Like projectors and displays, interactive whiteboards are a highly competitive market. That means plenty of choices in terms of features and pricing.
"There are dozens of interactive whiteboard manufacturers now,” said Mark McCallister, University of Florida Office of Academic Technology associate director. “Traditional interactive whiteboard vendors are under tremendous pressure from upstart competitors and the projector vendors themselves, who are looking for new markets and new margin possibilities.”
Here’s what to consider when selecting interactive whiteboards:
• Will it be user-friendly? “Widescreen displays make a lot of sense because they can be larger without being too tall to reach,” McCallister said. “One thing to look for is that if a model is chosen that doesn't require an integrated writing surface, you must be certain your whiteboard is very flat. Even small variations on the writing surface can cause large image distortions with an ultra-short-throw projector.”
If the board itself and the software aren’t intuitive and user-friendly, there’s a good chance they’ll wind up being a waste of money. “Higher education institutions may not be staffed to do training or professional development with the boards,” said Claudia Myrick, Panasonic business development manager for higher education. “Therefore, they could end-up being used as just whiteboards and not to their full capacity. Ease of use will increase adoption and usage with faculty.”
• Is it durable? “In the classroom environment, you have students walking in and out with backpacks, etc. that could constantly be bumping into the board,” Myrick said. “The in-and-out traffic and usage in a classroom is much more frequent than that of an interactive white board designed for conference rooms or meeting spaces.”
• What features are available? More than you’d think. Panasonic debuted an interactive plasma display, the PB1 Series, at last year’s InfoComm. The PB1 Series features high-speed and simultaneous multiple-input drawing capabilities via the new electronic pen system. This system detects and displays the pen position 60 times a second on each pixel. The system allows up to four pens to be used at once for actions such as written annotation, drawing and moving items independently around the screen. Additionally, the system includes handwriting recognition software. Because the technology is based on fixed location pixels, the device requires no calibration, which decreases installation time as well as follow up maintenance.
• What about audio? If the use cases are multimedia, but the classrooms don’t already have a PA, consider interactive whiteboards with integrated sound systems.
Of course, your end user and curricula needs will help guide the process of product selection. Choose the right product for today as well as a device that will pay itself off in the next few years with reliable operation.
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