TechLAB Shootout: 5 Interactive Whiteboards
Take a look inside the typical classroom today and – in addition to a teacher, children and rows of desks – you’re likely to see two things that schools have built modern education around: an interactive whiteboard and a classroom projector. Think of the combo as the ultimate update to the venerable blackboard and piece of chalk. In addition to solving a math problem for everyone to see or showing how a good sentence is written, a teacher can use an interactive whiteboard to mark up a map of Sherman’s march to the sea or illustrate how atoms react with each other.
Whiteboards are not a panacea, can’t help a weak teacher and won’t teach on their own. In other words, a good whiteboard needs a strong teacher to complement its abilities. But, overwhelmingly, it is how teachers work with students and educational materials today. Seeing really is believing, and a whiteboard can not only open new avenues of education but can turn just about anything into an interactive lesson.
From a distance, all whiteboards look roughly the same: a large rectangular white surface for writing and interacting, a projector and a way to connect with a computer. Up close, they couldn’t be more different. Some are thick, others thin and there’s a lot of variation in how these devices work. There are boards that have cameras in each corner, ones that have active multi-touch surfaces and ones that have projectors that sense where the pen is.
The best boards allow two or more to write at once in different colors, perfect for collaborative or competitive board work. The laggards can only accommodate one user at a time. Some boards let kids and teachers write and draw with their fingers or the pen while others are restricted to using just the pen. Some include mounting hardware or a cart, while others leave the installation details up to the school.
In an effort to cut through the marketing hype and unrealistic expectations, we at TechLAB gathered together five of the newest and most interesting interactive whiteboards on the market for a shootout. The participants include Mimio’s MimioBoard ME-87, Panasonic’s UB-T880, Polyvision’s eno one mobile, Promethean’s Activ Board 587 Pro and Smart’s SmartBoard 885i5.
The first chore was to actually unpack and set each board up, and it was not as easy as it sounds. These are big and heavy devices and some are delivered on freight skids. So, have several people on hand to get them out of their boxes and up on a wall.
With a notebook computer, we put these whiteboards through their paces, spending hours simulating what goes on in the typical digital classroom. To get a feel for each board’s pros and cons, we wrote, we drew shapes and lines, we marked up a map, wrote sentences and used science simulation software. Basically, we did what teachers and students do every day throughout the U.S.
After measuring the projector’s brightness as well as each unit’s power use, we put together an annual estimate of its expenses, most of which comes from the projector. Finally, we used each board for several simulated classroom lessons to see if they could cut it in the classroom.
In the final analysis, any of the five whiteboards will perform well in the classroom, but one stands out. Once you look over the details of each board, it’s no secret why interactive white boards have taken on the Smart Board moniker. It’s because Smart remains the market leader and continually outdoes the competition with superior technology like its DViT quad-camera set up. Plus, through it all, the company’s software can help teach a lesson or help gather multimedia elements.
Its installation may be a little complicated, but this is balanced by a guest computer connection, making tag team teaching easier. The company’s products are not cheap, but they are built to last, and I’ve seen schools with elderly SmartBoards that would likely have been retired long ago if they were from a different company.
The bottom line is that for schools today and tomorrow, the SmartBoard 885i5 is the leader.
Mimio MimioBoard ME-87
It may not be the largest interactive classroom white board around, but one thing is for sure, Mimio’s ME-87 is the newest. In fact it was so new that the board we looked was one of the first made.
The key is that the interactivity comes not from cameras in the corners or a capacitive surface. Rather, the ME-87 has a MimioTeach sensor on the left side of the board that interprets pen movements using a proprietary combination of infrared and ultrasonic signals. It connects with the classroom computer via a USB transmitter that creates a link with the board’s small pen. It all works well, but the MimioBoard doesn’t include a projector, so we used an Epson BrightLink 485.
It measures 48.2- by 83.5- by 2.7-inches for a 16:9 aspect ratio, the widest of the five. Next to the others, it looks extremely long and narrow, but it can be a big help in classrooms with short teachers or students because more of the board can be set up closer to the floor. It also works perfectly with a recent wide-screen notebook. The more traditional 4:3 format used by the Panaboard and eno one might work better in a room where wall space is at a premium.
At 40 pounds, the ME-87 is the light weight of the group and one strong person can install it, although it doesn’t include anything like Smart’s paper set up templates. The ME-87 comes with wall brackets and setting it up is so easy that its instructions are written as a cartoon, like the directions for assembling Ikea furniture, with no words. Mimio does not sell a cart.
Expect it to take about half an hour to get it all set up. After some customizing of the brackets on the iTeach cart, the ME-87 fit perfectly. The ME-87’s board is made of porcelain coated steel and should stand up to school abuse much better than those made of melamine. It doesn’t, however, include Polyvision’s lifetime warranty on the surface, but is covered for 5 years.
The board’s small white stylus is the best of the bunch. At an ounce and 5.5-inches long, it is perfect for small and large hands to grasp and use. It may lack the Panaboard’s color selector, but it also didn’t the make annoying squeaky or scratchy noises that the Promethean ActivPen did. Dry erase markers work on the ME-87.
The pen has two buttons for emulating a mouse’s clicks and for opening up the MimioStudio software. While the board lacks a shelf in front for stowing the unused pen, there’s a clip on the side for it to sit. A bonus is that the pen’s 3.7-volt battery gets recharged while it’s in place. On the downside, the board comes with only one pen, but extra pens cost a reasonable $50 each.
You’ll need to press the top button on the front of the board to start the 9-point calibration. The board also has a button that opens a toolbar of Mimio software and just could be the best place to start a lesson.
The pen can control the pointer or draw on the board. Unfortunately, it can’t work with a finger or two pens at once. The ME-87 board consistently put solid, well-formed lines on the board, but lacks a switch to turn the projector on and off.
Mimio’s software is excellent and on a par with Smart and Promethean. It works with PCs, Macs and Linux computers. You get three programs: MimioStudio, GradeBook and Notebook as well as the ability to integrate assessment clickers, a document camera and a MimioPad wireless pen tablet.
Together they provide the right combination of access to multimedia resources, annotation and the ability to save a lesson. You can draw, paint and type text onto the screen or work with a variety of files, including Office documents and even Smart Notebook lessons.
The Studio software not only provides the choice of pen, brush or highlighter, but it has an eraser as well. Unlike the Smart Board, it lacks a physical eraser. You can work with a solid line, a dashed one or a line of square dots, although not the fanciful stars and other shapes that the Panaboard offers.
Without a projector, we were unable to measure the brightness and estimate its annual expenses on a par with the others. One thing stands out, though: the board uses less than a watt of power and even if it’s left on 24 hours a day, it will cost about a dollar a year to operate. During all our lessons, the ME-87 did very well, with strong lines and the ability to bring in a variety of material.
The price tag of the Mimioboard is the best part. It costs $1,124 and with a reasonable short-throw projector can be the center of a digital classroom that costs about half of some of the others, making it a classroom bargain.
+ Light weight
+ Steel construction
+ Excellent software
+ Small pen
- No projector included
- Can’t use fingers
- One pen at a time
Panasonic Panaboard UB-T880 with PT-CX200 Projector
With its sophisticated capacitive touch surface and advanced pen, Panasonic’s UB-T880 impresses with its technology and integrated audio, but its surface may not last as long as the others.
The Panaboard measures 51.3- by 64.7- by 4.8-inches and weighs 79 pounds so have at least two on hand to install it. Its rounded corners and modest 1-inch wide frame keep it from looking too massive and the whiteboard provides 77-inches of working interactive space.
Like the Promethean board, you can’t use Dry Erase markers, so the UB-T880 is for electronic use only. Plus, rather than a ceramic surface on steel, as is the case with the Mimio, Polyvision and Smart boards, the Panaboard is built of less sturdy coated melamine. Only time will tell if it can stand up to classroom punishment
One thing that its capacitive multi-touch surface can do is effortlessly go between using the pen or a finger, matching the abilities of the Smart Board and Prometheran ActivBoard. It works well for interpreting multi-finger gestures for things like zooming or rotating an image. The pen itself is excellent and is a step or two ahead of the others. It weighs 1.3-ounces, is 6.8-inches long, but is just a little too big for small hands to use comfortably.
It’s worth it because it has a knob on the top for turning it on, selecting a color, erasing or emulating a mouse. It can even move a presentation ahead or back and has a menu button.
To do these things with any other board, you’ll need to interrupt a lesson to tap on icons on the screen.
While the board comes with simple wall mounting plates, the projector doesn’t include any projector mounting hardware so you’ll need to get a wall or ceiling mount. Panasonic's mounting hardware for the projector costs $199. It took about 45 minutes to unpack it as well as mount it and the PT-CX200 projector on the iTeach cart. The board fit the cart well, but the projector’s threaded mounting points are recessed so that we needed longer than standard bolts. As an alternative, Panasonic sells its own stationary stand for $300, but it doesn’t have an arm for the projector; the extra mounting hardware costs between $245 and $335.
The PT-CX200 projector that comes with the board can put up 1,280 by 800 images and is rated at 2,000 lumens of brightness. It has a focus bar on the side, but its image sharpness was compromise between having it sharp at the top or the bottom.
Board, projector and computer connect with a USB cable for all the data going back and forth and a VGA cable for video. It also needs separate power cords for the board and projector, but unlike the Smart Board, the Panaboard can neither turn the projector on or off nor provide a separate connection for a guest.
Its pen connects via a radio frequency link and requires a four-point calibration during set up. Once you’re teaching, you’re not restricted to using plain old solid lines and even dotted ones, though. The Panaboard can make lines out of hearts or stars, more than enough to brighten up an otherwise boring lesson. On the downside, its lines are more jittery and less solid than the others.
There’s an extra bonus for classrooms because the Panaboard has built-in audio with a pair of speakers upfront and a thumbwheel volume control on the side. Unfortunately, it lacks a microphone input that could have turned it into a class-wide public address system.
Its software works with Windows and Mac computers, but not Linux ssytems. This is second best to Promethean and Smart’s ability to cover all the operating system bases. The board comes with Elite Panaboard Book, which should be more than enough for classroom use with static images or input from a document camera.
In the lab, the Panaboard’s projector impressed with a measured 2,505 lumens of light being projected onto the board, one-quarter brighter than its specification. The Dynamic projection mode that we used was a little yellowish and green but should do fine for schoolwork.
To get to that level of light, it consumes 358-watts while being used our simulated classroom, which drops to 12 watts while it’s not being used. That translates into estimated annual operating expenses of $291, the highest of the bunch. While it took a long 47 seconds to get a lesson underway, there’s a count-down to when the image appears; ironically, it took only 2 seconds to shut down after the work is done, the fastest of the group.
The system’s three-year warranty pales in comparison to the 5-year coverage provided by the others. At a total cost of $4,294, the combination of the Panasonic board and projector is on a par with the most expensive of the group, but its construction, high operational costs and three-year warranty give us pause.
+ Built-in audio
+ Pen controls
+ Finger or pen use
+ Capacitive multi-touch surface
- Lacks projector mount
- Soft focus
- Slow start-up
- Three year warranty
- Melamine board
Polyvision eno one mobile
Without a doubt, the way Polyvision’s eno one mobile works is the most interesting of this gang of five whiteboards. Rather than using an active surface or cameras, the system has a passive board and all the interactivity is built into the system’s projector. The system works well for most uses but you can’t use your fingers.
The eno one whiteboard we looked at came with the company’s mobile cart, although they sell wall mounting hardware as well. At 48.0- by 64.0- by 1.0-inches, the Eno one board is the thinnest of the five boards and provides 78-inches of interactive space to teach with; the company makes larger boards as well.
It weighs in at 70-pounds and is on a par with the others. It should take two people to mount on a wall, on Polyvision’s cart or the iTeach cart we use at the lab. Unlike the Smart board, the eno one has a 1-inch thick frame around its edge that makes it look less massive.
The eno one’s projector connects to the computer with a USB cable while the pen uses a Bluetooth link. The system comes with its own USB Bluetooth radio and drivers, resulting in a clean installation with fewer cables to connect the eno. It, however, lacks the Smart Board’s guest connection. The wireless pen’s installation takes about 20 minutes. Once everything is set up, you’ll need to go through a 7-point calibration; the device has a 9-point calibration routine if greater accuracy is required.
Because of the projector-centered technology, the eno’s pen can be small and light. At 1.1-ounces and 6-inches long, it’s a little heavier than the Smart passive pen. It uses a single AAA battery and has a cap for when it’s not being used. The eno one can work with up to three pens at once (extras cost $127), but it can’t accept finger input or work with gestures.
The ultra-short throw PJ920 projector that comes with the board can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and is rated at 2,500 lumens. It fits onto the top of the Polyvision cart with some heavy steel pieces that look like they’re from an industrial stovepipe, but everything is extremely sturdy. There’s also a place to keep the projector’s cables out of sight and the projector’s remote control can not only change sources and blank the screen but has a laser pointer.
Unlike the Panaboard’s permanent switches or the Smart Board’s software ones, the eno one takes a different tack. It has two magnetic strips that attach to the screen. The long one handles things like switching between mark-up and cursor control, the line’s color and width as well as erasing and saving files. The smaller one is for turning the projector on and off, adjusting the brightness or changing the source. As opposed to the others, you can put these icon strips anywhere on the screen.
It could be the most durable board of the five with a white porcelain coating on a sheet of sturdy steel. It works with plain old Dry Erase markers and Polyvision warranties the physical board for 10 years and the surface forever, blowing the competition away. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include a pen tray.
The eno one board does have a trick up its sleeve: along the board’s bottom is a simple handle for unlocking the board and allowing it and the projector to be raised or lowered in tandem by up to 16-inches. With this, the board can accommodate a small fourth grader or a hulking high school senior. It comes with a tilted platform for a notebook in the back and sturdy casters that can lock the cart in place.
It all comes together with a variety of line widths and colors available to the teacher or student. Like some of the others, you can write with a dashed line. In Presentation mode, the projector put out 3,225 lumens, well above its specification. While its focus was sharp and the illumination uniform, the projected image rippled and its color balance was pushed too far to the greens.
It was a little on the slow side, taking 20 seconds to start up and 29 seconds to shut down and used 252 watts of power when it’s on. Its power consumption drops to 10 watts when it’s not being used. With the projector’s $450 lamp that’s rated to last for 4,000 hours, the system has high estimated operating costs of $237 a year.
During the simulated lessons, the eno one did quite well creating solid and bold lines that stand out against the projected background. It handled doing the math problem, sentence structure and geography classes without a snag, but we found that when showing the gravity and orbit simulation we couldn’t mark up the screen and when we could mark up the screen, the simulation stopped.
The system has software for Macs, PCs and Linux computers for a clean sweep, and includes a copy of RM Education’s Easiteach. It comes with a multi-tiered warranty that seems at first to be a bit confusing, but the ultimate winner is the school. Its ceramic writing surface covered forever, 10-years on its construction and 2-years for the system’s pen and Bluetooth hardware. The cart has a 5-year warranty.
Even with Polyvision’s educational discount, the eno one mobile sells $4,725 or roughly $4,000 with a traditional wall mount. It’s not as expensive as the Smart Board, but is still priced more than either the Polyvision or Panasonic boards. Still, Polyvision’s eno one mobile is a great whiteboard that can go where the teaching is.
+ Adjustable height cart
+ Durable surface
+ Minimal cable connections
+ Can put control icons anywhere
+ PC, Mac and Linux software
- Complicated set up
- Can’t use fingers
- No shelf for pens
Promethean ActivBoard 587 Pro
Promethean’s ActivBoard 500 series is a new family of interactive white boards that use capacitive multi-touch technology that does just as well with the pens as with fingers and can accommodate two users at once. On the downside, it has a melamine board that might not stand up to classroom abuse and its projector lagged the group in brightness. Still its software and online resources set the ActivBoard 587 Pro apart from the crowd.
I looked at the ActiBoard 587 Pro model that combines an 87-inch active area with built-in audio. At 52.3 by 83-inches, it’s the largest of the five and delivers 87-inches of active working space. It has a huge 4.7 inch edge on the sides. Promethean also makes 78- and 95-inch boards. At 90-pounds the gray and black board will require two installers. The board comes with all the hardware to mount it and the included EST-P1 projector on a wall, but lacks Smart’s thoughtful installation templates. Promethean also has adjustable mounting hardware as well as mobile carts.
Its wiring is easy to figure out and install with a single power connection for the board and the projector and a USB link to the teacher’s computer. Our favorite part is the well thought-out control panel on the side for turning it on and providing connections. But you’ll need to turn the projector on and off with its remote control.
On either side of the board are speakers that connect to the computer via USB. It actually sounds great and can get loud enough to annoy the teacher next door. Oddly, while the 587 Pro’s white board is white with a matte finish, it can’t be used with dry markers. Under the skin, the surface has a sheet of melamine rather than steel. It has the bonus of a circular spot in the upper left corner that shows if it’s connected and ready to teach.
The Promethean ActivPen is a big bonus. At an ounce, it is outdone only by Smart’s pen on weight. It is only 0.8-inches thick and is angled to help small hands use it. It doesn’t require batteries and four come with the board. The pens were always responsive and put a solid line on the board, but their plastic tips scratched and squeaked as bad as a piece of chalk. On the downside, the board lacks a tray to store them, but there are four clips on the sides for the pens to be stowed.
If the pens are getting in the way of a lesson, feel free to use your fingers. In fact, you can use any combination of two users working the board. This is great for impromptu lessons or asking a child to come up and assist.
With the Promethean ActivInspire Studio, anything can be turned into a lesson, from a map to using the company’s ActivExpression, ActiVote and ActivEngage. There are versions for PCs, Macs and Linux computers, but nothing for the iPad, as is the case with Smart. It includes excellent highlighting and markup tools, but unlike the Smart board, there’s no physical eraser. The company’s Promethean Planet has a multitude of lessons and individual elements available for schools on its Web site.
The board comes with Promethean’s EST-P1 projector, a DLP device that can display 1,200 by 800 images and is rated at 2,200 lumens of brightness. Its included aluminum mount works hand in glove with the board and all the cables can be hidden, but the projector doesn’t have a built-in test pattern to aid in setting it up.
Its focus and illumination were uniform across the board but the bottom of the image was slightly bowed. To start using the pen, you’ll need to go through a five spot calibration. The projector took 10 seconds for the projector to get started, but more than 20 seconds to shut off and it only put 1,950 lumens on the screen in Presentation mode. At 270 watts, the Promethean projector is middle of the pack when it comes to power consumption and uses nothing in sleep mode. Thanks mostly to its $99 replacement lamp that has a 4,000 hour rated lifetime, the ActivBoard 587 has an enviable estimated operating costs of just $91 per year, one-third the cost of using the PanaBoard.
During the simulated lessons, the ActivBoard 587 Pro performed well, although we had trouble getting used to the squeaky pen points. The system comes with a three year warranty that is extended to a more realistic five years after you register the board. At $4,200 with an educational discount, you get everything needed to transform a room into a classroom.
+ Built-in audio
+ Fingers or pen
+ Thin, light pen
+ Includes 4 pens
+ PC, Mac and Linux software
- Low output projector
- Melamine board
- Squeaky pens
Smart Technologies 885i5
As the market leader and the company responsible for the smart board name, you’d expect Smart Technologies to have the advantage in terms of features and abilities. The company’s 885i5 package, which includes a SBX885 board and UF75W projector, doesn’t disappoint with a technological masterpiece that can fit into any classroom. At $4,500, however, it is expensive but worth every penny.
Rather than using a touch-sensitive surface mounted on a large frame, Smart’s SBX885 has tiny cameras embedded at the board’s corners that look for movement. Called DViT, the system translates these movements into lines and clicks that are fed through the projector to the board. The only one of the five boards reviewed to use this technology, the board works just as well with pens as with fingers.
It generally works like a charm, the SBX885’s array of cameras are occasionally fooled by a loose sleeve. Plus, forget about putting sticky notes or artwork on the board because anything on the surface interferes with the system’s cameras.
While at 51 by 78.3-inches the Smart Board is big and it provides 87-inches of teaching workspace. While the others have a thin frame, the camera mounting at its corners requires 2.5-inches of space around the edge, making it look larger and bulkier than it actually is.
At 85-pounds, though, it will require two people to get Smart’s Board installed. A big bonus is that it comes with everything needed to build a classroom around, including a heavy-duty wall bracket and all the hardware required. Like other Smart products, there’re even thoughtful paper templates to help get the installation just right.
That’s balanced by its complicated wiring. Because all the power flows through the system’s projector, there are a lot of cables but they are easy to hide. It offers something the others don’t: an $86 option that provides a dedicated way to have a student or guest connect their computer and work the board tag-team style.
With a steel structure and low-gloss whiteboard surface, the SBX885 is durable and is the only one of the five to have a pen tray that recognizes the pens. The tray has an on/off switch, which controls the projector as well as the board for quick starts and finishes. There are several add-on end caps for audio and other options. They take a few minutes to install.
It comes with two pens, but they are passive and, happily, don’t require batteries. As a result, they are sized for small hands and weigh less than an ounce. Just pick one up, press the color button and start teaching. The software provides several choices for line-widths and things like dotted lines are available. The board can accommodate a pair of users at once for collaboration or one-on-one learning and it even works with a paint brush or a highlighter with the cap on.
The board can handle digital ink as well as Dry Erase markers and is the only whiteboard here that comes with an actual eraser. Ironically, you don’t really need it. That’s because the SBX885’s four tracking cameras do a good job of recognizing several simple hand gestures. To erase, just rub the board with an open palm. Other gestures include double clicking, simulating a right click and wiping the board clean of digital ink in one swipe.
The package includes Smart’s UF75W ultra-short throw projector. Rated at 2,500 lumens, the projector uses DLP technology, puts out 1,280 by 800 resolution images and mates up well with the board. There’s a calibration procedure that takes a couple of minutes to perform but you should only need to do this once.
Smart offers a wheeled cart option for the SBX885 that costs $1,400. The system worked well with the iTeach cart we use at TechLAB. Before getting started, however, we needed to remove the projector’s mounting bracket to reveal four mounting points. All told, it took 60-minutes to go from sealed boxes to working board.
Smart sets the standard by including its Notebook software with the board. It not only allows the integration of a variety of classroom technology but makes teaching effortless; anything can be saved for later use. Smart also opens up a world of lesson plans and multimedia with its Exchange online repository, which at last count had 60,000 items, from geometry to the food pyramid. It includes software for Macs, Windows PCs and an older version of Notebook software for Linux computers. There’s also an app for iPads that costs $7.
During our simulated lessons, the SBX885 was reliable and the projector put 3,180 lumens of light onto the board. It was able to go from off to teaching in a slow 21 seconds and shut down in 46 seconds, which might be a little frustrating. Its power use and the $200 replacement lamp add up to annual expenses of $184, roughly in the middle of the group.
Its line fidelity was second to none, regardless of what the lesson was. It has built-in software that makes lines more regular, solid and readable, even if created by a small child’s unsteady hands. We were able to write out sentences with different colors and create intricate math diagrams, although at times the cameras picked up inadvertent movement, which was a bit frustrating.
The Smart board comes with a two-year warranty, which is extended to five years after you register the board; its projector is covered for three years. This doesn’t measure up to the Polyvision’s lifetime surface warranty, however. Its $4,500 price is high compared to some of the others, but includes Smart’s superb projector, excellent software and all the mounting hardware you’ll need.
The one-two punch of Smart’s 885i5 system’s board and projector have the power to transform the newest technology into a durable whiteboard to build a classroom around.
+ Responsive pens
+ Can use fingers
+ Wall mounting hardware
+ Included software
+ Gesture aware
+ Pen shelf
- Older version for Linux software
Working the board is more comfortable for adults, but what about small children and those in wheelchairs? Ideum’s Pro Touch Table turns the whiteboard on its end to create a horizontal surface to interact with.
Think of the Pro table as a huge touch-sensitive tablet mounted on a pedestal base and you get an idea of its power in the classroom. Rather than sitting passively in their seats, students are up standing around the Pro table touching the screen and working with material in a more natural way. Ideum isn’t the first with this idea: Samsung’s SUR-40 and Promethean’s ActivTable do the same thing, but with 40- and 46-inch screens. Ideum’s Pro has a 55-inch touch-display that works for up to about 6 kids at a time.
Plus the Pro table is built around a pedestal, rather than legs, allowing kids and teachers to get closer to the action. Inside the Pro’s base is a full PC with Windows 7, a high-end Core i7 processor and a powerful nVidia Quadra video card with 1GB of video memory. The screen is just 2-inches thick and it is set up 31-inches above the floor, making it good for people standing around as well as those in wheelchairs.
Forget about the pen, because like the Smart Board SBX885, it uses cameras to interpret finger movement. But, because its image comes from an LCD touch-screen, there’s no projector to fuss with or no annoying shadows.
Its software takes another step forward because it can work with complex gestures and up to 32 different finger inputs at once, making it perfect for groups of kids collaborating on a project. It automatically recognizes several gestures like one finger making a circle around another rotates the object while pinching makes it smaller. If you don’t like the gestures that are included write your own because the system comes with software for developing customized finger gestures.
Because more than two students can use it at once, a small group can work on a digital collage or draw a map of the states without having to wait for others to finish their work. It’s also available with Sevasa’s HapticGlass, which provides tactile feedback to finger motion. For the fashion conscious, the system is available in a variety of colors.
While at $16,000 each for a school ordering ten units, the Pro interactive table is pricey, size is the biggest barrier to using it in the classroom. Until a whole classroom can work around an interactive table it will remain a niche product. But when these systems grow to about 90-inches, they will become a viable teaching technology. At the rate that larger TVs are coming out, that shouldn’t be too long a wait.
Chalk It Up: Whiteboards Features
Testing Interactive Whiteboards
In an effort to competitively gauge how useful each of these touchboards are in the classroom, we put them through a tough testing routine. We unpacked, measured and weighed each board. Then, went about setting them up one at a time using Balt’s iTeach whiteboard cart so that the projector can become a mobile classroom. If the device came with a cart, we used the manufacturers and noted what mounting hardware came with the board.
To ensure a level playing field, we used a Fujitsu LifeBook A6220 and an HP EliteBook 2560p to test each board. After installing and calibrating the needed software, we tried them out, drawing simple figures and writing on the board to get a feel for how consistent and reliable its digital ink was. Using a stop watch, we measured how long it takes to start up the projector (when the image appears) and shut it down (when the fan stops) and whether this can be done from the board. After adjusting the projector’s distance to create a 1 square meter image, we measured its brightness at 9 equally spaced places in lux and averaged them for its brightness rating.
To see how they work with a variety of material, we first critically went through the test patterns on the Walvision Web site (walvisions.com) looking for color fidelity, jagged edges on diagonal lines and areas that are not uniform. Next, we watched some HD video clips from a memory key as well as from YouTube. While they played, we looked for crispness, smoothness, color balance and audio synchronization. The sound quality and loudness were judged.
To gauge the interactivity of each board, we used its included pen as well as fingers if the board could work with them and noted whether it can handle two or more users at once. We looked at the quality of the lines it creates, its responsiveness and the variety of lines it can put on the screen.
While each projector was playing a video, we measured how much power the projector uses. This was repeated while the projector was in sleep mode. Based on 8 hours of use during every school day and replacing the lamp at the end of its rated life, we calculated an estimate of the projector’s annual expenses. We use the national average of electricity selling for 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Each came with a remote control and these were examined for size, range of features and the presence of a laser pointer. The testing culminated in a group of mock lessons. First we used the software that came with the projector and then used the University of Colorado’s Gravity and Orbits simulation, modeling a sentence’s structure and a look at a static map. Finally, we checked out the projector to see if it can save a lesson as slides or a video.