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A quick guide to interactive whiteboard technologies

Introduction

 

Wedgwood started supplying interactive whiteboards at the start of this century when schools were starting to use 'smart boards'.  SMART Technology is a US company which manufactures interactive whiteboards.  Now because they were first on the scene in the UK many people talk about 'smart boards' as a generic term for all interactive whiteboards in the same way that we use 'hoover' (another US manufacturer) to mean 'vacuum cleaner'. 

 

So what is an interactive whiteboard?  Let's talk you through what is happening in the picture below:

 

A Polyvision whiteboard 

 

A ceiling mounted projector is shining the laptop computer's image onto the whiteboard (a Polyvision one in this case).  The student in purple is using her finger to draw a red circle around the answer to a question the teacher has set.  Her writing is sent back to the interactive whiteboard software on her laptop computer.  The computer's image plus any handwritten notes can then be saved, emailed, printed, etc.   Because the interactive whiteboard is effectively a large touch screen, you can control the Windows cursor, and hence the computer, from the front of the room.  If the student needs to type something, for example, when displaying a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Chrome on screen, then touching one of the buttons on the left side of the whiteboard will display the on screen keyboard. 

 

Each manufacturer has their own brand of interactive whiteboard software.  The software has a few parts.  First there are 'driver's (like you have printer drivers) that allows the whiteboard to send information on mouse movement and writing back to the computer.  On top of that there is software that allows you draw over the top of other programs and then save this to picture and PDF files which can then be emailed or printed.  The software will also allow you to display a set of blank canvases to write directly onto which is ideal for brain storming sessions.

 

The first thing to notice is that an interactive whiteboard is part of a bigger solution, so you need the following:

  • A computer or laptop
  • A digital projector, which could be ceiling mounted or on a desk
  •  An interactive whiteboard, either wall mounted or on a stand
  •  Usually a set of speakers or audio system that sit next to the whiteboard so that the computer's audio can be played loud enough for the entire class to hear.

and these are usually installed by either professional AV installations companies or by electricians, who may also need to install extra power sockets for ceiling mounted projectors.

 

So the interactive whiteboard can be thought of  as a big touch screen, so that you can control Windows and other programs, plus whiteboard software that allows you to write on top of them.  Now there is more that one technology used in whiteboards, which determines how the boards are used.  Some boards use touch sensitive material which means you can use your fingers to operate it or special pens.  Others use just special pens which transmit their location on the board to sensors around the edges.  The ones with touch sensitive material are know as resistive screens.

 

Since interactive whiteboards came onto the scene there have been issues with the technology.  One big issue was with the projectors used to display the image on the whiteboard.  When a projector shines onto the whiteboard then if the teacher or presenter gets between the whiteboard and projector, you get a shaddow on the board, so the teacher has to use it from the side.  Also if the teacher turns around to face the class, then he/she could often get an eye full of projector light.  This can be quite painful especially with high brightness projectors.  One solution to this was rear-projection interactive whiteboards.  Front projection is where the projector is in front of the screen with the audience.  Think about a cinema where the projector is at the back of the cinema in a projection booth and projector's light shines over the top of the audience's heads.  Rear projection is where the projector is mounted behind the screen.  SMART produced a few rear projection interactive whiteboards which gave the effect of a large computer screen, but you have to have a gap behind the screen for the projector.  There weren't very popular because of this and the high cost.  So the next solution to the shaddow and light in the eyes problem  was for many of the whiteboard manufacturers to partner with projector manuacturers to produce combined whiteboards and short throw projectors solutions on boom arms:

A combination whiteboard/projection system

 

A short throw projector is one where you can have it really close to a projector screen or whiteboard and it still displays a large image.  With standard projectors you would have to mount the projector a lot further away from the screen.  What this does is minimize both the shaddows and the chances of looking into the projector light.  It also means that the installation easier as the whiteboard and projector are mounted together, rather than mounting the whiteboard on a wall and then the projector on the ceiling.  This is the way the market in the UK is now going as we have 3 times more whiteboard/projector combinations currently for sale rather than the traditional setups.

 

Another solution to this was that some manufacturers produced touch screen overlays which could be placed over 42" and 50" plasma screens.  This was bunded with the same interactive whiteboard software that was used with the whiteboards.  These again were really expensive with the overlay and the screen costing double the cost of a whiteboard and projector, and instead of having up to a 100" screen, you were usually stuck with a 42" one.  These have also fallen off the UK market.   With the constantly dropping costs in the production of LCD/LED computer monitors, large purchase built touch screens are now being used as interactive whiteboards.  Manufacturers such as SMART and Promethean now sell touch screen interactive whiteboards bundled with the same whiteboard software they use on their whiteboards:

 

A Triumph multi-touch interactive touch screen

 

These touch screens are mainly wall mounted the same as whiteboards.  However with a separate projector not required and therefore out of the picture, they are also now being put into tables, for example, the SMART Table:

 

The SMART Table

 

which is aimed as primary schools with small groups of children working together.  These are grandly titled as collaborative learning centres.

 

Some of the current buzz words are dual-touch and multi-touch.   With the first whiteboards, users simply controlled the mouse cursor, which could only be in one place at a time.  Dual-touch is where you can touch two parts of the screen at the same time.   Most of use have smart phones and use guestures such as pinching and expanding our fingers on pictures and website pages to control the zoom in and out of the screen.  This is a simple example of dual-touch.  Multi-touch is where the whiteboard can allow multiple people to draw on it at the same time, so for example you could have 3 school children drawing on the board with their fingers all at once.  Both the interactive whiteboards and touch screens have models with will do this. 

 

These is another technology called interactive projectors.  These are special projectors which create a virtual interactive whiteboard on any flat surface such as a wall:

 

A Pro-Vue interactive projector
An interactive projector kit which comes with a wand and pen for controlling the whiteboard

 

They use special pens and most  have pointing 'wands' for control of the screen.  When you display the image on the wall, you have to configure them first so that the projector knows the size and position of the projected image.  After reading the information above on shaddows and getting dazzled by looking into projector lights, then this does seem to be a backwards step.  The manufacturer's producing these are not the main whiteboard manufacturers but projector manufacturers which seem to be aiming at allowing business users to control computers from the front of a room. 

 

For current front projection whiteboards, combination systems and touch screens with pricing see:

 

Front projection interactive whiteboards

Combined interactive whiteboard and projector systems

Touch screens with interactive whiteboard software

 

Please visit our main site for information on interactive projectors

 

http://www.wedgwood-group.com/projectors_interactive.htm

 

When you visit one of our product pages, you will get a list of models in price order.  When you click through to a product we will have the manufacturer's original datasheet linked.  You are always best reading this as it will give full details of how any of the whiteboards or touch screens can be used.

 

For a full guide, please download our free, 26 page .Whiteboard And Interactive Products Guide 2015.

 

 

Portable whiteboard conversion systems

 

Take a look at the picture below and see if you can spot what appears to be a Kingon warship heading towards the teacher:

 

 

This is an example of a portable whiteboard system called an eBeam:

 

 

The whiteboard behind teacher is just a large, low cost whiteboard, and the eBeam sits in the corner and along with the special pens that the teacher users, combines to turn the whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard.  Their devices come with their own brand interactive whiteboard software which can then be installed onto a computer.   In the picture above, what the teacher is drawing is sent to the teacher's notebook computer so that her drawning can be saved.  What the picture isn't showing you is that you can also use your projector to send the computer's image onto the whiteboard and then you have a standard interactive whiteboard system.

 

There are just two major manufacturers of these type of devices, Luidia who product eBeam, and Mimio.

 

The great thing about these devices is that they are portable.  So a teacher or trainer can take the eBeam with them wherever they are teaching.  Or, if just used in a single class room, the eBeam/Mimio can be quicker removed and stored away.  One issue with interactive whiteboards is that they can be damaged by students in schools, for example with a student running a pair of compasses across the board.  Depending on the type of whiteboard, this can completely break it.  Because these systems are used with a standard whiteboard, a damaged screen doesn't affect it being used.  Standard whiteboards are also relatively cheap so that they can be replaced.  The other great advantage is that you can project and use the conversion system with a 100" image with easy and the purchase price around half the price of a large interactive whiteboard.  The main downside in schools will be training.  Many schools in the UK will standardise on either SMART or Promethean whiteboards and teachers are trained in using their own brand software.  So using different software, which comes with either eBeam of Mimio, just takes a little extract time getting used to a new system.

 

Portable whiteboard systems current range

 

Copyboards

 

A copyboard is effectively a non-interactive whiteboard.  Let us explain that.  Take a look at the copyboard in the picture below on the right side.  Someone has used some markers pens to draw a diagram using black, blue and red ink.  Now the pens used are standard whiteboard pens but they put inside copyboard pen holders which when used on the board tell the copyboard where you are writting.  This information is then sent to the attached computer as an image file.  So the idea is that when the meeting or training sesssion has finished, the notes on the board can then be saved.  There can then be printing, put on the network (LAN in the picture below) or emailed to people who atteneded.

 

A copyboard

The Panasonic copyboard in the picture above also has an optional printer attached:

 

Optional copyboard printer

 

which means that images can be printed out straight way if needed.   There are only two major manufacturers who still produce copyboards: Panasonic and Plus, and their models are usually limited to a couple of models each, which are normally widescreen-type formal or normal:

 

 

Some of the whiteboards do allow you to use them a projector screen and the Panasonic boards have free software that allows you to annotate over projected images.  So you are now wondering what the difference is then between the copyboard and projector, and an interactive whiteboard set up.  The difference is that you cannot control the computer from the copyboard.  The software will just allow you to merge the projector's image with the handwritten notes on the board to produce a final image for distribution.

 

Some of the copyboards also allow you to plug in a USB memory stick so that you can save the copyboard image, without a computer being attached.

 

The pictures above show copyboards on stands.  You need to make a decision when ordering if you want a stand on wheels, or no stand so that the copyboard can be wall mounted instead.

 

Current copyboard models

 

 

Interactive whiteboard software

 

There are litterally hundreds of software programmes designed to be used in schools with interactive whiteboards.  Usually these are aimed as specific UK Key Stages such as KS1 and KS2 with maths and English being the most popular types.  GSCE subjects are also available on all subjects.  You can quite easily picture a biology lession with software displaying body parts, such as the lungs, and students being able to do vertual dissection using a whiteboard at the front of the class. 

 

See Whiteboard software for current titles supplied by Wedgwood.