In Crystal B. Corn’s high school Spanish class, students don’t spend time conjugating verbs on paper or memorizing vocabulary lists. Instead, Corn uses her interactive whiteboard every school day to allow students to have hands-on experiences.
Her students at Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, Ga., use a stylus at the whiteboard to match pictures and vocabulary words, they use it to visit Web sites that feature news from Spanish-speaking countries, and they even made a music video and played it in class on the whiteboard. This school year, Corn plans to use the interactive whiteboard to hold videoconferences with classes in other countries.
“They would be bored to tears if it was just me standing up in front of them lecturing,” Corn says of her students. “This is their native language. They speak technology.”
In fact, every classroom in Georgia’s 30,000-student Forsyth County school district now features an interactive whiteboard.
The interactive-whiteboard industry is expected to reach sales of $1 billion worldwide by 2008, according to Decision Tree Consulting, a London-based market-research company. The company, which tracks whiteboard sales in 66 countries, predicts that one of every seven classrooms in the world will feature an interactive whiteboard by 2011.
“We found that once teachers started using them, the uptake was pretty fast,” says Colin Messenger, a senior consultant for Decision Tree. “The great thing about education is that it’s not a competitive environment. … If you’re a teacher, you’re quite happy to tell everyone how well it works.”
Interactive whiteboards, which vary in size and are mounted in the front of classrooms, are connected to computers. A projector shows the image from a desktop computer on a screen or board. Using an electronic pen or pointer, a teacher or student can interact with the images there, highlight or write notes on the screen, and incorporate graphics, sound, and video, the same way a desktop computer can.
Here are important points technology officials and educators should consider when shopping for interactive whiteboards:
1. Do you prefer “resistive” technology, which means the whiteboard responds to hand pressure, rather than using a single pen or pointer that comes with the technology to interact with the board? Different whiteboards offer different methods of interaction.
2. How easy is it to incorporate a broad range of multimedia Internet resources and classroom content into lesson plans using the whiteboard?
3. Does the company offer whiteboard lesson activities and videoconferencing remote-control software?
4. Is the system compatible with the most current software available for Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, or Linux?
5. Does the company offer extensive technical support?
6. Is the product durable enough to sustain the normal wear and tear of the classroom?
7. What warranty does the company offer?
“Anything your computer is able to do, you can do it in front of your classroom,” says David Lapides, the director of education marketing for Calgary, Alberta-based SMART Technologies Inc., one of the largest producers of interactive whiteboards. “You’re having a tactile experience.”
Still, the U.S. demand for whiteboards lags well behind that of several other countries, including the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, about 60 percent of classrooms have interactive whiteboards, Messenger says, while in the United States, that figure is 12 percent.
It’s a bit harder for interactive-whiteboard companies to make significant headway in the United States, where education spending is much more localized than in many other countries. “The countries headed in that direction are the ones with a more centrally financed form of education,” says David A. Martin, the executive chairman of SMART Technologies.
Even so, he says, “there’s a lot of opportunity” in the U.S. market.
Companies such as SMART Technologies and Promethean, based in Alpharetta, Ga., are two of the largest producers of interactive whiteboards for the K-12 market. But smaller producers also exist, such as San Carlos, Calif.-based Luidia Inc., which builds some of the technology that makes whiteboards interactive.
Jody C. Forehand, the vice president of product planning for Luidia, says the U.S. market is growing rapidly, in part because technology prices are dropping. A decade ago, the assumption was corporate America would be the heaviest user of interactive whiteboards because of the high cost, which could be tens of thousands of dollars for a screen, projector, computer, and other components.
Now, interactive whiteboards cost a few thousand dollars, Forehand says, adding that “it became a no-brainer to schools, and this coincided with the price of projectors coming down.”
In addition to Forsyth County, other districts are buying interactive whiteboards for every classroom.
Bailey F. Mitchell, Forsyth’s chief of technology and information, says that about three years ago, the district bought 1,700 boards and has added several hundred more since then. He calls the whiteboard initiative “the single most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved with.”
Companies are also making their interactive whiteboards more attractive by developing libraries of ready-made lessons to pair with their products, organized by subject and age-group and even aligned with individual state standards.
Plus Vision Corp.
SMART Technologies Inc.
3M Visual Systems
Both SMART Technologies and Promethean have Web sites that allow teachers using their products to upload lesson plans, and the companies continue to provide tips on what they see as innovative applications.
Companies are rolling out new uses for the boards, says Ian Bryan, the director of U.S. media outreach for Promethean, which focuses exclusively on the K-12 market. Promethean is promoting a hand-held device that allows teachers to poll students and immediately analyze whether they understand the concepts being taught.
“Teachers can be way ahead of the No Child Left Behind Act and do daily assessments, and the kids don’t even feel that they’re being assessed,” Bryan says.
A lower cost and new extras have other districts following Forsyth County’s example. Last school year, the 42,000-student Sarasota, Fla., district bought 3,300 interactive whiteboards from Promethean, and the 67,000-student Greenville County, S.C., district has begun implementing a project to put interactive whiteboards in 4,000 classrooms, Bryan says.
But other districts say they’re still weighing how interactive whiteboards will work best with their curricula.
Bob Moore, the executive director of information technology in the 20,000-student Blue Valley school system in Overland Park, Kan., says his district allowed district-level subject coordinators to decide which technology they wanted to use.
For science, the whiteboards were not a priority, Moore says, and the social studies coordinator opted for smaller electronic tablets, which are similar to whiteboards but more portable. The math coordinator, however, did decide to go with interactive whiteboards.
“I question their ubiquitous application in schools,” Moore says. “I think you need to stop and look at any technology and ask whether it should blanket a school.”
Michelle R. Davis is a contributing writer for Education Week and Digital Directions.
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2007 edition of Digital Directions as Whiteboards Inc.