While SMART and Promethean are still the dominant two companies in the UK Interactive Whiteboard market, there are still plenty of schools out there that are using other solutions. With the increasing numbers of other companies trying to enter the market, as demonstrated at BETT this year, there will be increasing numbers of teachers out there who are not going to be using one of the “big two” interactive whiteboards.

While most IWB software has pretty similar features – pen, text, shapes etc, what becomes the issue is the files it produces.

Teachers changing schools may find that the resources they have diligently been producing over the years for one IWB will now not open in the whiteboard software at their new school. Many schools have several different boards in their school – so teachers hit the same problem just moving classrooms in the course of a week. It’s little wonder therefore that some teachers never progress past PowerPoint on their IWB because at least they can future-proof their work. With worksheets, powerpoints etc, this isn’t an issue as the Office file format is very transferrable.

I work with trainee teachers who are in placement schools while they develop their teaching skills. Most swap schools halfway through the course and suddenly find resources they made for one IWB in one school can’t be used in their next school. Or that everything they’ve made while training can’t be used when they get a job and go to a school with a different board.

Plus, selfishly, as a trainer it would be lovely to be able to produce files that I know can be opened by teachers on any type of whiteboard, rather than having to create multiple versions, often from scratch each time.

Project 365 #30: 300109 Never Say Die

A few years back it was announced that BECTA were going to work at promoting a common iwb file format (.iwb) that would be supported by all the major IWB software producers – and SMART, Promethean, RM, Hitachi signed up to this. I wrote about this back in 2007, so it’s been bubbling around since then.

With the scrapping of BECTA by our lovely coalition government earlier this year the driving force for this format has been lost. But despite this, the .iwb file format has been developed and released into the wild. I noticed that some of the companies displaying software at BETT this year did support the common format, which was a good sign.

I know that RM Easiteach Next Generation already supports the new format. And I noticed with interest that hidden in the SMART press release for Notebook 10.7 was the fact that the new version will support .iwb format. SMART say:

To further support SMART’s commitment to interoperability, SMART Notebook 10.7 collaborative learning software – expected by March 2011 – will support the interactive whiteboard common file format (.iwb), enabling users to import and export .iwb files to and from SMART Notebook software.

Promethean’s ActivInspire (v1.4) does not support this format. It can import PowerPoint files and Smart Notebook files, but you can only save files in its own .flipchart format. Unlike earlier versions you can’t even save as a PowerPoint file now, which is a shame. I have no idea if version 1.5 (currently in beta) will support .iwb files. Does anyone know if Hitachi, Ebeam and Mimio now support these files?

I still forsee a time when Microsoft add an additional “whiteboard” mode to PowerPoint which makes it behave like standard IWB software and then gradually as schools update Office you will see more and more teachers just using that with whatever board/interactive projector/slate they’ve got in their classroom. Powerpoint wouldn’t need to be modified too much for that to happen. I’m still surprised Microsoft hasn’t done this yet, to be honest

I know SMART and Promethean are both very protective of their own resources that they have produced themselves. And rightly so – they are great quality and do take time to produce. They both see them as a way of supporting their boards and would not like the idea of teachers buying a cheap board, with cheap software and then downloading tonnes of Smart and Promethean resources. In which case they should be able to “protect” those files to stop them being opened on other boards.

But for the bulk of teachers – they just want a way of ensuring that the resources they produce are not going to become accessible in the future. And until that happens teachers are still going to end up producing PowerPoints.

Anyone know the status of the common iwb format with the other board companies? Please add your comments below.