Lighting the Dark Ages: Electronic Whiteboards Allow Teachers to Break the Antiquated Classroom Model and Make Interactive Learning an Everyday Habit. (Special Section: Presentation Systems)

Article excerpt

Blackboards may be entering the dustbin of educational history as school districts across the nation are eschewing chalk dust for advanced interactive whiteboards that can capture notes, copy them and save them for later postings to Web sites. Administrators are equipping newly built schools with electronic whiteboards and retrofitting boards in older buildings with attachable units.

The key benefit of the boards, say school teachers and technology directors, is that they can act as computer screens allowing teachers to move through Internet-based lessons without having to leave the front of the room. Teachers can just touch the screen to control functions.

While the idea of interactive whiteboards in classrooms seems like a natural, some of the first uses came by accident. SMART Technologies of Alberta, Canada, created some boards for business and before the company Knew it, teachers were asking about buying them, says Nancy Knowlton, Smart's COO. "It was educators who first recognized the tremendous value of these products in the classroom. We had always thought it would be a corporate communications tool. Education is now the company's biggest market customer segment.

Twenty-five Percent and Growing

Almost one in four of educators use an electronic whiteboard for instruction, according to a recent study by Quality Education Data. Another 4 percent say they plan to purchase a model within the year. And now a plethora of companies are offering a wide range of whiteboards that range in price from about $1,500 to $7,500 depending on size and capabilities. Some of the more expensive models have computers and projectors built in. Some simply work as copy and capturing devices. SMART Boards allow teachers to capture notes on the board, save them in a database and post the notes to a Web site. The boards also allow teachers and students to write on the board with special markers. Mimio and e-Beam manufacture attachable products that can turn blackboards and whiteboards into interactive boards at a cost of about $700 per device. Some schools have a variety of interactive whiteboard products in their schools, depending on what their budget allows.

Tim Fahlberg, a math and technology teacher at the International Community School in Washington's Lake Washington School District uses an e-Beam System I to create math movies at home that he later replays in class. Fahlberg says he went with the less expensive e-Beam attachable systems so more teachers could use the technology. He, says the district got a grant to purchase the e-Beams.

"We will be using them to capture notes in math, physics and Spanish and control software," he says. "Most people just don't have a clue that such a system exists and is so affordable."

Phil Thomas, a technology director for Fulton County schools in Georgia, says his goal is to put some type of interactive whiteboard technology in every classroom. The district has equipped classrooms in newly built schools with SMART Boards and is replacing whiteboards in older schools with interactive models.

The district is able to tap into $76 million in sales tax money to finance the purchases. The tax was instituted exclusively to purchase technology for the district. The district also receives about $1.5 million each year from lottery money that it is able to use for technology.

"You can equip a classroom with a projector, whiteboard and everything you need for about $3,000 and the cost of a computer. So it is not unthinkable to move in the direction of one whiteboard for every classroom," says Thomas. "It's almost within reach now. If schools begin to buy in volume, schools will begin to get them for a lesser price."

Making Technology Easy

Teachers across the country are using whiteboards in a variety of ways. Some use them exclusively to capture and copy notes on the board. Some use them to save the notes and post them to a Web site so students can call the lesson up at home and review it. …