been to a show and seen an Interactive Whiteboard demonstration?
Pretty nifty eh? How much are they then?... What, not including the
projector? You’re kidding?! I can almost buy a plasma screen for
that combined… or two projectors….!
Whiteboards are not without their detractors, we summarize some
of the debate that recently centered around them at ACITT’s
conference, in the NAACEtalk list and the longstanding newsgroup
|Which Whiteboard should you buy
or should you bother buying one at all?
"In the market for a whiteboard guv’?
Step right this way… " <wrings hands in
There is a lot of competition in the whiteboard market at the
moment. Companies are delighted that they have found a new, improved
version of a standard teaching tool. And boy, is the mark up high!
But which one is the best?
You could be forgiven in thinking that Promethean are by far the
market leaders and the best in respect of long term reliability etc.
But is there any evidence of this? Promethean have been in the
market longest in the UK but not worldwide. It doesn't mean that
they are currently selling more product than say Smart or Hitachi.
In fact we very much doubt the sales figures for each manufacturer
are available to make an objective comparison.
As for long term reliability it is probably true that
electromagnetic technologies such as Promethean and Hitachi are more
robust than touch screen technologies such as Smart. Mimio is the
bargain version, a row of sensors (ultrasound IIRC) that can be
attached to any surface. (See our main review
feature for more details—Ed) Some maintain that if you want
true versatility in interactive use, touch screens have limitations
in tracking speed and resolution, but most people we have seen using
whiteboards e.g. with Powerpoint could simply use a data projector
and remote and save the cost of the board.
Promethean are a classy set up but you are talking about £1,650
for the Activboard 60 (bottom of their range) up to £2,495 for the
Activboard plus with serial, infra red and radio.
Then you have to add the projector. Notably Promethean also have
some cool toys to go with their boards, Activslates and
"voting" systems so the pupils can interact with the board
from their desk.
So when spending out such large sums of money, it is worth
questioning the cost-benefit of a whiteboard compared to using the
projector and say a remote and a graphics tablet. A lot of the time
users can get the same functionality from the projector as from the
whiteboard and for the same budget they can buy two projectors for a
|The bare necessities
Consider whether or not the whiteboard is actually
a necessity. If you take out most of the demonstrated
features, You might struggle to think of why it isn't better
to stay out of the projector light and operate from say a
wireless keyboard and a graphics tablet. You can draw diagrams
with the graphics tablet that will come up on the screen and
since your hand isn't in the way everyone will be able to see
it as it happens. If you save the cost of the board you can
get facilities in two classrooms instead of one.
Suppose you just went for projectors. Just about any entry
level projector at 800-1000 Ansi lumens is bright enough for a
lit room. Virtually no projectors are bright enough when
direct sunlight falls on the projection surface. The best
solution in a room with bright sunlight is to buy a curtain,
not a very expensive projector. For general purpose classroom
use, if you are paying more than £2000 for a projector you
should think again.
Also, if you choose a permanent set up for your projector +
board you will probably want a ceiling mount. Ceiling mounts
can be made for any projector but it means that the room then
dictates use. If you wanted to use your projector in a more
versatile way in different rooms, you could save money on
mountings but you would then need to somehow
"manage" the projector. You will need to decide
whether the whiteboard is fixed or on a wheeled floor stand so
in essence there could be a choice between the cost of the
ceiling mount installation and a wheeled floor stand for the
In reality some people just end up showing
Powerpoint presentations that they could do with just the projector
and the remote. There needs to be some critical assessment in what
requires the projector and what it is that the board itself adds.
Personally we love the new generation of whiteboards but its rather
sad to see a lot of expensive equipment under-utilised because the
skill level of the operators is insufficient to exploit the
The projector remains the foremost important component, however
whiteboards do add something if you are prepared to practice a bit.
Like a lot of technology, the users need the right training and
guidance to see how to use and get the best out of it. If you ever
have the privilege to see an experienced Whiteboard practitioner
combine Whiteboard, flipchart, web-browsing, etc. into one coherent
whole then you might be in more of a dilemma about swapping the
board for the second projector.
The Teacher’s Toy?
Are we just being seduced by novelty again? It’s a thrill to
touch the board and have it respond like a mouse. It’s magical,
impressive... “stand back and give me room everyone…”
But are they actually any good for teaching in class? Well for
teaching ICT applications they are simply excellent. We particularly
like the ability to stand in front of the class and demonstrate
directly onto the board using touch. The ability to capture and
print out all of your lecture notes is so very useful. It’s
invaluable to have the ability to capture your spontaneous
scribblings! However we would go further and say that for teaching
any subject they are excellent! The feedback
from students has been more than favourable. Predictably the
students also like using the boards to give their own presentations.
On the other hand there is an interesting recent evaluation of
the use of boards at http://www.mirandanet.ac.uk/pubs/smartboard.htm.
This showed that Staff and 78% of students reported improvements in
motivation. All staff thought the Whiteboard
was effective in terms of learning gains but only 11% thought it was
essential for their learning outcome to be achieved.
An advantage of not using the whiteboard as the method of input
is the teacher not getting in the way of the image and being able to
see whole screen at once. There is also no feature of an interactive
whiteboard that can’t really be duplicated by other means. That
might be tough on interactive whiteboard manufacturers but it is
learning that matters.
||Without a board you could also
make the projected image bigger than the current board
limitations while working directly on a smaller more
manageable version. You could
teach from the side or the back of the room just using a laptop.
But having experienced both approaches, we do
prefer standing in a traditional manner by the board to teach.
It feels much more natural and the audience focus is on you and
the board at the same time. It’s a shame that this seemingly
small gain in convenience is so expensive.
One problem with sitting to the side and tapping away on your
own screen is of detaching yourself from
the presentation. Children listen to your commentary but look at
the board. This could encourage bad teachers to become even more
remote in terms of communicating with a class. Lessons where the
whiteboard is actually used in this way are invariably dull
(aside from a total waste of the board) and the teacher is often
more in tune with their laptop than with the children.
A potential snag with whiteboards is a lack of ready made
resources specifically targeted on using whole class teaching
other than things like graphics and clips that then need
organising into lessons.
Creating such things is time consuming. It’s interesting
that you don't see many people using the old OHPs as they ought
to be either. Why? because it takes time and effort to learn to
work with them properly and ages to prepare good overlays etc.
But if that is the comparison, it’s much quicker to produce
professional looking displays using the computer, and increasingly
in Primary, teachers are creating interactive displays through clip
art simply grabbed from the internet.
In one such class, the teacher created a maths lesson on money in 15
minutes by searching for clip art on RM’s Pathways, copying and
pasting it into the whiteboard screen, and duplicating the coins to
create a pile of change. Then in the lesson they drew a circle on
the board and asked the children to come and drag a given amount of
money into it.
Few seem to have considered the value of the collaborative way of
working with the boards by having a small group discussing and
dragging objects about in a brainstorming session or working through
a geometry or graphing exercise for example. With suitable software
and the right type of board this could be
highly motivational with the "audience" i.e. the pupils
not at the front, still finding it stimulating despite pupils
getting in the way.
If you had a class of say 6 groups they could each have 5 minutes
at the board producing their linked brainstorm spider-diagram or
mindmap and then at the end the captured maps could be looked
through or printed out and discussed by the class.
Its not just the teacher's toy.
In schools where they have an IW per classroom it would be
interesting to see what uses they are inventing as Interactive Whiteboards
as opposed to a simple projector system, and indeed in the “direct
quotes” section we have some examples. The worst practice has seen
them used as an awfully expensive way of helping teachers not have
to learn the art of presentation whilst facing a class, but the best
has been inspirational.
Do the boards offer anything new?
Most boards offer overlay and annotation. That is really the
heart of what is required. All then offer screen shots, though its
better to use decent drawings that use objects that can be moved
around and they are much smaller in data size. Promethean have a
file management system and a library of useful clip art but similar
things can be gathered inexpensively from other sources as the
Primary example shows.
Hitachi's handwriting recognition is good but is not vital and you
can buy handwriting recognition software if it is needed from third
parties. We know of offers such as systems enabling the use of a
board in the ICT room to show what is on the board on each PC but we
can't really see the point. Why have a board if each child is
looking at it on their own screen? Might as well put the board in
rooms that can't get ICT access any other way.
A lot favouritism is down to perception and experience - or the
lack of it on other boards. Its a bit like people who think Windows
is wonderful mainly because they haven't had significant exposure to
anything else. Its why the best technological education for pupils
encourages criticism and comparison of technologies rather than
training in a specific technology. Otherwise they end up with the
same resistance to change as the adults and as children they are
usually remarkably more flexible.
We see whiteboards in the same vein as digital cameras. A
familiar technology improved upon. Digital cameras have made a huge
impact in schools and are used to death. The same appears to be true
of the whiteboards... What teacher wouldn't want, at the very least,
unlimited board space that can be saved and brought back.
Although you can do most things without a board, and that the
priority must be a projector, if money were not and issue we would
choose to use a whiteboard in our classes over just a projector any
day. They are just so much easier to teach with. In our opinion,
they really can live up to the hype, but the real problem is they
probably don’t justify their current price.
The Mimio is certainly the cheapest option out there but
paradoxically one reason they haven't the same market penetration
could well be that the sales margins are too low to go and give
demonstrations. IWBs are easy to sell with demonstrations as they
are quite spectacular but when it costs on average £200 of a
board's selling price to fund the demos it can't easily be justified
on Mimio technology. Demonstrations of equipment are not free to the
supplier. Usually what canny schools do is to get a company to come
and demo and then go and buy from a “box shifter” via the
Internet. Now the IWBs are more commonly understood there is less
need for demonstrations which is one of the main reasons why prices
Here are some direct quotes from newsgroups at the end of long
discussions about whether whiteboards were really necessary and
whether they simply gave extra life to a stale teaching method that
should be phased out. (-Ed.)Smartboards are expensive whatever the
size; big ones are VERY expensive - so it's hard for schools to
equip all classrooms, and you get some inter-subject discrimination.
Most of what you use them for can be done with other input devices -
it's the projector that's the key. Indeed, Promethean have let the
cat out of the bag by selling a tablet onto which chidren write
directly (they don't need to touch the board...so why
pay for all that touch-sensitivity?).
Smartboards in use may be great in schools where all teachers and
pupils are able-bodied people of uniform height. But using
touch-sensitive surfaces is an expensive and unnecessarily complex
way of getting information into a system, where other input devices
are available. For example, the mouse (which costs rather less). Or
a scanner - allied to the distributed power of a
class of children with pencil crayons very demotic, and produces
seriously excellent work in little time). This also allows more
scope for the mavericks, who find whole-class teaching too hard or
Basically, only one or two people can use the board at one time -
the rest watch and listen, or don't listen, after a while.
Has anyone seen the boards used to do things which could not be
done effectively using other means? I haven't. Moreover, they
perpetuate a 19th century paradigm of education - the
"expert" stands at the front and lets the knowledge out to
More seriously, does anyone know what the effect is of making
learning increasingly rely on visual representations of information?
Ever been bored or patronized on a training day by a colleague's
PowerPoint slideshow (usually characterized by
slick but pointless transition FX)? I have. We shouldn't
be dazzled by the trinkets.
East Riding LEA
I have generally seen electronic whiteboards used as the most
expensive projector screens ever devised. I have even found myself
clicking mouse buttons when using a computer /projector/whiteboard
combination, as it is what I am most used to doing, and ignoring the
£1500 of whiteboard technology. I have seen many others do the
But again, let us acknowledge the powerful, motivating effect of
whole class teaching with a gifted teacher who has mastered the
technology (whatever the technology!). Once one has seen such a
performance with a whiteboard-skilled teacher one has to concede
that it is a valuable addition to the pedagogical armoury.
I have seen some of the most brilliant lessons delivered using
them when, like the OHP before them, the teacher becomes totally
confident and children are allowed to take over.
Promethean board users will insist that the sophisticated sofware
is essential to getting the most out of teaching with the
Smartboard users insist that the ease of use and lack of
sophisticated pens, software etc is key to their success and
adoption by pupils and teachers.
Mimio users state firmly that they can do everything they would
with a whiteboard at a fraction of the cost.
Haven't we heard these type of arguments before between devotees of
PC, Mac and Acorn? Let's not waste time on fruitless factional
debate, and concentrate on analysing the teaching and learning and
the getting the best out of all these large display devices.
A project in Birmingham has installed Promethean Interactive
Whiteboards in 29 nurseries during the past
five months. The boards have been installed at working height for
the children. The children are using the whiteboards to access
activities and by children and adults working together in group
The initial feedback from schools involved in the project
suggests that the boards are having a profound effect in a number of
ways. Firstly, children who were not freely choosing to use
computers are joining in with activities on the Whiteboards. They
are able to explore the activity without focusing on using the
mouse. Once they are familiar with the activity and are excited by
it they are transferring their knowledge to interact
with the same activities on a computer. This means that the children
are focused on the activity, not on controlling a mouse.
Staff have noted that the children using the Interactive
Whiteboards are communicating more with their peers during an
activity. At a computer one or two children
can work together, often using "turn taking" language.
With an Interactive Whiteboard, groups of children are working
together collaboratively. They are sharing the task and discussing
what they can see on the screen, what happens next, what they have
to do and often relating this back to their own life/experiences.
ICT Consultant for Early Years
But is this a technology
too far? Is it a lick and a promise that will not deliver? No!
...and emphatically so in my opinion. It is a current technology
that is still being developed and one that allows pupils to
interact and to be involved in teaching as well as
learning. It is a device that allows independent learning and small
groupwork and it allows teachers to begin to develop a new
“I think that the extended use of the whiteboard is a
reflection of ICT Capability of the school (or institution) and / or
I can only respond from my experience with observing the DfES' Y7
maths project (MathsAlive) this year. Up to then I had been rather
sceptical about what I had seen demonstrated.. The project has had
20 Year 7 maths classes and their teachers working on a regular
basis with whiteboards (Smartboards) for whole class activities
involving the interaction of teachers and students.
The students are still fairly fresh from primary schools and very
much like to participate actively in lessons. The teachers are
volunteers who are taking on a whole load of new ideas, not just the
use of the technology, but also in classroom organisation, planning
and of course in adapting to the KS3 maths framework.
The project's materials include files written in a new version of
RM's Easiteach (adapted for secondary school mathematics) which are
designed for whole class interactive teaching. As teachers, and
students, have become more familiar with this form of
"electronic blackboard" they have started to use it with
their own materials or just as a "bare board"…
As part of the project, all schools have received site licences for
dynamic geometry software (the Geometer's
Sketchpad) and make use of files written in
Sketchpad on the whiteboards for whole class work. Here the analog
nature of the Smartboard has been particularly attractive as
students can come up and drag points around with their fingers -
which they describe as "being in touch with the
mathematics". This approach to geometry in particular has been
Schools have also been given site licences for an integrated
mathematics package combining tools for graphing, data-handling,
symbolic algebra and interacting both with the Internet and
hand-held devices such as graphic calculators and data-loggers (TI
Interactive!). Again the project has been able to trial materials
written in this software intended for whole class work.
A large number of mathematical games and simulations have been
produced for the project (by 3T) and these have also proved very
effective when used in whole-class mode on the whiteboards. The
project has been extensively evaluated (c 80 field visits in 2
terms) and one of the major findings has been the positive effect on
students' attitude to the subject - and the interactions with the
electronic whiteboards have clearly had a major impact. So here at
least is one (very exciting) example of "whiteboards being used
as a child centred learning tool that did anything more than any
Adrian Oldknow (Visiting Research Fellow, School of Education,
A couple of observations - over the last three years or so I have
seen several whiteboard demonstrations at exhibitions, and every
time the material being presented on the board has been pitched at
KS4 or beyond; and yet, as some contributors have noted, some of the
most imaginative uses of the technology have been related to
whole-class teaching in the NLS and NNS at primary level. Could this
have something to do with manufacturers' perceptions about funding
levels, or is it yet another example of that ubiquitous fallacy that
older pupils are more in need of newer technologies?
In my view the IW is a superb vehicle for the
whole-class bits of the NLS and NNS, but the definitive pieces of
generic software for this have yet to be written. Easiteach is a
start, but perhaps RM need to think more carefully about how users
materials for it. The missing bit for literacy is the super-word
processor that allows you to tag all the adverbs, revisit all the
alterations you made to a sentence, etc. etc. (I have a lengthy
wish-list somewhere). Does anyone know if anyone is working on
anything like this?
In a few years, when we've really cracked the large flat screen,
data projectors will look primitive, but I would hope that the
genuinely interactive teaching that IW enables will be flourishing.
Dr Bob Fox, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education & Psychology,
University College Worcester,
I do believe that the one key point to the success of whiteboards
as a teaching medium, however they are
actually used, is that teachers actually PLAN
THEIR WHITEBOARD LESSONS to the last second. Lessons
are carefully structured, well resourced (not the next chapter from
the textbook) and the whiteboard/PowerPoint acts as
an effective lesson management system. I have
had the pleasure of watching a number of IW based lessons
now, a few have had innovative elements, most are just very good
teaching, ably assisted by the technology, but very
thoroughly planned. More power to its elbow I
say, the pupils I've watched have had a very good deal
and have learned what they were supposed to learn.
North East Lincolnshire LEA
In my experience, the electronic whiteboard, or simply a data
projector, can be used very effectively
in conjunction with, for example, presentation software to explain
complex concepts. The teacher can take pupils through a process step
by step, stimulating questions and discussion from them and asking
them to predict consequences and results. The interaction amongst
pupils and between pupils and the teacher facilitated by the steps
shown on screen can result in highly
effective whole class teaching. The step by step
sequencing achieved through, for example, Powerpoint, is
impossible to achieve on an ordinary whiteboard, and far more
difficult to manage on an OHP. The interactivity offered by
the electronic whiteboard means that the teacher is not tied
to the laptop in order to operate it, and that activities can be
devised to involve individuals or groups of pupils. Using a
data projector with or without an electronic whiteboard also means
that many useful items of software, for example, text
manipulation tools, can be used with students without the
need for the teacher to book an ICT suite.
The ICT suite environment is often not ideally suited to teaching
and learning, and in any case the facilities might not be needed for
the whole of the lesson. The use of a data projector allows for
greater flexibility in the use of ICT in the classroom and is
therefore more likely to lend itself to true integration of ICT into
teaching and learning.
The clarity and quality of materials presented to students using
a data projector is far superior to
that of materials written on a blackboard, whiteboard or using an
OHP. The ability to manipulate and change whatever information is
being presented is also far easier.
I don't think the appreciation of electronic whiteboards is a
matter of teachers feeling in control, nor is it an electronic
version of chalk and talk. When used appropriately it promotes the
active involvement of pupils in class discussion and in their own
learning. It is simply the recognition that for
certain situations good whole class teaching is appropriate and that
a data projector / electronic whiteboard is a highly effective way
of delivering it.
I was initially sceptical about the technology. However, my own
experience of using a whiteboard for teacher training has on the
whole been positive. They enable you to be more in touch, literally
and metaphorically, with the content of what you are teaching. (When
using a projector on its own, I sometimes feel like I'm providing a
sort of disembodied voiceover to images on the other side of the
room - sounds and pictures in opposition, rather than complementing
each other - I've noticed that very experienced users of data
projectors, like Jamie Mackenzie who spoke at this year's NAACE
conference, often walk off down the side of the room to
get your attention away from the images, and onto the content of
what they are saying.)
I recently had the privilege of visiting a local authority which is
at the forefront of developing broadband services to its
schools, libraries and community centres. One school we visited
had an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, which we saw being
used right across the primary age range. The most striking feature
of every lesson we saw was the level of interactivity involved,
pupils frequently coming to the board to demonstrate to others - yes
it was still quite teacher-directed, but I think that only becomes a
problem when that becomes the sole method of teaching.
I was aware that some pupils find it difficult to work on the scale
which a whiteboard normally requires - a child reversed the number 5
when working at the same scale as his teacher. When asked to correct
it, he wrote the number again (correctly) on a much smaller scale.
Another child had to keep stepping back from the board to keep track
of his drawing - he may have been slightly long-sighted. I thought
there was a clear need for a feature which would allow the image to
be rescaled at the touch of a button (a simplified version of that
little blue screen resolution icon in my system tray). These
concerns aside, I was really impressed by what I saw. It was also
interesting to note that pupils who were not involved in the
whiteboard activity seemed so familiar with the presence of the
technology that they remained on task and were not distracted by it.
The IT Learning Exchange
University of North London
their usefulness to the teacher.
Nor as they primarily expected to be used as an input device. They
are a teaching aid and believe it or not a great deal of teaching is
still delivered for at least part of the lesson from the front of
the class to a large group of pupils sat following the lesson. As
to something these boards do better using other
means - anyone who has played a video clip, stopped the action with
the tap of a finger, annotated the movie using the pens provided,
snap shot the screen, continue the video clip, stop, annotate and
snap shot some more then used the series of snap shots to remind the
class of the main teaching points at the end of the video
will testify to the great potential of these boards as a teaching
tool. As far as I can see this type of powerful teaching technique
is unique to this technology. There is no need to believe that this
type of teaching will come to dominate
the life of the learner, it simply improves the teacher centred
learning that has traditionally been done via talk and chalk
techniques of the past.
SMART boards are indeed expensive however this fact does not detract
In addition, all the usability and power of a broadband
connected, networked PC is at the teachers back and call at the
flick of a wrist without ever having to loose eye contact with the
class. This without all the distractions of a trip to the ICT room.
Like most new technologies the advantages come when they are
placed in the hands of imaginative and innovative teachers. As more
software specifically written for IWs comes online the greater the
benefits of the boards and the greater the return on the investment.
NGfL Coordinator - North Lincs
“At the end of the day, I would crawl over the dead bodies of
my colleagues to have one permanently in my classroom ;-)
Sorry for the above sentiment but I think they are a wonderful
tool and the kids will go extra miles in the classroom to earn the
chance to use one. Anything that can enthuse the kids so much has
just got to be worth the budget bid.”
“It strikes me that the importance of whiteboards is that they
are one of the first pieces of IT
technology which are "owned" by the teacher as opposed to
the learner - good teachers of course will share
it with their pupils - it is this ownership and place at the heart
of teaching (as opposed to learning) which excites teachers - and
rightly so in my view.”
Hampshire County Inspector for IT
Phew! There’s more… much more… but that’s enough I feel…
For those of you who wish to know more about the boards
themselves, our round up features reviews on four of the leading
brands currently available, all tested in the classroom.
Our sincere thanks goes to all the participants in the various
discussion groups who allowed us to quote them either directly or
indirectly in this summary. (Ed.)