twitter/delicious tag: vniwb

Vendor-Neutral Interactive Whiteboard Activities

What in the heck does that mean?

If your school has ever purchased an interactive whiteboard from a vendor such as SmartTech, Promethean, or Luidia, then you probably had someone from that company come to your school to provide professional development. In my experience, those PD sessions are little more than hour-long commercials for proprietary software. Sure, the hardware is cool, but it's relatively easy to set up and use. If that weren't the case, they wouldn't be able to sell the things. It's the proprietary software that is included with the device that gives people headaches and makes the device seem like more than a really big mouse (which it essentially is).

What What What? Hardware? Software?

When you purchase an interactive whiteboard (IWB) system, you are buying three things:
  1. The physical device
  2. The instructions that tell your computer how to use it (this is called a driver)
  3. A display program that allows you to interact with your desktop and do fun things like draw on top of documents, create interactive presentations, and manipulate the screen as if you were using a mouse

The first is hardware, the second and third are software. Let's begin with hardware. Most IWBs fall into one of 3 hardware categories:
  1. Big old slate that you hang on the wall and touch external image smart-board-600i.JPG
  2. Sonic pen + sensor (usually attached to a regular whiteboard) external image img190.gif
  3. Infrared camera + infrared pen. external image setting.png

In terms of functionality, it really doesn't matter which kind you get. The wiimote whiteboard, which I use, is the most cost effective, and it can be used in the most places. Some people prefer to slap large slates on their walls. It takes all kinds.

The reason most schools would rather buy proprietary IWBs rather than using wiimotes is the simple fact that proprietary systems are easier to install and use. You really just insert the CD-ROM, install the software, then connect the device. Beyond that, districts and schools can be taken in by vendors who show their proprietary display software's bells and whistles. Watching one of these vendor presentations, it is possible to believe that the only way to achieve the software functions in the vendor presentation is to buy the product.

That is not the case.

There are plenty of open-source and vendor-neutral alternatives out there that work perfectly with less costly IWB systems.

So what can I do with an IWB?

IWB activities can be grouped under a few categories:

Document Manipulation

This is what you sometimes see on television: teachers using IWBs to mark up papers. This can be a valuable way to making your thinking about writing very visible. If the teacher, for example, takes some student writing and evaluates it on the IWB, color-coding certain elements, bold-facing some, and adding comments (by making a quick trip to the keyboard), he is showing his students how he thinks about evaluation, and how they should think about creation. This is better than just working at the computer because it bestows the power of gesture upon the teacher. Instead of just moving his mouse around a word to draw attention to it, he can point.

Clearly, this can be done with any word processing program.

To get a bit more involved, there are plenty of desktop annotation programs out there that provide an easy way to write directly on your desktop. These are widely available for PC and Mac, less so for Linux.

Screen Shading

This is a feature that is just hard to duplicate outside of commercial software. It consists of drawing down virtual shades over your desktop in order to "hide" certain information. In practice, however, this feature can be negated with other facets of instructional design.

Virtual World Manipulation

IWB + Google Street View = Instant awesome

Web activities

Any activity that you'd do with a student on a desktop can be made class accessible on an IWB. Any IWB.

Web browsing

Of course, you can just browse the web with your class. This can be a great way to demonstrate the online research process (especially in collaboration with Diigo.


Any IWB can run a presentation on Powerpoint (or, better, Google Presentations). I think Etoys is a great presentation package, one that can be tailored to each class's needs.


Any paint program can act as a whiteboard to draw on. Tuxpaint is great for this. You can also use the personal version of Promethean's Activeinspire.