A great alternative to Interactive Whiteboards

In this post Ian McNaught, Director of e-learning at Majan College reports on the college’s recent experience with an Interactive Whiteboard iPad app. You can see an example of this technology in action in the video below.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Interactive Whiteboards (IWB). On the one hand, it’s not hard to see they genuinely have some great potential in the classroom and there is plenty of research reporting them to be popular with staff and students (curiously “popular” is a more common adjective used to describe them rather than “effective”!). However, they are beset with two major problems: 1) They are very expensive and 2) they are not portable.

Why we’ve never invested in Interactive Whiteboards

Being expensive, it is rarely possible or sensible to equip every teaching room with the equipment, but because they’re not portable  access to them is limited (I realise there are some portable options, but because of the time they take to set them up before a class can start I don’t count these). Using them effectively takes some practice and experience, therefore easy access to them is essential. Unless every single classroom is equipped with the technology, a teacher may be in a position of having to plan two lessons, one for when they’re timetabled in an IWB equipped classroom and another for when they’re not, or settling for the lowest common denominator and failing to get the best out of the technology and relegating the IWB to being a $3000 PowerPoint clicker! If the IWB classrooms are under heavy demand (as you would expect) when can teachers get access to the technology to practice?

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

Doceri IWB iPad application being used at Majan College

For these reasons and more, we’ve resisted buying IWB’s, despite being attracted to some of their features. Now however, we’ve discovered technology which is much more affordable, completely portable and offers all the major features of an IWB (plus a couple of unique ones of its own). This technology is called Doceri, it comes in two halves – a desktop application (for PC or Mac, costs $30) and a (free) iPad app. At a basic level Doceri works as a remote desktop application allowing you to control the screen of the PC you are wirelessly connected to (usually the one connected to the projector), but beyond this it allows you to control PowerPoint,  annotate on the screen, create diagrams and graphs and take pictures using the iPad camera (or importing from the gallery). It also allows you to record your presentations using the built in microphone making it the easiest lecture recording applications I’ve come across.

While there are certainly a few areas where a true IWB would be better than Doceri, many other factors tip the balance in Doceri’s favour. Below is a summary of the biggest advantages Doceri has over an IWB.

Cost

Even if you were to buy an iPad for every classroom or teacher, it would be substantially cheaper than equipping the same number of classrooms with IWB’s, plus you have all the other functionality built into an iPad. Even with a limited number of iPads, staff can get a lot of use out of it due to how portable an iPad is.

Flexibility

IWB’s are limited to projector screens small enough for a user to reach to all four corners. Doceri has no such limitation, it can be used in small teaching rooms and huge lecture theatres.

Access

Staff who have their own iPad can download the free iPad app and use this in any classrooms with the $30 software installed. This software can even be used unlicensed and for free, but with a watermark on the screen. This means staff can practice using the software in the comfort of their office or living room, rather than having to practice out of hours in an empty classroom.

Interactivity

Despite their names, IWB’s are designed to enhance rather than replace what is a very teacher-centric pedagogy. All the action takes place at the front of the classroom and students who wish to interact have to walk to the front, taking valuable time out of the session and leaving out those who may not have the confidence to “perform” in front of their peers. In contrast, an iPad can be handed round students without them getting out of their seats and more students can participate without taking time away from the learning process.

We’d love to hear of any other innovative technology people are using in their classrooms to enhance the students learning experience.

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