Interactive Whiteboards

An interactive whiteboard can sense the position of a ‘pen’ that you write with and feed back that information to the computer. The software supplied with the interactive whiteboard interprets the position of the pen and ‘writes’ on the image projected onto the whiteboard. At the time of writing each manufacturer of interactive whiteboards produces its own software and the facilities and options of the software control what you can do to some extent. Much of the software supplied in the UK is mapped to the National Curriculum as the school market dominates.

There are two main types of interactive whiteboard: the ‘hard’ boards and the ‘soft’ or ‘membrane’ boards. Hard boards are made of wood or steel and coated with a surface you can write on with an ordinary marker pen. The special pen supplied with the board is an ultrasound transmitter and an antenna or induction loop in the frame of the whiteboard senses the position of the pen. Pens can be replaced although they do cost £70 or so. Membrane boards, as the name suggests, have a grid of wires sandwiched between two slightly flexible surfaces. As you press on the board with your finger or a plastic ‘pen’, a contact is made and the position of the contact is reported to the computer. Membrane boards can be rendered useless by sharp points (drawing pins, compass points) although this appears to be rare in practice.

Your College ILT people will probably have standardised on one make of interactive whiteboard to simplify support and training. The best staff development is to book yourself into a room with an interactive whiteboard and work through the manual and play. The time period between 5pm and 6pm is often quiet in Colleges (day classes finished and evening classes yet to arrive) and this is a good time for playing.

There are two main ways to use an interactive whiteboard: annotation mode and whiteboard mode. As the name suggests, whiteboard mode presents you with a blank white space in which to ‘write’ with the ‘pen’. Your lines are faithfully reproduced and may be smoothed somewhat by the whiteboard software. The software will also have shape drawing features, offer a range of colours (including stripy paint) and a range of supplied graphics. There is usually a screen image of a keyboard to spell words out in a regular font, and sometimes there are stopwatches and calculators that can be summoned with the pen. Handwriting recognition is available – sometimes as an add-on program from a specialist supplier, but these systems need to be ‘trained’ to fit your handwriting. Specialised backgrounds (music staves, graph paper, football pitch layouts) can be applied to the whiteboard.

The magic thing about the whiteboard is that you can summon a new screen by clicking a menu item: the old screen is saved by the software. You can keep a record of all the whiteboards worth of content you have drawn in a lesson, and this information can be exported as pictures and even as a complete ready made Web site for uploading into the VLE or placing on the College intranet. The re-cap in the next lesson can be simply a question of re-loading the whiteboard file.

Screen annotation mode allows you to write on the computer screen – labelling features of software or ‘highlighting’ parts of a Web page in a contrasting colour. Again, each set of annotations that you create is captured by the whiteboard software and can be saved, converted and recalled. You should remember that you are annotating a screen grab of the computer screen within the whiteboard software – there will be a floating menu (or an actual button on the side of the screen in some cases) that allows you to switch between the annotated view and the ‘live’ screen. When you switch from annotation to the live screen, your annotations will disappear – they are still on the screen grab in the whiteboard software. I liken this to having two ‘layers’ on the screen and swapping them round when demonstrating this feature.


  1. Which rooms have interactive whiteboards? Is this information tagged on the room booking system?
  2. Which kind of Interactive Whiteboard has your College standardised on?
  3. Can you have the interactive Whiteboard software installed on your staff computer?
  4. Is anyone offering training on the Interactive Whiteboards?
  5. Are there colleagues who have ‘adopted’ an Interactive Whiteboard as a preferred way of presenting? Will these people share their ideas with you?
  6. Are there any ‘good practice’ guides or examples in your subject area at your level available on the Web?

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