If, like me, you use an interactive whiteboard (or IWB for the acronym obsessed) for much of the active content of lessons, then you’ll often find yourself feeling frustrated by the software developers behind such devices.
In the UK there are two varieties of IWB that have found favour in our secondary schools, abbreviated by teachers to the terms ‘Promethean’ and ‘Smart’. Of course each of these IWB ‘platforms’ has its own software to support resource development and lesson delivery.
In the case of Smart boards, this means using their proprietary ‘Notebook’ software and in the case of Promethean, ‘Activstudio’. Both have their merits. Travelling from school to school, I have had to make myself expert in each though this often means having two copies of the same resource depending on which board I’m using.
Smartech’s Notebook software is relatively easy to use and ‘feels’ much more polished than its main competitor’s effort. Currently in version 10, it uses a flip chart metaphor to produce lesson materials that can have multiple pages, attachments, simple animations, text and tables. Its most accomplished feature is its ‘gallery’ through which one can add interactive and multimedia elements that build very attractive active learning resources quickly. For example, using Notebook it takes less than 5 minutes to make a ‘vortex’ sorting activity that could be used as a starter for a lesson (see below).
By contrast, Promethean’s Activstudio is much harder to learn but, once mastered, offers greater control and flexibility of page objects. It does give a user access to additional resources via its website, Promethean Planet, but to build interesting interactive resources with Activstudio is a labour counted in hours rather than minutes. In addition, no one could claim that the Activstudio’s interface is anything other than uninspiring and, let’s be frank, ugly. The software interface is highly reminiscent of Windows 98 and looks outdated to the modern eye yet it can produce some very pleasing results if you are prepared to stick with it.
The trouble is, of course, that many teachers are not in a position to choose which IWB or attendant software platform they would prefer. To most of us, we are restricted to whatever is screwed firmly to our classroom wall. We are stuck with whatever choice our school managers made when these devices became de rigueur.
So in a ‘betamax-versus-vhs’ sort of way, teachers are caught in a format war that pits ‘easy but limited’ against ‘compex but versatile’. For what it’s worth my vote goes with Smart. And my reasoning? Well, an interactive whiteboard is no more than a useful tool for teaching and in that respect anything that allows teachers to make engaging interactive content quickly and efficiently has got to be the better option.