Interactive Whiteboards can be really confusing: Especially if you’re looking around at what type to buy or you want to know more about them. And because you’re here reading this, I know you’ve probably found out pretty quickly that different people will tell you completely different stories about them.
Ever since we launched our Interactive Whiteboard Music Resources, we’ve found that teachers often touch base with us just to ask more about using Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom and how to get the best out of them. So I’ve put this article together to explain in just a few dot points on what we’ve learned about Interactive Whiteboards over these past few years. If I can share with you our experiences, then you can go ahead and use this information to help you make a more informed decision about interactive whiteboards for your classroom.
A Hidden Myth about Using Interactive Whiteboard Software
When you go and buy a whiteboard, a sales representative will tell you that you’ll need to go and download the matching software for the whiteboard. So for example if you purchase a SMARTBoard then it’s the SMART Notebook software which is associated with that brand and for Promethean Whiteboards, the software ActiveInspire which is associated with that brand.
Now that may be the case that you are best using the associated brand of software, however…. other brands of software WILL work on the board. We have tested ActiveInspire on a SMARTboard, and SMART Notebook on other whiteboards. It is simply NOT the case that you can only use the supplied software, and you have the choice of what software you’d like to use.
What really runs your interactive whiteboard program is your computer or laptop which is connected to your whiteboard. Think of the whiteboard as simply being a touchable projector screen. So what this means is that no matter what kind of whiteboard you have in the classroom, it’s the software that you install on your computer or laptop that runs it! Interactive Whiteboard Companies want you to believe that you need to use their brand of computer software, but the truth is that you don’t!
After extensive testing of all brands of software available for interactive whiteboard, the best software I can recommend is ActiveInspire from Promethean, and this can be downloaded for free onto any computer and projected onto any Interactive Whiteboard. Even if you have a Mimio or other kind of whiteboard, this software will work because it can be installed on your computer and that is what powers the whiteboard.
If you have a SMARTBoard then you can download their software free with a serial number, however anyone can download ActiveInspire personal edition from the Promethean Planet website, free of charge.
Choosing the Best Resources to use on Your Interactive Whiteboard
When you get started with the interactive whiteboard, you effectively have two choices:
1) You can acquire or write your own prepared lesson plans inside the software for the whiteboard
2) You can use websites, web-based software, or stand alone software programs on the whiteboard.
Now we obviously have a preference towards route #1 – as that is the way we have created our interactive whiteboard resources. Here is why we feel that this is a better route, and is the reason why we didn’t create our interactive whiteboard packages as stand-alone content:
1. It is possible for teachers to change the lesson content.
Teachers can go straight into the program and add extra pages or sentences etc into the already existing lesson structure so that it can better suit their classes or teaching style and any changes can easily be saved as you go and change them.
2. You can use the pens and the duster that come with the whiteboard.
Now this seems very obvious, but many web-based software resources won’t enable you to fully use pens or the erase function on an interactive whiteboard. By using lessons inside the whiteboard software you can fully use the pens, dusters and all the other functions of the whiteboard. Now, you may say… ‘I can still use the pens with another program’. That might be true, but the board won’t know what you’ve written on what page, and remember it. It’ll be like taking a transparency, placing it over the computer screen and writing on that. You’ll be able to write something, but once you’ve written it then you’ve got to rub it off and throw it away. Any ways of saving it cause problems, and from our experience using this feature at all massively slows down your computer – as it requires whiteboard software to be running on top of your program.
3. They require no Internet Connection.
Web based materials require a fully functioning, fast internet connection. With prepared materials inside the whiteboard software once the materials are downloaded onto your laptop via CD-Rom, there will be no need for an internet connection. It’s a bit like ITunes where once you’ve downloaded the songs you want, you’ll never have to use an internet connection to access them again because they are now a part of your computer.
4. It helps to better focus your students.
Unlike using web based resources, specific resources written inside whiteboard software won’t suddenly have a pop-up or have any difficult navigation issues. These lessons only show what is required for the students, so you don’t see an entire teacher’s desktop when working from the lessons and the content will fit the whole page without having to continually adjust it.
5. The board becomes your lesson plan
I feel that this is the single biggest reason why resources written inside the software platforms are preferable to stand alone programs. Inside the platform you can step through the activities of the lesson one by one, from a warm-up to an introductory activity, some revision, the main content of your lesson, and then revision concepts and games. You can have everything pre-planned, and because you can edit it you can shuffle about the order of the lesson until you get it perfectly the way you’d like to teach it. With pre-programmed software you are restricted to exactly the way the programmer wrote the software, and activities that you don’t like you are stuck with ‘navigating around’ all the time, in front of the students!
So what do you think?
Do you agree with our premise that using the whiteboard software is preferable to using stand-alone programs? We’d love to hear your experiences. If you have other questions, concerns or stories that you’d like to add to this topic, then please post them in the comment box below to share with our wider teaching community. It’s amazing what we can learn together and how quickly we can learn about new technology when we work on it together as a network.
P.S. Want to check out our materials for interactive whiteboard? Click here to download a free sample of Whiteboard Music Lessons Module One: Introduction to Music.