I recently visited an urban school in southern Wisconsin. Like so many other schools, they are trying to integrate technology into their instruction. They had several well-stocked carts full of wireless laptops, a projector in every classroom, and a lab full of recycled web-only computers. I was very impressed by everything that I saw and marveled at how a large school like this had so much in common with my little school in Greenwood, with its single large room and buggies trotting down the street. One concern that I realized was universal was the installation of SmartBoards or other interactive whiteboards.
Most of the popular interactive whiteboards, such as my own SmartBoard, are large touch screens that have an image projected on them. Most of these can cost upwards of $1200, a very large investment, especially when you add the cost of a projector, a computer to be connected the board, the wiring for everything, and mounting equipment for the board and the projector.
There is little doubt that interactive whiteboards improve instruction and make lessons more engaging, but when a teacher moves to a different room, grade, building, or leaves the district: where does this expensive piece of equipment go? Often, the teacher that has moved, who has put their time into working this technology, has to give it up as a prerequisite of moving. I know of several schools that find it easier to put off installing whiteboards than deal with the politics of eventually moving them.
Being the type of person that sees a problem and can’t help but try and solve it, I decided to look into portable alternatives to whiteboards for teachers that move to different classrooms, mobile classrooms (teachers who work from carts), and schools that want to share an interactive whiteboard over several grades easily.
The most exciting options for me come from Mimio and eBeam. Both of these companies produce products that turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard. They do this by projecting the computer screen and then attaching a sensor to the surface you wish to make interactive. Many of these products fit into a small case. Several of them are wireless and require little in the way of setup, so they are ideal for portable solutions.
I was particularly impressed by the products from eBeam. They produce a small wireless sensor that attaches magnetically to your whiteboard, as well as the full-featured eBeam Engage, which I loved because it comes complete with speakers and a combination wireless track pad and mini keyboard—a gizmo that would save me lots of time in my room.
All of these conclusions are based on the company websites. I would love a chance to use them firsthand. In particular, I would like to know if there are problems with glare on the typically shiny whiteboard surface. I’d also like to know what solutions there are for a school like mine where we still have lime-green chalkboards. If you are using anything like this, please comment on your experiences. I would love to hear how they work!