A Case for Classrooms

A Case for Classrooms

Installations will go up as IT adoption, now limited to labs in select institutions, rises in both government and private classrooms

By Pratap Vikram Singh

Technology is playing a vital role in modernising education systems. Among other things, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and audiovisual equipment are emerging as powerful tools in modern teaching.

Interactive whiteboards are an alternative to traditional whiteboards and flipcharts. These whiteboards can connect to digital video distribution systems in educational institutions and can also be used to interact with online shared annotation and drawing environments. They offer a powerful means for integrating media elements into teaching to enhance content and support collaborative learning.

IWBs attract the attention of children. The teaching of complex concepts can be simplified through these interactive boards. In organisations other than educational institutions, IWBs can be used during board and client meetings and for presentations. The notes written on these boards can be saved and circulated via e-mail.

Nascent market, healthy outlook

Around one million interactive whiteboards are expected to be sold globally in 2010, according to a report by Futuresource Consulting of United Kingdom. The IWB adoption continues to gather steam, with nearly 750,000 boards sold worldwide in 2009.

According to the report, while one out of every hundred classrooms had an interactive whiteboard globally in 2004, the ratio has gone up to nine per hundred at present. Futuresource expects interactive whiteboard to reach one out of every seven classrooms in the world by 2011. It is forecasted that by 2011, 4.7 percent of schools will be having these boards. Interestingly, over 75 percent of the classrooms in United Kingdom have an IWB.

IWB Accessories

Projector: It enables the display of the computer monitor to be projected onto the whiteboard. Short-throw and ultra short-throw projectors have shown more efficiency in the operation.

Track: A track allows the whiteboard to be placed in a way to provide additional wall space in the front of the room. Some tracks provide power and data as well to the whiteboard. A mobile stand is also necessary to move the whiteboard between rooms. The height should be adjustable.

Printer: A printer allows copies of the whiteboard notes to be made. A slate or tablet makes it possible for students to control the whiteboard from the room.

Personal response system: This facilitates students to answer test questions posted on the whiteboard or take part in polls and surveys. Also attached is a wireless unit through which the interactive whiteboard is connected to a computer and operates wirelessly.

Remote control: This allows the presenter to control the board from different parts of the room and eliminates on-screen toolbars.

Types of whiteboards

Interactive whiteboards are sold in wide varieties based on the technology and the usage.

Resistive: These whiteboards are composed of two flexible sheets coated with a resistive material and separated by a micro-thin air gap. This technology allows one to use a finger, a stylus, or any other pointing device on the surface of the board.

Electromagnetic: These work on magnetic sensors that react and send a message back to the computer when they are activated by a magnetic pen. A number of wires are attached to the computer from the board. However, there are other alternative and emerging sensing technologies as well. Optical and infrared: The whiteboard surface responds to the pressure created by the finger and marker through infrared light. This technology allows whiteboards to be made of any material, and with this system no dry-erase marker or stylus is needed.

Embedded dot patterns: Here, the whiteboard surface has a microscopic dot pattern embedded in the writing surface where a wireless digital pen with an infrared camera reads the dot pattern to determine the exact location on the board.

Capacitive: Just like the electromagnetic type, the capacitive type works with an array of wires behind the board. In this case however the wires interact with fingers touching the screen instead of an electromagnetic pen.

Laser: These whiteboards react to infrared laser beams that sweep across the whiteboard surface. The board surface is usually constructed with a hard surface like ceramic, which has long life and erases cleanly.

Ultrasonic and infrared: Here, the marker or stylus sends out both an ultrasonic sound and an infrared light to the whiteboard surface that is made of any material.

Ultrasonic only: These devices have two ultrasonic transmitters in two corners and two receivers in the other two corners. Touching with a pen or even the finger on the whiteboard causes these point waves to be suppressed, and the receivers communicate the fact to the controller.Frustrated internal reflection: In this case, infrared light bounces within a flexible and transparent surface. Image processing software turns the light spots observed by the cameras into mouse or pointer movements.

As per the data available for 2010, India has only one IWB in 200 classrooms. This is expected to go up to six in hundred by 2014. In 2009, overall there were 7,500 IWB in India. This year, it has grown to 16,000 and by 2011 it is expected to shoot up to 38,000. This shows a clear spur in the demand for interactive boards in the India classrooms. According to a research report by Futuresource, India provides a significant market opportunity, because of its 4.9 million classrooms spread across 1.2 million schools. Out of these, 1.6 million classrooms are in private schools, which represent a mere 19 percent of the total number of schools in the country.

Govt versus private schools

Overall, there are almost as many private schools in India as there are government schools which have computers, however, the market is extremely fragmented with a vast disparity in the education system throughout the country. In most schools, IT equipment tends to be located in an IT lab as opposed to individual classrooms, thereby limiting the potential penetration opportunities for IWBs and projectors.

In India, the adoption of IWBs in private schools has been speedier than in government schools. However, in many other countries including UK, Italy, Spain, Australia, Russia, it is the other way round. Governments are quite serious about IWBs' adoption and are prioritising their installations in schools and higher educational institutions.

Interactive whiteboards serve the purpose of an electronic file and allow the teacher to store notes and annotations for later distribution in both paper as well as electronic format. Companies are now focusing on creating supplementing instructional material specifically designed for interactive whiteboards.

Adoption of IWBs in private schools is faster than in government schools. In many European countries, it is the other way round

When it comes to non-education segments, IWB options are still somewhat limited. However, prospects of using IWB in meeting rooms, both in the government and industry sectors quite bright. So far, IWB market stakeholders seem to have taken little interest in developing IWB offerings for the non-education streams. A potential barrier for IWB market growth is that in many Indian schools, computers are used in computer labs rather than in classrooms. Since IWBs need to be connected to computers, many schools will initially be installing a single unit (for the lab). They will require more IWB units only when computers expand from the labs into the classrooms. Given this, it may be more relevant to consider IWB penetration by schools and not by classrooms in India. 

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