John Galloway gets a glimpse of display futures with the Span Classroom Collaboration System

Interactive whiteboards first arrived with the promise that they would take us to a place where teachers could offer their classes dynamic, engaging, high-tech lessons, and pupils would have more opportunities to demonstrate what they know in a myriad of ways, using those that suit them best.

But we only seemed to be half way there; until the arrival, at BETT 2016, of a new collaboration system, Span. And it's a paradigm shift.

picDaveNancyUntil now, clever whiteboard technology has been the preserve of the ‘sage on the stage’, standing at the front and imparting knowledge, too often just making use of the projector to display PowerPoint presentations.

Span, from nureva, is a new interactive system that might move us on that little bit further. Its roots are in the SMART Technologies family, sold off a little while ago by Nancy Knowlton and her husband David Martin (pictured right) who gave us the first interactive whiteboards. They clearly didn’t fancy sitting on a private island counting clouds, and are back with another approach to interaction - on walls. But forget what you know about Smart; this is different.

For a start it isn’t the surface that is interactive but the projector - or a pair of projectors, depending on how big you want to go. Any flat wall will do. The beauty of it is that the working area can be either 20 feet (one projector), or 40 (two), determined by which set-up you went for. You could even use three projectors. 

Screen scrolls 'virtually' 

However, you don’t need a wall that big as the screen scrolls from side to side, meaning that only part of what is available to you is visible at any one time. So you might start at one end, then gradually build up over time as you have more information, but flick back periodically to see what your earlier thoughts were. Or you might have a less regulated area everyone can use to contribute their ideas.

Along with the breadth of space available, the wall also accommodates 20 points of touch, so most of a class can be working on it at any one time. And if learners can’t get to the wall they could be using the personal apps on their mobiles or tablets to add and edit, perhaps snapping photos when they are out and about, or sitting doing their homework pulling together other students' ideas to help create their own argument.

The tools are rudimentary, deliberately so. A toolbox sits on the screen and lets you pull up post-it notes to add text to, a sketchpad for quick scribbles, containers to pull things into, and flip charts that can build to explain a point. There is no mind-mapping tool, but users can pull stick-on notes into a container. Images can be added via mobiles, and sound and video are on the ‘to-do’ list for version two. It may not matter though. The point here is not what the technology does, but how the users can use it to spark, record and nourish creativity.

As a means for many users collaborating quickly and easily to share ideas, this has a lot of potential. As a way of letting kids have a go with the cool technology at the front of the room, it might just make a big difference.

Nureva Span, from £5,999, for projector, cloud space and three-year software licence

John GallowayJohn Galloway, co-author of Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies, is an adviser, writer and consultant who specialises in ICT for SEN and inclusion. He works with local authorities, a range of schools and provides training for educators at every level.

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