Confucius reputed to have said “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” This is the ethos behind the interactive whiteboard, a teaching tool that has gained huge popularity in the primary and post-primary classroom in the UK and Northern Ireland. A recent study from the UK government’s Dept of Education and Skills has shown that almost half (44%) of all primary schools in Britain have at least one interactive whiteboard. The IWB has yet to gain a foothold in the Irish education system although the Drumcondra Education Centre has taken the first steps with its IWB Pilot Scheme which was rolled out in 2004/2005.
What is an IWB?
An interactive whiteboard system comprises of the whiteboard itself, the digital projector, the computer, the software and the physical connection (USB or Bluetooth). The whiteboard is a large touch-sensitive panel that looks like a regular whiteboard and can be used as such with a special pen or information can be input by touching the screen with your finger. There are currently three types of IWBs on the market. The resistive membrane which has a soft, flexible surface; this whiteboard detects pen movement by its pressure sensitive surface and as such can be easily damaged. The magnetic pick-up is most like the traditional whiteboard in that it has a solid, rigid surface. The pen used with this whiteboard emits a small magnetic field as it moves over the whiteboard’s surface. Finally laser scanners are whiteboards with infrared laser scanners located at the top corners of the board. These scanners detect pen movement and reflection-encoded felt pens can be used to write in colour as each colour has its own unique encoding picked up by the scanner. Some manufacturers produce IWBs with detachable tablets that can be passed around the class for students to input information.
The IWB has much to offer the learning process. Most schools around Ireland already have access to PCs and educational software so what gives the IWB an edge over standard ICT teaching methods? Well, using software on the PC is a one-on-one activity – the student and teacher are not interacting. Eileen O’ Duffy, educational consultant for the IT Innovation Centre at Intel says that amongst the benefits of the IWB are “involvement in the lesson and collaborative learning”. This interaction and collaboration not only aids the learning process but also develops a child’s personal and social skills. Duffy goes on to say that with the traditional whiteboard and blackboard interaction between the teacher and student ceases every time the teacher turns around to write but with the IWB there is no loss of all important eye-contact. The IWB also benefits the teacher by making it possible to save and print notes made on the whiteboard during class, eliminating time-consuming duplication of notes afterwards. With the IWB teachers can also share and re-use their teaching materials. The pupil benefits from the graphic, dynamic software that enables easier digestion of more complex ideas. The great thing about the IWB is that no keyboard is needed for input so students with learning disabilities and also younger students can enjoy the benefits of the technology.
There are several Irish-based software companies that supply software that can be used with the IWB. Easiteach, the software used by the Drumcondra Education Centre’s IWB pilot scheme, is provided by Irish agent Edtech Software based in Westport, Co. Mayo. Easiteach has a wide range of software for the IWB that can also be used on a normal desktop PC.
Edware has its headquarters in Co. Kildare and supplies geography software such as ‘Know Your Ireland’ along with ‘A whale of a Tale’ series covering science, maths, languages and social studies.
Learning Horizons, founded by Kevin Farrell a former primary school teacher in the Tallaght, area offers the Destination Series which covers maths, English and music and offers a 30-day free trial for educators wishing to test the waters.
The non-government organisation Gael Linn provides two software titles: Beir Bua 1 (ages 4-7) and Beir Bua 2 (ages 8-11) for primary level. Both titles cover maths, science and Irish. They are compatible with the national curriculum and are in both the English and Irish language.
IWB pilot project
The Drumcondra Education Centre in conjunction with the Irish Computer Society ran the Interactive Whiteboard Pilot Project over the 2004/2005 academic year and selected eight schools to join in the project, three primary, three secondary, one special education school: St Mary’s School for deaf girls in Cabra and one Gael scoil: Scoil Neasain in Harmonstown. David Kearney, the project manager, states on the website for the pilot project that the aim of the project is “to investigate the effectiveness or otherwise of using Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom.” The objectives of the project are to investigate the impact on whole-class teaching, the impact on learning and to see if new teaching/learning strategies are developed. The project also hopes to create a database of teaching and learning resources and to create new curriculum-based resources.
Government policy on funding for IWBs
Compared to the widespread integration of the interactive whiteboard in the UK education system Ireland is quite a way behind. On talking to the NCTE (National Centre for Technology in Education), they agreed that the IWB was a great education tool and they felt that the main obstacle in getting the IWB into the Irish classroom was the cost factor. The government has provided grants over the past four years for the purchase of PCs for schools and subsequent networking grants over the past year. When I asked the Dept of Education about funding for the IWB one source asked “What is an interactive whiteboard?” I was eventually told that “no direct funding” was given, while another source gave me a simple “No.” This is in stark contrast to Digisound’s experience of the UK market. “The uptake of interactive technology has been very positive in the UK. Large scale grants on the educational side have allowed schools to embrace interactive whiteboard technology allowing boards to be installed in practically every classroom.”
The IWB pilot scheme in Drumcondra uses the Promethean Interactive Whiteboard and accessories range. Digisound is the Irish supplier and the cost of a full system is €6000 excluding VAT and PC. For this price Digisound provides the whiteboard itself, digital projector, software, audio and video playback system, training and installation. Ivan Smyth of Digisound says that “the biggest pitfall of all is the introduction of interactive whiteboard technology without the planning and provision of suitable training. There is nothing worse then a state of the art interactive whiteboard system hanging on a wall collecting dust!” Christine Jones of Promethean says that “durability is obviously a key consideration for classrooms as the boards are generally used by over-eager youngsters”.
Osmosis also provides an IWB system called Interactive Techonologies. A 60” screen retails at €1,134 and a 70” screen retails at €1,299. Its main customer base is commercial AV installers and IT resellers, in total a customer base of 2,000. David Fitzgerald of Osmosis said that although it hasn’t begun in education yet here in Ireland they expect their product to move strong volumes in 2007.