Originally authored by Shannon Coffey; revised by Christine Little and Kathie McGregor (March 2010); revised by Jeremy Reid (March 2011); revised by Julie Kotler (2012).
An interactive whiteboard (IWB), also known as an electronic or digital whiteboard, is a large touch sensitive display screen that connects to a computer and projector. To operate the IWB, the user controls it directly from the screen in the same way a mouse is used to control a computer. IWBs also have many multimedia functions, such as Internet access, images, sound and video files.
Together, these features allow the user to enhance and provide content that is interactive, dynamic and engaging. Consequently, IWBs are commonly used in education within primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions to deliver lessons as well as within businesses and governments for meetings and training (Higgins, S. et al., 2007). Interactive whiteboards generally vary in price from $1100 to $3000 (excluding additional hardware) depending on the brand and model. Most IWBs are purchased through local resellers, which can be found by searching within a particular location on the manufacturers website. Common brand names of interactive whiteboards include SMART Board, ActivBoard, eBeam, DualBoard™Mimio, ēno and StarBoard; two common software names are SMART Notebook and ActivInspire.
The interactive whiteboard was originally envisioned by David Martin and Nancy Knowlton in 1987. Soon after, they co-founded the company SMART Technologies and introduced the world’s first SMART Board in 1991. While the original concept was to create a device that would function as a whiteboard and computer, by the time it was presented to the market the touch sensitive application had also been added (SMART Tech, 2012). The purpose of that key feature was to include the ability to control the board with the touch of a finger in a way that allowed the user to write over Microsoft Windows applications presented on the screen (“Interactive Whiteboards”, 2010).
In addition to the first IWB, many other models and resources have been introduced over the past twenty years by SMART Technologies and other prevailing companies like Promethean World and Numonics. For instance, in 1992, SMART Technologies produced IWBs with rear projection and in 1994 Numonics added an interactive products division to their company, which established the first pen-centric interactive whiteboard. Then, in 1997, SMART Technologies created a collaborative software program called the SMART Notebook (“Interactive Whiteboards”, 2010).
By 2001, recording software had been developed in addition to the basic features, so that now its users could play videos, audio files and record their own lessons or presentations (Radcliff, 2010). In 2009, Promethean designed ActivInspire software for the ActivBoard and PolyVision made ēno, the world’s first environmentally certified and low cost interactive whiteboard. As a result of the increasing popularity of these developments, the sales of interactive whiteboards, in a global context, tripled from one quarter to three quarters of a million from 2005 to 2009 (Lee, 2010). One of the latest models released in 2012, is the four-touch interactive whiteboard designed by SMART Technologies (SMART Tech, 2012).
How Interactive Whiteboards Work
Every interactive whiteboard system requires three basic components: a computer, projector and the interactive whiteboard. To use it, the projector is connected to both the computer and IWB so that the document or media opened on the computer is displayed for the audience on the screen. In contrast to previous conventional computer and projector setups, the user controls the IWB directly from the surface of the screen either by using the special pens accompanied with the board or with the touch of a finger. In this way, the user can interact with the IWB so as to more readily engage the audience. While most IWBs only allow for one input or finger/pen to be used at a time, the new models recently released in 2012 can allow up to four users to simultaneously select, write or draw on the board (“SMART Tech, 2012).
In terms of ease of use, interactive whiteboards are designed so that novice users, who are familiar with computer software, can use it with minimal training. Then, as experience grows, the user can utilize the related software, usually offered by the manufacturer of the IWB to carry out more advanced and flexible operations. The following video links demonstrate how an IWB is used and explains some of the general software features: ActivBoard Demoand SMART Board Demo.
Most IWB manufacturers also provide the user access to an online community wherein complete lessons, ranging by grade and subject can be searched and downloaded. Among those lessons, some offer professionally designed content with sophisticated multimedia and interactive capabilities that you can purchase from publishers, magazines and other content providers. Examples include SMART Exchange, MimioConnect, Hitachi Educators Portal and Promethean Planet.
Most interactive whiteboard manufacturers provide software programs as a collaborative tool so as to enhance the visual and audio quality for any lesson or presentation given. In general, software applications designed for use with interactive whiteboards contain the following features:
- Pages - This application functions as a design work area that can be created and modified before or during the lesson or presentation. Each page can include text, images, videos, website links and anything drawn directly on the IWB. Afterwards, all of the work done can be saved for reference and future use.
- Pens and highlighters - These tools are used to write and draw on the IWB. They can also be used to take a snapshot of the screen, highlight a specific area by creating a spotlight around it or use a magnifier to enhance a portion of the screen.
- Interactive activities - This includes a series of tools, games and activities, most of which are animated and powered by Java.
- Backgrounds and objects - The purpose of the background option is to apply color or patterns to a document. The objects tool can be used for drawing or hiding other information. Both of these features have the option to add animation to it.
- Digital galleries - This is a large bank of ready-made images, multimedia and subject specific tools that can be easily incorporated into a lesson or presentation.
- Page recording capabilities – The main function of this is to record the activity taking place on the IWB, which can also be saved and replayed for immediate or later review.
One of the most commonly used interactive whiteboards is the SMART Board, manufactured by SMART Technologies. In collaboration with it, many of its users employ the companion software SMART Notebook to create lessons and presentations. In general, two of the leading reasons it has become popular is because it is user-friendly and offers a variety of interactive and animated activities. The software is organized so that all of the activities, games and tools are listed in sub-folders within one main menu called the lesson activity toolkit. A demonstration of how SMART Notebook works can be viewed here. Some of the features found within each of these sub-folders include the following:
- Category sort - An activity used to organize items into their appropriate groups through classification.
- Tiles - The purpose of this activity is to hide words or images and then reveal them. The tiles can be used to cover one large picture or multiple words or images behind each tile.
- Hotspot - An interactive map used to identify various cities, countries and continents throughout the world.
- Anagram - A word scramble wherein the audience uses the hints provided to rearrange the letters given to uncover the answer.
- Sudoku - An interactive game based on numbers and logic wherein some of the numbers are provided and the rest is left for the audience to complete according to the game rules.
- Crossword puzzle - A multimedia version of the classic crossword puzzle game. By simply entering the words and clues to be used, the media tool will automatically mix up and generate the puzzle for you.
- Click and reveal - This tool covers up a word, page or image to be revealed at a later time by selecting the object over top.
- Pull tab - This tool allows the user to add an image or text to an object, which can be hidden on the side of the screen and revealed when needed.
- Dice - A multimedia dice that can start and stop spinning on command by clicking on it.
ActivInspire is a software program designed by Promethean and is used to create educational lessons geared for its interactive whiteboard called ActivBoard. Originally, Promethean had developed two separate software applications, ActivStudio which was intended for educators and presenters and ActivPrimary was directed towards primary education. Since then, ActivInspire was created as a newer version to include both within the same application (“ActivInspire”, 2012). A demonstration of how ActivInspire works can be viewed here. Similar to SMART Notebook, a variety of activities, games and widgets among other tools are arranged in sub-folders within the main shared resource browser. Some of the features found within each of these sub-folders include the following:
- Fraction maker - A colorful visual representation that is broken down into different size rectangles to represent various fractions within a whole.
- Which one is it? - An activity that has the audience answer questions by selecting the correct image from a series of images.
- American states - A map meant to teach the location of states within the United States. To use this, each state is positioned outside of the map and can be correctly placed by clicking and dragging it onto the desired location.
- Label instruments - This game can be used to teach musical instruments by clicking and dragging the label to its correct image.
- Sliding puzzle - A puzzle that is solved by clicking and dragging the pieces around the screen to complete the picture.
- Matching pairs - This is a classic memory game wherein the goal is to click and match the cards into ordered pairs.
- Balancing activity - A tool used to compare the weights of two different objects.
- Color wheel - A color wheel used to teach primary colors as well as various hues, tints and shades.
- Interactive clock - This widget teaches telling time by correctly identifying and labeling the hours and minutes on the clock.
The majority of IWB manufacturers also develop supplementary hardware to accompany IWB products. Some of the additional hardware comprise of the following:
- Learner Response System – This device is an electronic remote or clicker used by an audience as a means to directly respond to a particular lesson or presentation. While the specific features of this tool vary from model to model, most units contain a USB receiver that sets up a radio frequency in the room with a range of approximately 100' (30m) as well as an LCD screen that allows the user to edit and change their response. The types of responses that can be requested include true or false, yes or no, numeric, opinion or word answers and complete mathematical or scientific equations. When an instructor requests feedback, the audience enters their response on the clicker. Once submission is complete the results are stored within the accompanying software, which, the instructor can present on the interactive whiteboard with each entry listed or anonymously.
Since its initial development, many different versions of this device, such as the SMART Response interactive response system or Prometheans ActiVote have become available and can be applied to various settings. However, it is still most commonly used within the classroom to generate a variety of responses from individual students in group activities or on a test, exam or quiz. Then, once all of the responses have been submitted, the results can be automatically entered into a grade book program to keep track of student performance. A visual demonstration of how the SMART Response interactive response system works and its application can be viewed here.
As the learner response systems has continued to evolve, some companies have developed special software or applications that allow the user to enter interactive responses on a smartphone, laptop or iPod touch. This enables the same features of the interactive clicker only without the hardware.
File:2Spacer.jpgFile:2Spacer.jpg Response PE for education File:2Spacer.jpg Response LE for education File:2Spacer.jpg Response XE for education File:2Spacer.jpg Promethean ActivVote File:2Spacer.jpg Promethean ActivExpression File:2Spacer.jpg Dymo MimioVote File:2Spacer.jpg eInstruction CPS™ Pulse File:2Spacer.jpg eInstruction CPS™ IR File:2Spacer.jpg PolyVision Qwizdom Q6 remote
- Wireless Tablet/Slate – This instrument was designed to allow participants to interact with the IWB from other locations in the room. They have an electromagnetic screen and typically use a Class 2 Bluetooth adapter with an expected range of 32' (10 m) within a room. Some of the key benefits from this are that it provides greater mobility to the instructor during the lecture and prevents anxiety for those who may be reluctant to present in front of their peers. Most companies that manufacture interactive whiteboards also have a wireless tablet or slate available as an accessory like the SMART slate, ActivTablet or ActivSlate.
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- Document Camera - The purpose of this camera is to display 2D objects like paper or a textbook and images of real 3D objects on the interactive whiteboard. The images from these cameras can be captured and manipulated or saved for use with the IWBs proprietary software. Other features offered are: zoom in/out, autofocus, extra light sources, microscope adapters, SD card capture slots, still image and video capture. Two of the most common document cameras available as an accessory by IWB manufacturers are ActiView and SMART document camera.
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- Audio classroom amplification system - The intention of the audio system is to provide the user with the ability to control and enhance the sound level of one’s own voice or any multimedia being shown during a presentation or lesson. This is beneficial to presenters as it can help keep the audience focused on the task at hand, especially when there are often external noises that can be distracting. Most of the models designed by IWB manufacturers like the SMART amplification system and ActivSound contain a wireless microphone, four speakers that can be mounted on the wall or ceiling and audio input and output to connect it to an MP3, DVD player or camera. Another feature included in the SMART models is that it can be integrated to its collaborative software by touching one button.
Application and Performance
Over the past twenty years, interactive whiteboards have become a leading technology in educational settings as it has the unique ability to transform a classroom from that of a traditional nature to a dynamic and integrative learning environment. Consequently, there has been a dramatic rise in the implementation of IWBs within primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions around the world. According to a report issued by SMART Technologies, ‘over 20 million students in more than 900,000 classrooms in more than 175 countries around the world are currently using SMART products ("Quick facts", 2012). Within the developing countries, as of 2009 with immeasurable government support, the United Kingdom was the leader in its prevalent use as over 70% of classrooms had installed an interactive whiteboard. Similarly, the Netherlands and Denmark had reported that 40-42% of its schools were using IWBs, as were just fewer than 30% in Australia, United States, Canada, Ireland, and Mexico (Lee, 2010).
As for third world countries, many initiatives have recently been established to bring interactive whiteboards to their classrooms too. The main goal for most of these projects is to improve the education offered to children and youth in poorer countries that are already facing many detrimental problems from poverty to disease and violence. One such organization, CyberSmart Africa was established in 2007 by Jim Teicher and is now partnered with the United States Agency for International Development, the Senegalese Ministry of Education and the United Nations Development Programme among others. One of the key driving forces behind this initiative was to reach and improve the learning in Sub Sahara African schools that are often ignored and do not have access to educational technologies. Recently, CyberSmart Africa introduced the world’s first solar-powered interactive whiteboards to schools in Senegal and now educates approximately 20% of the world’s population living without electricity (CyberSmart, 2012). More information on this organization can be found here.
As interactive whiteboards have become increasingly used in education, so too has research regarding its relation to learner performance. Among those studies, most have unanimously concluded that a relationship does exist, however there is also a discrepancy in whether that effect is significant. On one hand, studies that compared classrooms using IWBs to those that did not, such as that conducted by Higgins et al. (2007) and Schuck and Kearney (2007), all concluded that there was no significant difference among students academic achievement or performance. Conversely, a study conducted by Lewin et al. (2008) found that the longer students were taught using an IWB, the more their performance improved, especially within mathematics, science and literacy. Similarly, Thompson & Flecknoe (2003) also showed overall improvements in academic achievement was 39.4% when an IWB program called Easiteach Math was used (DiGregorio & Sobel-Lojeski, 2010).
Despite this difference, most studies have agreed that a positive correlation between performance and motivation does exist. As such, the context within which the IWB is used in learning will play a key role in nurturing that motivation to improve performance. The more factors such as teacher training, practice time, teacher confidence, school culture and technical support are encouraged, the greater the likelihood of improved learner performance (DiGregorio & Sobel-Lojeski, 2010).
In addition to educational environments, interactive whiteboards are also widely being used within the business world to deliver presentations during meetings, exchange information in conferences and to train employees. Using the IWBs features and Internet access allows the user to present data, graphs, statistical charts, sales numbers and other pertinent information in a more visually appealing and engaging manner (“Interactive Whiteboards,” 2011).
One major company that uses SMART Boards in their offices is the Microsoft Technology Center in the United Kingdom. According to Martyn Davis, a manager at MTC, using interactive whiteboards has exponentially increased the efficiency during their meetings with clients. Whereas they previously had to spend a full day preparing notes beforehand and were unable to record additional comments during the meeting, now they can automatically write any notes that come up directly on the IWB, save them on a USB and give a copy to the customer by the end of the meeting. Furthermore, within their own internal meetings, the level of productivity has vastly improved because they can easily access the Internet, internal documents, graphics and presentations as well as write, highlight and save on any of those applications (“Microsoft Technologies”, 2012)
Affordances (possibilities and capabilities)
Engagement - The IWB unequivocally improves the level of audience engagement, which is critical to learning (Beeland, 2002). This capability has become supported by numerous studies that have concluded using the IWB in any given lesson or presentation creates the possibility for it to become visually enhanced. This in turn has been found to have a positive affect on the audience’s concentration and motivation therefore leading to a higher degree of engagement. (Way et al., 2009).
Learning Styles - Interactive whiteboards relate to the theory of multiple intelligences by appealing to different types of learners. The visual/spatial learner can benefit from the interchangeable and colorful display of text, pictures, animation and video in different ways than the conventional classroom (Beeland, 2002; Gillan et al., 2006). The improved auditory features help the verbal/linguistic learner as they can better listen to pronunciation, speeches, poems, sounds, music, and voice recording. As well, the bodily kinaesthetic learner is given the ability to physically interact with the IWB by selecting, displaying, moving and modifying the text or images (Beeland, 2002; Hall & Higgins, 2005; Armstrong et al., 2005; Gillen et al., 2006).
Versatility - The IWB contains features that do not exist in other educational hardware such as the ability to integrate text, sound, video and flash animation. In addition, interactive games, web pages and documents can be linked or embedded. Instant access to material from a wide variety of sources enables the presenter to more easily and effectively produce a lesson or presentation that is not only well resourced and structured but also lively, varied and complex (Gillen et al., 2006; Smith et al., 2005).
Technical interactivity - At its core, IWBs incorporate various multimodal functions found in other non-digital technologies all within one device. This can be seen in the computer and projector components since they both have the capability to perform all the same actions a flipchart, whiteboard, overhead projector or video player would. What differentiates the IWB is its touch-sensitive nature, which allows the user to directly input and manipulate information as well as move and transform objects with their finger or special pen (Mercer et al., 2010).
Grade levels and class composition - The IWB can be utilized among all age groups from nursery school to college and within numerous subject areas. The application can also be further expanded to classes with different ability levels or multi-grade classes by using the split screen feature. This tool allows the educator to simultaneously teach multiple groups of students by separating the content on the board and easily flipping back and forth (Smith et al., 2005; Hall & Higgins, 2005). This notion is supported by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy, which encourages the design of products and environments 'to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design' (“Center for Universal Design”, n.d.). When educational technology follows the UDL principles of providing students with many ways to access, use and engage with learning materials, the needs of all learners are more effectively supported (Rose & Meyer, 2006). Since IWBs are a tool for creating, presenting, and sharing information in a variety of formats, it can be considered a valuable tool for incorporating the UDL principles in classroom instruction.
Considerations Before Installing
Availability and placement - When an interactive whiteboard is available, the first thing to decide is where it should be placed. This means considering the dimensions of the board, maximizing the site lines for the audience and space around the board so those who are disabled can also interact with it. If the IWB is going to be permanently installed in a room, the ideal mount for the projector is a ceiling or wall to avoid accidents or bumping, which requires a recalibration of the IWB. These types of mounts typically are more costly but are worth the expense in terms of the ease of use and the fluidity of presentation (Smith et al., 2005).
Training and willingness - When an IWB first becomes available, the teacher, school and district need to be willing to put in the time and effort required to be trained on how to use the board because installation itself will not lead to utilization. A long-term commitment also must be made to maintain and grow those skills so that it becomes integrated in the teaching process, even as pedagogy and technology changes (Miller & Glover, 2007). To ensure this occurs, there are many useful online tutorials offered by most IWB manufacturers such as on SMART Exchange and Promethean World that can be as a supplement to formal training workshops.
Substitute teachers - Replacement educators tend to be unfamiliar with IWBs and so may require an alternate lesson delivery method (Hall & Higgins, 2005). However, the intuitive nature of the IWB combined with the student’s skills can potentially empower substitute teachers to deliver a prepared lesson with an IWB, as long as the instruction on how to get the board up and running are provided.
Technology support and upgrades - As with any technical device, unforeseen problems can occur and so it is important to be aware of whom to contact in the case of a technical failure or if a component needs replacement. Over time, the IWB and the related technologies will also require upgrades as the hardware and software become obsolete. Some IWBs come with warranty for up to five years but the expected lifespan on IWB are really unknown (Hall & Higgins, 2006).
Stop Motion Video
Interactive White Boards by Albert Bangma. A brief exploration of a framework for adopting IWBs adapted from Learning from the bottom up(Burden, 2002) using stop motion video techniques.
ActivInspire (2012). Promethean World (Products Section). Retrieved from http://www.prometheanworld.com/en-gb/education/products/software/activinspire
Armstrong, V., Barnes, S., Sutherland, R., Curran, S., Mills, S., & Thompson, I. (2005). Collaborative research methodology for investigating teaching and learning: the use of interactive whiteboard technology. Educational Review, 57(4), 457-469.
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Smarttechnologies White Papers 
Slay, H., Sieborger, I., & Hodgkinsn-Williams, C. (2008). Interactive whiteboards: Real beauty or just “lipstick”?. Computers & Education, 51, 1321-1341.
Tanner, H., Jones, S., Kennewell, S., & Beauchamp, G. (2005). Interactive whole class teaching and interactive white boards. Paper presented at the Building Connections: Research, Theory and Practice, Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, 720-727.
ActivInspire is the software designed by Promethean for the ActivBoard.
Dymo Mimio produces a unique IWB and complete selection of hardware and software.
einstruction produces a variety of IWB and student responses systems.
Hitachi & Starboard make a variety of IWB models.
PolyVision manufacturers a variety of IWB's and a complete selection of accessories.
Promethean is a leading IWB manufacturer who sell a complete selection of hardware and software.
SMART Notebook is the additional software for the SMART Board.
SMART Technologies is a leading IWB manufacturer who sell a complete selection of hardware and software.