New Delhi: A flick of a finger and the diagram of a brain appears on screen.
“On an ordinary board, this would take nearly 15 minutes to draw,” says the presenter, hands dancing in practised precision over a flat white glass-like surface. “But with an interactive whiteboard, you can shift the focus to quality teaching time.”
Across the exhibition hall at eIndia 2008, an information and communication technology, or ICT, event held recently in New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, there were at least 10 such demonstrations of interactive whiteboards—a technology billed to grow at nearly 50% for the next five years. And, this year it will take off in India, distributors and vendors say.
An interactive whiteboard is a so-called “smart” whiteboard. Powered off, it functions like an ordinary board, but when plugged in to a computer, which in turn uses a projector to throw the display on the board, it becomes a touch-screen interface which, companies say, greatly improves classroom teaching experience.
The demos cover all the salient features. Some rap the surface of the board, demonstrating its durability. Others scribble and tap, drag and drop, indicating ease of use.
Most interactive whiteboards are big and bulky units ranging from 1.6 to 2.3m. Others, like the US-based Mimio, part of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., a consumer goods business group, use a portable unit shaped like a sword, which can be attached to any flat surface. Bundled software also ranges from comprehensive suites, with specialized local content—pictures and diagrams included—to minimalist blank canvases.
‘Smart’ boards: A company image shows a user demonstrating how easy it is to operate an interactive whiteboard.
“With the current thrust on ICT-based education, it is the right time to enter the market,” says Tarun Jain, country head of Hitachi Home Electronics Asia (S) Pte Ltd, a Tokyo-based electronics company. Hitachi is introducing a range of interactive whiteboards in India.
“We expect the market to nearly double over the next few years, and we hope to capture 25% of that market by the end of 2008.”
A report on global interactive whiteboard volumes by Digital Tech Consulting, an international technology market research firm, estimates global sales of 616,226 whiteboards in financial year 2008, a growth of nearly 50% over the 2007 figure of 411,555. “Six out of 10 classrooms in the UK have access to an interactive whiteboard,” says Jaemes Shanley, director of sales and marketing for Mimio.
“Nearly 4 million children around the world learn directly through an interactive whiteboard,” says Rekun Verma of ALMOE Digital Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which has partnered with UK-based Promethean Ltd to introduce their line of whiteboards in India. Promethean is a learning technologies company.
Teachers, too, note its effect. “Students’ percentage performance rates have shot up, and they’re far more receptive. It really helps break the monotony in a subject like history, where visuals and animation are of huge help in getting student’s attention,” said Sohini Chakravarty, a history teacher at Delhi Public School (DPS), R.K. Puram in New Delhi.
One of her colleagues agreed, citing the ability to show students concepts instead of just telling them.
“In geography, it’s very difficult to get across certain concepts without visuals,” said geography teacher Vinita Gupta. “There was hardly any inertia even when it was first initiated, since the system is really user-friendly and students really look forward to the whiteboard classes.”
Students also attest to its usefulness. “You remember something much better this way than if you had to mug it up from a textbook,” say Varnika Chawla, a class IX student at DPS R.K. Puram.
The optimism for whiteboard technology, however, could be part of a continuing trend towards modernizing university and school campuses, says Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst for technology research firm Gartner Inc. “Within the last five years, we’ve seen campus and international schools became WiFi-enabled, we’ve seen increasing laptop and mobile phone penetration, and projectors and presentations have become ubiquitous.”
“The cost of technology has come to the point where rich institutes, flush with funds, will try pilot tests, and interactive technology in education improves the productivity and throughput of the institute.”
Training teachers could be a bottleneck, Chakraborti says. “Students love to explore new technology and love the whiteboards, but teachers are slightly uncomfortable in the beginning,” says Nav Jyoti, head of teacher training at the Vibgyor High chain of private schools. “Even with basic training, it takes a while to make use of the full capabilities of the board.”
The reach of this technology, however, could be limited. “Most interactive whiteboards are still focused across corporates and international schools. We’re hoping the government will be part of this initiative,” says Ajay Raina, director of business development at iMark Distribution, which has partnered with Canada-based Smart Technologies Ulc. to introduce the SMARTboard line of interactive whiteboards.
While most whiteboard packages cost upwards of Rs100,000 a unit, cheaper alternatives are beginning to make an appearance. Mimeo’s portable unit does not require a specialized board, and costs under a third of a standard interactive whiteboard.