The next generation of whiteboards was unveiled at BETT Middle East
Bored with whiteboards? Been there, done that and got the tee-shirt? Wake up. The technology is moving on, bringing in the multi-touch gestures of the iPhone and Windows 7 – tap, pinch, expand, rotate, swipe – for teachers and students.
UK company Promethean has been first off the mark with a public demonstration of new technology which uses both finger and pen when it previewed its radical new ActivBoard 500 Pro at the first BETT Middle East event at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. It makes board work even more sophisticated, eye-catching and engaging, and brings in students for more collaborative classroom activities.
The Promethean ActivBoard 500 introduces a raft of new features that simultaneously exploit greater complexity while simplifying tasks that until now require multiple clicks and manoeuvres. The default setting enables teachers to use the pen for drawing and the fingers for moving and manipulating their creations. But in reality they can do whatever they want and adjust the settings to accommodate their strengths and styles of working. (You can see the fluidity and creativity offered in the Promethean YouTube video below.)
This represents a generation change for whiteboards. Change was necessary to exploit the multi-touch gesture capabilities now offered by the main computer platforms, Windows 7 and Apple’s Snow Leopard. So the ActivBoard 500 Pro, which gets its official launch at the BETT 2011 show in London in January, will allow Windows and Mac users to use gestures in any of the native programs that support it on their Promethean boards.
New Promethean software works on Windows, Mac and Linux
However, Promethean has also upgraded its own ActivInspire classroom software (to version 1/5) to bring in gesture and other features. And this works on Windows 7, Mac and Linux too, and is also compatible with older Promethean boards (although that hardware will not support multi-touch). Altogether these hardware and software developments create a far richer range of possibilities and far easier and more natural and collaborative ways of working.
“The ActivBoard 500 Pro represents the most significant advance in interactive whiteboard technology since it was first introduced in schools,” said Ian Curtis, head of UK and Ireland for Promethean. “Teachers now have access to a dual-mode solution and can use both pen and touch input for any given activity. Expectations and usability of technology have changed with developments in consumer electronics, and with it a new set of actions has emerged – the tap of a screen has replaced the click of a button. These digital behaviours are now automatic reactions and can be used to operate our new generation of interactive whiteboards.”
The new boards have been tested in schools in England, the US, France and Australia and the response, says Promethean, has been overwhelming. This is what a UK beta tester had to say: “Initial impressions of the multi-touch board are: first, how much more dynamic and focused the whiteboard content can be and, second, how this adds to the pace of a lesson and attracts (and retains) the attention of the students involved…
“For me, it's the immediate, easy way that I can say ‘Look at this... we can compare it with this... and this. But where does this fit in? Come up to the board and show me what you think…’
'Makes the lesson more collaborative, dynamic and focused…'
“Because the board is multi-touch, several children plus the teacher can be working simultaneously. This encourages discussion and teamwork and makes the lesson more collaborative, dynamic and focused…
“Personalised, dynamic, exciting and focused whiteboard-based lessons were once the domain of a minority of teachers who could confidently create flipcharts which met particular lesson objectives. With a multi-touch board from Promethean, effective teachers are more able to be effective users of technology within the classroom. As a self-confessed less-techy teacher I have, in the past, been shown technology-based teaching tools only to think, ‘Well, that's great, but how long will it take me to learn that and what are the chances I'll still remember it next week?’
"I have had the use of a multi-touch Promethean board for two days and already I wouldn't be without it. Finally, a piece of technology that doesn't get in the way of my teaching ... that allows me to think and teach without the need for a teacher-to-technology translation”
Until now, industry observers had felt that the only thing that differentiated the leading whiteboard suppliers was a finger – Promethean’s keenest rival, SMART, has always offered finger control. Now the competition has changed as multi-touch technology has become available, and Promethean has decided to provide the best of both worlds, as well as enabling up to six people to use these boards simultaneously.
The demonstrations at BETT Middle East were comprehensive and convincing, and the only thing not touched on was the price. A company spokesperson said that pricing would be finalised for BETT 2011 and expected it to be around 10-15 per cent higher than its current premier boards. While other ranges will continue to be sold and supported, there's no doubt that the ActivBoard 500 Pro represents the new generation of whiteboards and expect to see announcements from other key providers at BETT, including SMART.
The ActivBoard 500 Pro is available in 87-inch and 95-inch widescreen versions. For finger touch it uses projected capacitance multi-touch technology, and for pen operation it employs passive electromagnetic. These two systems allow the board to distinguish between pen and touch.
As with other Promethean interactive whiteboards, the new board has a tough, hardwearing surface, and it comes with ActivInspire 1.5 software, which supports both touch and pen input, and two free multi-touch applications for mind mapping and lesson planning – NoteBoard and TouchPad.
BETT 2011, January 12-15
Promethean: stand B30