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TechLAB Shootout: 5 Interactive Whiteboards

Whitebaords leadTake 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.

  Whitieboard lead bThe 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.

Promethean activboard 500 bAfter 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. 

 

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Putting the White back into a Whiteboard

White board resurfaceOne thing about whiteboards is that they rarely stay white, what with scratches and areas that are worn through. In addition to selling a variety of full boards, EverWhite also sells the panels on their own for installation right over the existing board. They’re available in sizes up to 48- by 144-inches and the material comes with an adhesive on the back for a quick installation.

 

 

White Board without the Board

Smarttech_lightraise_40wiOn top of SMART’s iconic interactive white boards, the company is now selling its first interactive projector, the LightRaise 40wi. It comes with a rechargeable pen for kids and teachers to write or draw directly onto the projected image and can put an 8.5-foot image onto a screen from just two-feet away. A big bonus is that the $1,700 projector not only comes with wall mounting hardware, but access to the company’s SMART Exchange library of multimedia elements.

 

FETC 2012: Touch Me

TouchBoard-3-math-cropeInstruction’s TouchBoard combines the latest in interactive hardware with the latest in educational software. The interactive whiteboard comes in two sizes and aspect ratios: 78 inches (traditional 4:3) and 88 inches (wide-screen 16:9). Both connect to the host computer via USB and work with PC, Mac and Linux systems. The board uses infrared technology to deliver 8,000 by 8,000 dot touch resolution for use with a finger or a pen. Each board comes with the company’s ExamView assessment program and WorkSpace lesson content.

 

Board of Education

Wb80Califone is entering the already crowded interactive whiteboard field with its WB80 product, which focuses on cost and ease of use. At 48- by 64-inches, the board is the right size for putting over an existing chalk board and can fit into the digital teaching gear a school already has. It’s powered by its USB data connection, comes with all the cables you’ll need and has precision to within less than a tenth of an inch. The WB80 only works with Windows computers and sells for $1,170.

 

 

 

Interactive Board on the Go

Conen1 For most schools, the missing element for interactive white boards has been portability. Sure, they can help bring lessons to life for a class, but only if it’s in front of them. Enter Conen’s Board of the Future, which can roll from room to room on wheels so that it can do double duty. The key is that the projector and screen move up and down in tandem, keeping the projector calibrated so that it doesn’t take too long to get it in position and started. Once it’s set up, just plug it in and teach. It works with either a Sanyo XL50 or Hitachi ED-A100 short throw projector and can slide up and down to accommodate tall and short students. The board can be ordered with hinged doors and a shelf for a computer.

The Interactive Board that Speaks to the Class

Panaboard Interactive boards are a great way engage the entire class in an impromptu lesson but most lack the ability to amplify sound so you’re stuck with the projector’s crappy speaker. Panasonic’s UB-T781 Interactive Elite Electronic White Board does that one better with a set of integrated speakers for either the audio material of the lesson or a teacher’s microphone. That way, everyone can not only see what’s going but hear as well. The 77-inch board has a USB hub as well as RM Eastitech software.

The Classroom Work Table

SmarttableteamchallengeapplicationWhy fuss with projectors, laser pointers and sticks or fingers to point out what’s on screen, when you can put it all on a work table and touch your way to smarter students? The latest in interactive technologies, the Smart Table is perfect for elementary school students because it is oriented around touch. The table top is covered with an LCD screen that can be operated by pressing your finger on its surface or using a stylus.

Table_mappingThe table itself has a 27-inch interactive screen and is 29-inches high, making it perfect for small groups of kids to work with. It comes with all the software you’ll need to turn furniture into a classroom aid. Regardless of whether it’s exploring educational Web sites, drawing maps of the world or reading an eBook to a group, the Smart Table can make any lesson more interactive and fun. It can not only recognize taps, but two fingers at once and complex gestures. The tables will cost $8,000, be available this spring and you can get a cool preview of its abilities with this video.

Save Your Interactive Lessons

LuidiaIf you’re using Luidia’s hardware and its eBeam software for your interactive white boards, the company just introduced a new version of the program. The key change is that version 2.1 of eBeam Interact lets teachers record any interactive lesson and compile them into a digital archive. Anything written on the board and spoken in the room can now be saved in a variety of formats, including .avi and .wmf video as well as Flash’s .swf. The program comes with a player so that lessons can be shown to a class or group of colleagues. The Texas City, TX High School has been using the new program.

eInstruction Announces “Content Meets Technology” Sweepstakes

Ei_verticalTo celebrate the recent combination of eInstruction and Interwrite Learning, the company announced their first “Content Meets Technology” sweepstakes. Teachers and students submit, using just 250 characters or less, their vision of the role of technology in education. Those thoughts will then post to an interactive Google Map mashup on the eInstruction site. 

Here’s How: The student/teacher submissions should highlight classroom achievements made possible by the use of technology or focus on the benefits of a technology-empowered classroom. The work, along with the name of the school, the grade, and the teacher’s name, will appear on a Google Map of the world on the sweepstakes’ Web site.

Prize: Winners will be awarded an interactive makeover prize package that consists of the Interwrite Board, Interwrite Pad, 32-Pad CPS RF Clicker System, Epson PowerLite 400W Projector, and more.

Deadline:  The sweepstakes begins on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 and ends on Thursday, May 13, 2008. Winners will be chosen randomly from each grade category and announced on Monday, May 19, 2008.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.