If you are responsible for buying new IWBs, or will have a say in the matter, what factors should you consider? Terry Freedman considers the issues.

To look at, you’d think that one interactive whiteboard is pretty much the same as any other – and to a certain extent you’d be right. However, there’s more to it than meets the eye, and there are several factors you ought to consider before signing the cheque.

Does the school already have whiteboards?

In some respects, if the school is brand new the decision is easier because you don’t have past “baggage” to consider. But if the school already exists and already has whiteboards, that’s a different matter. The reason is not so much to do with the whiteboard itself, but the expertise of staff and the resources that have already been created. Put simply: if you buy new whiteboards purely for their functionality with no strategic overview, you will incur further training costs (even if training is free, there is still staff time involved). And having resources which can be used only on some of the whiteboards in the school, but not all, will be confusing and frustrating.

Photo by Pablo Garcia, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pablog61/

“Ah, but”, you say, “this brand new whiteboard from company X will allow me to do this that and the other, and make the tea as soon as the bell for break sounds!”. Maybe so, but you can bet money on it that before too long your present brand will follow suit.

It’s not unknown for schools to have a “mixed economy” of whiteboards: the school may be completely upgrading everything, providing an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, or there may be particular areas where a particular type of board may be more suitable. But if you’re going to mix and match, at least make sure there’s an overall plan guiding you.

Is there a vibrant community of users?

I happen to think this is quite important. Is there a fairly large repository of resources that other users of the whiteboard you’re considering have produced, and made available free of charge? Is there an active user forum you can go to for help?

What functionality do you need, and what is offered?

You have to be a very clear when it comes to reading the specifications of whiteboards. For example, does the description “Multi-user” mean two users, or more? Does the term “multiple touch” (or similar) mean, say, four pupils are able to use it at the same time, or that there can be four hands using it at the same time? And how many pupils will you want to use it at the same time anyway?

Another consideration is: can the board be easily moved up or down according to the height of the pupils using it?

Does the board mainly use pens, or touch? The distinction is not as clear cut these days, as the pen-based boards allow some touch, and the touch-based boards can be used with a pen. However, the pen-based boards will require an investment in spare pens and somewhere to store them, because if a pen goes missing the usefulness of the board is very much reduced.

Another factor to consider is: does it come with, or can it be used with, other technology such as student response systems and visualisers?

Warranties

Consider the warranty being offered. It may come with a three year return to base warranty, but that could mean that the school will have to take charge of packaging and shipping, and then reinstalling it upon its return. You’d probably be better off paying a bit extra and changing it to an on-site warranty.

Training

Look for the hidden extras like training. If you have two whiteboards in the same price range offering similar functionality, but one has an extensive and free training package thrown in, that might be the better option.

The software

Quite often, the distinguishing factor between boards these days is the software. Can the resources created be exported to or imported from another format, for use or editing in other applications? Can you use other software with the board, ie third party software, licence permitting?

Finally...

I think planning is the key to successful investment in technology, in terms of being clear what you’re looking for, and what your possible future needs may be, and remembering to look into the “hidden” aspects of whiteboards such as training, warranties and the other factors considered here.

RM Education have a wide selection of Interactive Whiteboards to choose from, all available online right now!

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