It would seem that interactive smart boards are the latest thing to sweep the EdTech world. Whether it be a SMARTboard, Promethean Board, or some other brand, districts in our area are racing to put these into every classroom, along with an accompanying projection system.
I have mixed feelings about these investments. I was roundly criticized (mainly by vendors of these types of boards) for not including them in the design plans of our newest schools. However, we have had this technology in our schools since 1996. In the intervening ten years I’ve seen an initial flurry as the devices are introduced, then I see usage dropping off. At this point most of ours are being used as glorified computer mice, or, worse yet, simple projection screens.
Don’t get me wrong. If used properly, this can be a wonderful tool for the classroom. However, if not used properly it’s just an expensive waste. If it’s permanently mounted, as these vendors suggested, then it’s a permanent reminder of that waste, as well.
Here’s where interactive tablets come into play. I have just purchased one InterWrite SchoolPad for our district office, and I’m getting ready to purchase a bunch more for the district. Hitachi and Dukane also make these products, but so far InterWrite seems to be the best. The tablets have the same basic functionality as the interactive boards, but they score over the boards on several points.
- The size of the tablet does not restrict the size of the display. With white boards, you are limited to the size you purchase. The same tablet can scale from a small projected image to a huge auditorium-sized projection.
- Tablets don’t require calibration like white boards. Each time we used a SMARTBoard, we would have to go up and tap a series of dots to calibrate the display. The tablets have an automatic 1-to-1 correlation between the tablet and the computer’s resolution.
- With tablets you aren’t standing in front of the image for the blocking the rest of the class. Neither are you trying to stare down a 2000 lumen lamp every time you turn around.
- Tablets work with any projection device and monitor. Since the device connects via BlueTooth to the computer, the display type is irrelavent. I’ve used it with scan converters (although with not-so-great results) and just the computer’s monitor. LCD projection is best, though.
- The tablets are extremely portable, and can be moved where needed more readily. There is much greater versitility than with the boards.
- Tablets are about 1/3 the cost of interactive white boards. That in and of itself should clench the deal.
There are a couple of advantages that the boards have.
- With the boards, you are writing and interacting directly with the displayed image, rather than trying to get the pad to match what’s going on with the screen. This could be confusing, especially for younger kids.
- You can use your fingers as a mouse on the boards, allowing a tactile component not possible with the tablets.
Other than these, though, I see no advantage. I guess I’ll get a better idea how these will work once I get the new ones for the district and we have training with our teachers. I’m just hoping that these doesn’t just turn into expensive mice, too.