards can look forward to extensive support from the 35 education consultants Electroboard employs to provide training and support Australia wide.

Now in the process of gaining access to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Cambridge University and NASA, SMART Technologies is very close to being able to offer these resources to its users through a subscription service to be launched mid 2008.

Hitachi

Already present in the Australian market with its StarBoard product, James Burke from Hitachi says that the updated version of its IWB is something to look out for.

Based on Hitachi’s beam technology, the new FX Duo StarBoard product will sport very cool new features like gesture control with the ability to scroll up and down and across and to zoom.

‘The Duo StarBoard is a hard surface board which students can interact with using a pen or a finger or our wand. What’s more, two students can work on different parts of the board at once.

‘The new board will use gesture control, which is very much an advance. With the movement of a hand, elements on the whiteboard can be moved and manipulated, it’s also very, very tough, you could throw a chair at it,’ Mr Burke says.

Hitachi is also set to release a response/feedback system and tablet technology as part of its offering later in the year.

Hitachi promises that the new version of its IWB software – V.8 – is as easy to use as a PC, ‘We’ve found that teachers adapt to the product very quickly and training is available through our local product education partners.’

Delf Systems
Delf Systems International is another player that has seen massive success in its interactive whiteboard business in a very short time; the company has seen 300 per cent growth in the four and a half years it has been selling its TeamBoard product.

‘The interactive whiteboard delivers incredible value to the teacher, we’ve found that their use empowers teachers to engage students and vice versa,’ managing director Andrew Beveridge says.
Delf works closely with teachers in the creation of content for their whiteboards and in the development of new products.

‘Our regular focus groups provide us with a list of requirements, some might say demands, from our users which we do our best to fulfil.’
Delf’s TeamBoard runs the Easiteach software and the product range includes the Quizdom voting system and the IRTouch interactive touch screen system, which can add interactivity to any existing LCD screen.

Content is provided through the BroadLEARN educational software suite, Sunshine content software and Kar2ouche software, which enables storyboards and animations to be created.

Mimio

Peter Goldie from IBS AV who distributes Mimio products in Victoria says that they were chuffed to win preferred supplier status to Victorian government schools.

He says that the Mimio system’s flexibility, portability and low cost won the day, coupled with his company’s teacher training and support.

‘Using Mimio, any whiteboard can be transformed into an interactive whiteboard. It’s easy to move and set up so the resource can be shared. It has proven popular with tertiary institutions and secondary schools because hand written data is easily captured and printed or posted to the web.

‘We have found that clients in the Catholic school sector have been very enthusiastic, going on to recommend the system to their peers,’ Mr Goldie says.

‘Our strength is that for the cost of one of our competitor’s products you would be safe in saying that you could buy three Mimios.’
Mimio is set to release an updated version of its software, Mimio Studio, that will be better able to support embedded video and will further develop its online learning resources for teachers and teachers’ forum.

‘I think that one of the system’s major benefit is its ease of use, if you’re able to use PowerPoint you will be able to use the Mimio,’ Mr Goldie says.

Interwrite

The Interwrite IWB is available in Australia through Kookaburra Educational Resources who say that the product’s global position in the IWB market varies between second and fourth… and that’s because of its flexibility.

‘Currently there are over 1000 schools in Australia using the Interwrite product and we’re seeing a surge in demand for our product here.

‘Every part of the Interwrite system is modular so you can build a system around a specific set of circumstances,’ Garrett Huston from Kookaburra says.
Users of the Interwrite IWB are free to use the software bundled with the board or to use their own software.

‘We don’t push users down a particular path, which is one of our points of difference, they’re free to use the board in any way they see fit, adapting it to their own way of working.’

There are several new product developments of the horizon for Interwrite, the boards will soon feature multiple inputs and multiple displays.

‘We’re working towards the creation of more and more localised content. More lesson plans in line with the Australian curriculum are being developed,’ Mr Huston says.

Downside?

Some teachers have said that using the interactive white boards requires a lot of extra time spent in training and have contested the real need for the technology. It’s a conundrum that faces the manufacturers; releasing a product that has real dynamism while being accessible to users, regardless of their computer literacy.

‘We’ve made sure that our software is as easy to learn as possible, its design closely matches the layout of Windows or Mac operating systems,’ Rob Mayer of Electroboard says.

‘Teachers are seeing the way they work being transformed by using IWB. Because every lesson is planned using the IWB, lessons can be stored and accessed via a network. That means a teacher can build upon existing lessons without rework and have access to the thinking of their peers.
‘That increase in efficiency frees up teachers to put more into their lessons and therefore give more to the student,’

Another criticism is that IWB technology is more of a distraction than an aid to teaching.
‘Smart Board users have found that having strong visual aids help in the comprehension and retention of information.

‘IWB technology can never take the place of good teaching, it was never meant to, but it does have the ability to make a good teacher better,’ he says.

James Burke from Hitachi says that observing the way students react to IWB is revelatory, ‘You’ve only to watch primary school children in front of the whiteboard, they’re utterly transfixed and involved to the extent that the teacher can increasingly take a step back and allow the children to explore a topic on their own via the IWB.’

Reference

1    The DCSF Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion project Becta UK 2007.