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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Board of Education: A Wall-Mounted Computer Monitor for Your Classroom

A top teacher shares her enthusiasm for -- and tips about using -- interactive whiteboards.
Douglas Cruickshank

Teacher Sue Holland and her beloved interactive whiteboard. Credit: Elena Dorfman

No doubt some twisted souls will miss the occasional nerve-fraying shriek of chalk on a blackboard. For the rest of us, the growing popularity of interactive whiteboards -- often mistakenly lumped under the label "smart boards," although Smart is a specific brand name -- are one of the best things to happen to classroom technology in the last twenty years.

An interactive whiteboard is essentially just a large, touch-sensitive screen. The board is connected, via a standard USB plug, to a computer and a digital projector, which displays the computer's screen image onto the whiteboard. Software enables the computer to be controlled from the whiteboard by a hand or by special pens. Work done on the board can be saved on the computer and emailed, which, over the course of the school year, can mean a significant reduction in paper handouts.

Not surprisingly, the business world quickly took a shine to interactive whiteboards when they were introduced in 1991. Now, educators are beginning to discover what the business community is raving about.

In a July posting on Edutopia.org, elementary school teacher Susan Parker wrote that her classroom's interactive whiteboard "brings the information alive" to the students. She noted that "each lesson becomes an interactive one, and students are very motivated to learn."

"The board is very useful to demonstrate and teach editing and rewriting," says Parker, who works in an inner city school with many bilingual students. "There are pens in different colors that allow you to write directly into the Word document you're using and save the editing marks, which is extremely helpful."

One of the board's benefits, Parker adds, is that all students can easily see the images, enabling the lesson to become an engaging group activity. "Instead of crowding around little monitors, the students take turns interacting with the computer," she says. "They also get support from each other. The teacher can use it to demonstrate, then the students can use it to practice, but without feeling like they're put on the spot." Parker uses the interactive whiteboard in class daily, often in conjunction with the Internet, she adds, "in all subjects: reading, literacy, math, writing, science, geography, and social studies."

The companies that make and install interactive whiteboards usually offer tutorials on their Web sites, or provide onsite training for a fee. But most educators agree that they're easy to learn, and simple to operate. Becoming tech savvy has rarely been this easy.

What It Requires

Cost: Typically, $600-$2,000. Manufacturers of interactive whiteboards include Hitachi, InterWrite, Mimio, Panasonic, Promethean, and Smart Technologies.

Time to Set Up: Installation of the whiteboard and related software is done by the manufacturer or your school's IT staff. It should take two to three hours.

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Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Joel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This tool is going the way of the buffalo. It's based on the ages-old point and click paradigm which will be eclipsed by the new multi-touch interface popularized by Jeff Hann (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/65) and Apple (http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch/).

Nineteen Ninety One. Educators are enamored with a tool that is at least 15 years old. Granted we still use pencil and paper, but those don't cost us thousands of dollars to install and maintain.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

So you think that multi touch wont cost thousands of dollars then.

I guess I should throw away my DVD player right now and buy a blu-ray or HD DVD player too should I. What you have to realise is that the education world moves slowly, it will be another 15 years till the multi touch will have penetrated to education system, then you'll be asking us why we like it so much when theres mind control boards!

Glenda Robertson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Once you have had an interactic whiteboard, you will not be satisfied with anything else - - you can show artwork on a grand scale, go to websites that have wonderful interactive materials,etc. (Marco Polo alone will make your investment worth 10 times what you pay for it.) You can annotate and highlight text that students can see from the back of the room, you can shape paragraphs to show main ideas, cause-and-effect- -I could go on and on forever. The really mind-blowing effect, however, is the way the kids really respond to the board - seeing their writing in bright colors, moving pieces of puzzles, playing Jeopardy with review questions, writing with digital ink. I am not a gadet person in any way and this is definitely NOT a gadget. An interactive white board is a wonderful tool to make teaching so much more interesting and learning "cool" beyond words. Until you work with one, it is impossible to truly understand what a wonderful tool teachers have been given. Student engagement is the magic in learning and an interactive white board makes that happen in a BIG, BIG way.

Bruce's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that the multi-touch interface will make it into the classroom sometime (Neiman-Marcus is advertising one for "only" $100,000).

I just recall ten years ago after seeing my first interactive white board and thinking this will change the way we teach. I was in a budget meeting and suggested that we invest in one. When asked to explain what it was I was cut off by the school's principal who said "Oh, it is just one of Bruce's toys." Ten years later different school, different principal I am still waiting to have one installed- although it should be before the end of the month. Maybe your institution can afford to wait... but there are still schools out there with chalk boards. If we funded education properly we could sit around and scoff at this "old technology" but unfortunately most classroom teachers are happy just to have reliable Internet, access to a phone, and a functioning VCR.

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