There has been a good deal of discussion recently in K-12 education about the next generation of “interactive whiteboards (IWBs).” Many IWBs purchased during the initial wave in 2006-2010 from SMART, Promethean, etc. have aged out and – in New York State – a number of districts have been considering replacements through their Smart Schools Bond Act funding allocations and/or capital/technology bond projects.
There are three significant concerns I’m feeling about these next generation boards:
- Are instructors any more prepared to teach with a next generation IWB as they were with first generation systems? While I’ve seen some great use of IWBs to engage students and better illustrate many learning objects, I’ve also seen and schools have talked about too many instances where the IWB was a glorified whiteboard/chalkboard/overhead projector.
- What truly makes them different from the older IWBs? Sure, their “touch-enabledness” is more robust, they have more abilities for multi-users, wireless screen sharing is becoming more standard, many are equipped with a basic webcam/microphone – but are they really helping to transform learning spaces and pedagogy?
- If we are trying to move towards more student-driven, active learning spaces, aren’t IWBs (new, old, whatever) further perpetuating a teacher-centered model – teachers standing and delivering from the front of the room, just now with a fancier screen or projector?
Ultimately, if the older IWB’s made a marginal difference (at best), what makes this new generation of IWB’s truly any different?
This all said, there are some interesting new “interactive whiteboards” coming to market that I don’t think are truly IWBs In fact, there’s even a question about what to call these technologies (Team collaboration device? Visual collaboration device? Cloud-attach device? Ideation unit? Giant tablet?).
This is where products such as Cisco’s new Spark Board are coming in. I would include Google’s recently announced Jamboard as another potentially impactful product in this new market (although it would be great to learn more about when it will be available for purchase in schools, can we trial it?). In private enterprise, the Microsoft Surface Hub is considered another product in this category – with linkages to the Microsoft virtual ecosystem of Skype for Business, Office 365, etc.. This device has just not seemed to catch on in K-12 for a number of possible reasons (price point, delays in bringing it to market, lack of buzz).
What is intriguing about these products is, while they are physical devices, they are intimately connected to their respective virtual platforms (Cisco Spark Board with Spark, Google Jamboard with G Suite). The best description I’ve heard for these devices is from @LetsDoVideo (David Maldow) – he said the Spark Board is “not a device. It’s a physical manifestation of a Spark workspace.”
When districts and teachers are thinking about replacements for IWB’s, perhaps we should be thinking more about this concept of directly linking physical spaces to virtual spaces. Considering questions such as how will these new devices link our classrooms to the virtual platforms we’re using? How do these devices further break down the walls of our classrooms and allow our students to connect and collaborate natively with other classrooms, community members, peers in other neighborhoods, communities, states, and countries?
Devices such as the Spark Board and (potentially) the Jamboard appear to do this – or at least the vision behind these devices seem to point to this: seamlessly linking the physical with the virtual/collaboration worlds, rather than simply replacing an older IWB with a new flavor that essentially does the same things.
As a starting point, I’m looking forward to an opportunity this week to actually get my hands on a Spark Board to being to see if it delivers on its promise (more to follow). Based on what has been shared to date about the product, I have significant reservations the device will be an affordable fit for K-12 schools – but I am excited to see the potential this new class of products could have over time to help transform our learning spaces.