What is an Interactive Whiteboard?

Interactive whiteboards for higher education

An interactive whiteboard is an instructional tool that allows computer images to be displayed onto a board using a digital projector. The instructor can then manipulate the elements on the board by using his finger as a mouse, directly on the screen. Items can be dragged, clicked and copied and the lecturer can handwrite notes, which can be transformed into text and saved.

They are a powerful tool in the classroom adding interactivity and collaboration, allowing the integration of media content into the lecture and supporting collaborative learning. Used innovatively they create a wide range of learning opportunities. However, in many environments they are not being used to their full potential, and in many cases acting as glorified blackboards. 

This type of whiteboard is now commonplace in schools in the UK, but universities have been slower to adopt this technology. They were originally developed for use in business to demonstrate concepts and record meetings. However, they are an extremely flexible tool which can be used with both the youngest primary school children and university graduates.

An interactive whiteboard can be a cost saver as this technology demonstrates how one computer can provide learning stimuli for a whole classroom. This is more cost effective than equipping an entire IT room, or every student with a laptop.

Examples of the features available when using an interactive whiteboard:
• Add annotations
• Highlight text
• Add notes and drawings and then save them to be printed out and shared, or added to a virtual learning environment.
• Show pictures and educational videos to the whole lecture theatre. You can label parts or highlight elements of an image.
• Demonstrate the content available on a website in a teacher-directed activity

Interaction in practice
In sport studies, you can video tape a sporting event, then the coach can pause the video at a certain point and demonstrate by drawing on the board what the players should have done.

Interactive whiteboards as a pedagogical tool

This type of tool promotes creative teaching and motivates students into absorbing information.

Teaching with an interactive whiteboard allows lecturers to accommodate all different learning styles:
• Tactile learners get to touch and move things around the board. They can also make notes and highlight elements.
• Visual learners benefit from a clear view of what is happening on the board.
• Audio learners can participate in a class discussion.

Interaction in practice
In medical studies, the lecturer can show a photograph or a picture of a part of the body. Then, they can annotate it, adding labels to demonstrate the key aspects. The finished drawing can be saved and handed out to students or uploaded to the university’s VLE system. 

Interactive teaching
The teacher can call upon the students to interact with the whiteboard themselves. The lecturer can sit at the computer, with the student at the whiteboard, and the class offering suggestions and contributing ideas.

Group interaction
Interactive whiteboards promote group discussion and participation. They are an effective tool for brainstorming as notes made on the screen can be turned into text, and saved to be shared and distributed later. They are an ideal tool for small group work and collaborative learning, as students can huddle around the board developing ideas, and then save the work for sharing over a network or by email.

Interaction in practice
Interactive whiteboards are ideal for demonstrating software in any discipline. The presenter can run the software on the board, interacting with it using his finger, demonstrating the features and tools of the software to a large number of students. Elements can be highlighted and annotations added. 

How to use some of the pedagogical features of an interactive whiteboard

Any application that runs on your computer can be used on an interactive whiteboard. You can surf the internet, annotate a text document or demonstrate a piece of software.

We will look at some of the tools useful for teaching at university-level using a SMART Board Interactive whiteboard:

Screen shade

First of all, select the SMART board icon, located at the bottom right of the screen.
See below:

Icon for the SMART board interactive whiteboard

Select 'other SMART tools' from the pop up box:

The interactive whiteboard SMART drop down arrow

Then select ‘screen shade’. The screen shade lets you cover your screen, allowing you to gradually reveal information to your audience.

You can then drag the handles in the order that you would like to reveal the information. You can remove the screen shade completely by clicking the ‘X’ in the top right hand corner.

Spotlight allows you to focus the attention of your audience on a specific area of the screen. The image below shows how you can choose to darken the whole screen apart from a certain area.

The spotlight tool used on the interactive whiteboard

You can move the spotlight by dragging the dark area of the screen to wherever on the screen you want your audience to focus. You can customise the properties of the spotlight with the spotlight drop down menu (click the arrow in the image below).

The drop down arrow on the spotlight tool

Transparency controls how dark the background is. Shape allows you to change the focused area from a circle to a rectangle or a star. Exit allows you to close the spotlight.

The magnifier enlarges a certain area of the screen which can be useful when you want to show a close-up of a spreadsheet or a web address. The small window is used by the lecturer to show which part of the screen is being magnified, while the large window displays the selected information. Move the small window around to focus on a different area of the screen.

Choosing calculator opens the calculator available on your computer.

Pointer allows you to highlight key areas with a pointer. You can drag the pointer around to the area you would like to highlight. Double clicking the pointer removes it.

The screen capture toolbar allows you to capture images of your screen. The Smart Notebook software will automatically open and display the captured image.

BBC Active sells videos for education and training that can be used on an interactive whiteboard.