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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).

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. And others rely on them to access the Web in a large presentation format.

Manufacturers of the boards say they have focused on developing easy-to-use technology because they know many teachers don't have a lot of time for training and may not use the technology if it is difficult to operate.

"Our products must have `walk up and use' profile," says Michael Dunn, president of PolyVision, which markets the CopyCam and Webster. "First use must inspire future use."

Many teachers say the whiteboards have brought classrooms out of the Dark Ages.

"We are trying to help our kids be prepared for tomorrow but lots of time in education we are using tools of yesterday," says Charlie Garten, executive director of technology for the Poway Unified School District in California.

The district, which has 32 schools, has two SMART boards in Poway High School, and five at the newly built Westview school. Two are in common areas, such as the library, two are mobile, and one is used for teacher training. In addition, the district has purchased several attachable devices to retrofit its standard boards in older schools. Garten says the boards have been effective in training sessions for teachers. He says a civics teacher uses one board to save class notes and post them later to a Web site. And a science teacher will use the board to present a dissection for the entire class to follow.

"I think there are three really good things about them. They are large enough to see. The teacher has complete control from the board itself. And they can be used to help students discuss issues, save the notes and post them," says Garten. "I think we have just scratched the surface for these."

Still, the costs of the devices do present a challenge, he says. His district took advantage of some discounts offered by companies eager to market their products. Garten says it is important for school officials who want to purchase the boards to educate elected officials who hold the district's purse strings.

"What we have to focus our state government on is that technology is more than just computers," he says. "We've been getting a lot of grants to buy computers, but there are peripheral devices like these whiteboards that are a boon to education."

Extending Tech's Reach

In Overland Park, Kan., which has 18,000 students and 29 schools, teachers are making use of about 40 to 50 interactive whiteboards, says Bob Moore, executive director for information technology services. Moore says he purchased two boards three years ago for the high school. Demand for them soon grew. "This is the kind of technology I really like to see because it extends the computer," he says.

The district was able to purchase several SMART boards and attachable devices from Mimio and e-Beam with the help of a 1998 $25 million bond issue for technology.

"At this point, we have no chalkboards in our district," Moore says. "For us, we will have these installed in new schools as part of the basic technology."

Marsha Ratzel, teacher coordinator for technology, says the district is working to train teachers to use the boards in innovative ways.

"What we are really trying to envision in all of this is moving people beyond using the board as a computer touch screen," she says. "My guess is if we are using it like that, as a big computer screen, I as a taxpayer would be mad. If all you need is a bigger picture then you can use a pull down screen, which is cheapen We want to use it more interactively."

Ratzel says she helps teachers figure out ways to use the boards in their lesson plans.

"For example," she says, "I can get a math teacher to show a four-step problem, put each step in a different color and the kids can import that image into a JPEG and write a narrative showing me they understand it."

Christine Stevenson, a third-grade teacher at Prairie Star Elementary in the district, used a SMART board during a lesson about Australia. As part of a Classroom Connections project by Quest, Stevenson's class watched a video journal of explorers in Australia. The images were projected on the whiteboard.

"It was amazing, having it that big. You almost feel you were there," she says.

Stevenson also used the board to post notes when the students were working on journals about the Australia trip.

Prairie Start teacher Becci Tyler says she uses the SMART board every day in her fourth-grade classroom. "When we are doing notes or going over information, I often put it up on the SMART board because I can write it up for students who have disabilities or problems transferring notes onto paper," she says.

She also prepares lessons in advance and then calls them up on the board, instead of having to write everything down on the blackboard.

"It saves a huge amount of time. It is so much more efficient than being on the blackboard," says Tyler.

Anne Podber, a high school chemistry and meteorology at Chattahoochee High School in Altharetta, Ga., uses a CopyCam from PolyVision. The CopyCam attaches to a chalkboard or whiteboard and captures all that is written on it. The notes can then be printed out, saved to a diskette or saved to a built-in Web server.

"I take a picture of the notes and give it to the students so the accuracy is consistent between what I say and what they write. Some kids have a hard time copying notes, especially teenagers because they are distracted," says Podber.

Podber, who team-teaches with a special education teacher, says she also uses the CopyCam to save the notes for her colleague.

"She doesn't have the science background, but she can use my notes and then she appears, too," says Podber.

As competition among companies heat up, many are introducing more advanced whiteboard systems that come equipped with curriculum and templates.

Thomas says his district just purchased an Active Board from a British company. The board comes equipped with content, such as a diagram of the human body and maps. The whiteboard can also project graph paper image or music staffs and tally answers to questions it posts on the board.

Educators say that while interactive boards should not be used to fully replace the student task of taking notes, the boards' ability to save notes is one of its most important functions.

"I think the beauty of the electronic whiteboard is the ability to capture the things you are doing, and then you can go back to them as part of your learning process," he says. "In the past those things were lost day-to-day."


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Egan Teamboard,

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Smart Technologies,


Virtual Ink,

Fran Silverman, fransilverman@, is a freelance writer based in Norwalk, Conn.
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Author:Silverman, Fran
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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