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Drawing on technology for new and improved teaching

One in five classrooms in New Zealand now have an interactive whiteboard. What’s in it for the teacher? And where to next for IWBs? Lee Suckling investigates.

An interactive whiteboard – commonly known as an IWB – is “a tool that connects to a computer that can perform everything from traditional whiteboard duties to utilising software to offer differentiated learning experiences,” explained Karen Rolleston of IWB reseller Manzana. Functioning essentially as a giant computer screen and mouse, an IWB is connected to a computer and is independently controllable. “By touching the board – using a finger or a pen – you can control, add to, and record what is projected onto the large interactive display,” she added.

For an IWB screen affixed to an existing whiteboard, solutions start at around $1,000. Mid-range IWBs consisting of a dedicated wall display system, good quality projector and speakers can be installed for between $7,000 to $12,000. At the top end of the range, a rear projection high-definition IWB costs around $20,000.

Increasing student engagement

Incorporating IWB systems into everyday teaching provides the opportunity to increase student engagement in lessons. The main reason schools adopt interactive whiteboard technology is to improve learning outcomes for students, said Murray Thoms of ACTIVboardNZ. Teachers can “use an interactive whiteboard environment to physically move objects around, highlight and underline ideas and draw pictures of what is being learned,” he clarified, noting the ability to add sound, video and images into a lesson to further engross students in the learning experience.

Naturally, IWBs also offer connectivity to the online world. “They can be used for impromptu learning. With access to the Internet there is nothing that a teacher or student cannot find information on,” said Jason Niedermeyer of Sitech Systems.

IWBs can be used to record everything displayed, moved and edited on the system, from each pen stroke to each video played. It creates a large tactile learning environment, Niedermeyer noted, one with “unlimited space to create, discover and record, all with instant recall.” The ease with which resources can be reproduced or saved for later distribution makes IWB use extremely beneficial for teachers – content can be reused and built upon year after year. Moreover, IWBs enable recorded content to be placed into student e-portfolios for self-reflection and study purposes.

Using software to maximise capabilities

Software is an important part of maximising an IWB’s capabilities, as it is used to its true potential when teachers go beyond the basic whiteboard functionalities, said Marcel Ollmann of Waterman Innovations. “Once teachers learn the basic features, the software solutions which enable them to create interactive resources from scratch are exciting.”

Examples of such software are programs that enable teachers to create virtual versions of paper flipcharts (with annotating and highlighter capabilities) and virtual tools like rulers, protractors and compasses to emulate traditional classroom teaching tools. With thousands of software resources that support learning available, “functionality is first,” commented Thoms. “[Chosen software must] enable the teacher to create lessons of their own and [needs to be] compatible to use with non-variable electronic resources,”

Finding a solution that works

ACTIVboardNZ’s research indicates that nearly 50 per cent of New Zealand schools have purchased IWB systems, with classroom penetration approaching 21 per cent. Durability is paramount in an IWB for the school environment.

“There are two types of surfaces: touch screen and vandal-proof hard boards,” explained Thoms. “Although at first glance, touch screen boards appear to have the edge in respect to not requiring a pen, such a board’s surface is extremely sensitive to anything that might rub against it.”

Using an IWB with a high quality projector is essential, added Rolleston. “Cheap projectors that aren’t bright enough or are too low in resolution won’t be visible by the students at the back of the class.”

Most IWB resellers recommend short-throw projectors. Using a wide-angle lens, they are mounted much closer to the interactive whiteboard surface than standard front-projection units commonly used in classrooms. Short-throw projectors can project down at an angle of around 45 degrees, reducing the shadow effects of standard projectors and eliminating any chance of seeing the projector beam.

Overcoming challenges

“The degree to which improved learning outcomes is successful depends to a large extent on the on the competency of the teacher as an effective practitioner with their IWB,” said Thoms.

“Training is something that is overlooked by schools and should be a big part of the decision of which vendor to go with,” added Niedermeyer.

Many schools underestimate the professional development required for teachers after putting IWBs into classrooms. “A core challenge is the lack of buy-in from senior management on the time and support required,” said Rolleston. Schools should ensure the supplier of the IWB product “offers continual professional development, integrated to ensure teachers are constantly learning how use the technology not just properly, but effectively,” said Rick Haywood of Panasonic. Most resellers offer both certified online training programs and onsite training. “The PD plan must consistently be driven from the top,” added Rolleston. “If teachers are left alone [with IWB technology], they’ll simply revert to old ways.”

Touching the future

While hard boards that require a pen keep teachers in their familiar teaching environment, “touch is the future,” believes Rolleston, whose company sells models that combine the use of touch, IWB-specific pens and regular whiteboard markers. “With iPods and the technology they are used to, touch is becoming natural for kids,” she added. “These systems make sure everyone in every class with an IWB can use it – including experts, those not confident with the technology, relievers… and, of course, the students themselves, too.”

Last month, Epson launched its 450Wi, the world’s first interactive ultra short throw projector.

“It’s an intelligent and highly flexible presentation and learning tool that turns any smooth, hard surface into a versatile and functional communication tablet,” said Nika Maltseva, Epson Marketing Manager. “A digital infra-red pen complements the conventional computer keyboard and mouse to allow full interactivity with the display, with users able to launch network stored multimedia files, access online resources, run programs, and capture hand-written annotations on the Epson.”Any software using mouse and keyboard controls can be operated using the 450Wi’s infrared pen including teaching software, CAD programs, digital media creators and players, graphics programs and Web browsers.”

Suppliers have started to see an interest in plasma screens with interactive capabilities. Panasonic has supplied such technology to Wanganui Collegiate.

“With touch screen overlays on plasmas, there’s no chance of physically getting in the way of a projected image,” said Haywood. “This will become more mainstream as plasmas continue to come down in price. They are so versatile; they don’t need alignment and can be wheeled around a classroom with ease.”

Finding out more

“Some schools poke around surrounding schools to find out what they are thinking/planning/using before they commit, while others will have a range of suppliers come into the school and demonstrate the product and what they have to offer,” said Ollmann. “We always get a lot of foot traffic at conferences [like] Learning@Schools and ULearn,” he continued, confirming this as a good way for teachers and principals to see different IWBs in action. Many suppliers also hold workshops where teachers showcase how they use the IWB technology.

“I guess the ‘best practice’ for this is really to network through existing contacts of principals and teachers and find out what is working for them,” continued Ollman. “Use Google to find out which options are available, make a short-list based on needs and cost, then get the suppliers in for a show.”

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Categories: Article, Issue 23

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