When I was first involved in evaluating IWBs back in 2003 the number of companies producing them was really very small and limited to just two main ones, but with the increase in their popularity, the number of companies now producing IWBs or similar products has grown considerably, so how do you know which is best?
Well the answer is that there probably isn’t a ‘best’ one, but what you need to do is find the right one for your school and your teachers.
Equipping a school with IWBs can be a huge investment, so it is worth taking the time and making sure that you make the right decision.
Here are a few tips that might help with this process.
- Most importantly, you need to get the teachers / trainers who are actually going to use the IWBs involved. See what their existing impressions and experiences with IWBs has been and try to find out which ones they are most positive about. Getting teachers involved as early as possible is really going to help later when it comes to making sure the IWBs actually get used well in class. So much of this kind of change is imposed on teachers from the top down and then managers are surprised when there is resistance from teachers and the boards don't get used properly.
If the staff is very large, you might want to try to get a trial group or focus group of teachers together to work through the selection process. Make sure that you get a cross section of the teaching staff and not just the technology keen ones.
- Get in touch with the companies that could potentially be supplying the IWBs. You are likely to be spending quite a lot of money to equip your school so you want to make sure they have good support and customer services in place, but most importantly, you might be able to get the companies to send someone out with a board to demo each IWB for your teachers. This will make the selection process much easier and be another opportunity to get teachers involved. If the company can't do this then you might well consider crossing them off your list of potential suppliers.
At worst, if they can't send someone out, at least get them to send you the software for the IWB so that you and the teachers can try it out on a computer and see how easy / difficult / intuitive it is to use. Each company that produces an IWB also produces their own software to use with it. The software can vary considerably in quality, functionality and most importantly usability. If the software is overly complex, you might find that Your IWB only gets used as a projection screen for presentations and that would be a sad waste of potential.
- Try to get software from all the potential suppliers before they come to display the boards and get teachers involved and trying it out, so that when the company 'sales person' comes to show off what the board can do, you and your teachers are armed with the 'user experience' you need to ask the correct questions. (Sometimes you can just go to the website of the IWB company and download their software and try it out, but it isn't always the most up to date version , so do check on this.)
- It’s so easy for a trained sales person to come along with an IWB and impress everybody, but having some of your teachers' hands on experiences prior to this can make sure that you dig down to what some of the real potential problems and pitfalls will be when the teachers have to use the boards themselves.
- Once you get hold of the software for the various boards and get it installed, get together with the teachers and try to brainstorm a list of tasks they want the software to enable them to do on the board, i.e.
write freely, change colours, thickness etc
write with the keyboard
show a video clip
annotate the video clip
create sharable materials
display and annotate web pages
display and adapt images
display and manipulate text
cut and paste from websites documents etc
etc etc etc
You could even take a unit from a course that the teachers are using and get them to see how you could adapt / supplement it together using the IWB software (after all this is what teachers will be expected to do)
- Once you have the list of IWB tasks get groups of teachers together to test the software and see how easy it is for them to find out how to do this by themselves. It might be better for teachers to try to work through their lists of potential tasks alone, so that the more technically minded people or those with previous experience don't overly influence the process.
- Make sure you collect their impressions of the software, which tasks they had problems with, which software they found easiest to use etc. This will help the teachers to be armed with questions and experiences so that when your IWB salesperson comes to do their well rehearsed display for your teachers, instead of being impressed and left speechless, the teachers will be able to ask well informed questions and get the information that they will actually need in order to use the IWB with their classes.
- When the IWB company brings along their display board, make sure that you and the teachers can get time alone with the board (without the salesperson there) to try it out 'hands on' and see what it feels like to actually use. The actual feel of the pen / mouse controller on the board can have quite a strong influence on how confident teachers feel about using it in class. Some boards are much easier than others to actually write on and control from the front of the class.
If you have time go back to some of those tasks that you brainstormed together and see if you can do them on the actual board. Try to create some materials or parts of a lesson.
- Once you have had all your displays from companies and tried all the software, get the teachers together and get them to sit down and balance the pros and cons of each product and create and order a list of favourites together.
- The list of pros and cons of each board and your list of tasks that teachers wanted to be able to do on the board will also come in handy later on as you can use these as the basis to design an IWB training course for the teachers.
Lastly, once you have evaluated all the potential products and balanced the costs, it’s time to make your investment. Having been through this process you’ll be in a position to buy the product that your teachers feel is most useful and this should enable them to make sure your students get the best educational benefit from the boards.
I hope you find this useful
Nik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, Trainer
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