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.