Using interactive whiteboards without whiteboard software

This is my contribution to an Ed Tech Blog Carnival, you can find out more by going here.

While I wandering around the BETT show the other week, there were many interactive whiteboards on show that did not come with what I’d recognise as Notebook/Flipchart software. This was especially true of some of the cheap chinese boards who seemed to purely be demonstrating that you could use their board to to use Google Earth.

Some brands of board came bundled with third party software such as Easiteach or Wizteach, while some had very cut down software that was not fit for purpose. Others came with no software at all, apart from a hardware driver, in which case they’re just selling a giant mouse/tablet and leaving it up to the teacher to find the content.

This got me thinking. I’m primarily a SMART and Promethean user. For me the Notebook and ActivInspire software is the heart of your interactive whiteboard – allowing teachers to pre-prepare lesson resources which they can display in class, and to capture and record any notes written on the whiteboard for use later on.

But I guess the question is, do you need software like smart notebook/activinspire/easiteach to get the most use of your board? Can you get by with a mixture of PowerPoint and interactive resources found online?

There are certainly a lot of good quality, free resources that can be used by teachers in their lessons. I’ve shared links to enough of them over the years on this blog. There are even more available if your school subscribes to a managed resource such as Espresso or BrainPop. And the benefit of these resources is that they don’t need any investment in teacher time to create them. You can also access resources such as Triptico for free which provides a bank of free resources and templates.

Evaluation scale

So what are the options if you have a cheap interactive whiteboard, an interactive projector, or just a projector/interactive slate combo without any useful notebook software bundled with it?

1. Buy a licence for IWB software

You can buy standalone licences for software such as ActivInspire/Easiteach/Wizteach. Prices vary from about £80 to £200 per licence, which needs to be factored in to the savings your school is making by buying the cheaper boards in the first place.  Currently it’s not possible to buy SMART software at present, but I’ve heard rumours that may change in the future.

Buying into this software does give you access to additional resources as well, in particular Promethean Planet’s large library of ready-made flipcharts.

2. Use Powerpoint

It’s often seen as the work of the devil, but used correctly you can still make good use of PowerPoint. Don’t load the slides with too much text, use plenty of images. You can even draw and write on slides using the pen tool (look to the bottom corner of the slides when in slideshow mode). Maybe one day PowerPoint will add a whiteboard mode as a half-way mode between full slideshow and design mode. But not yet.

It is possible to buy into ready-made resources such as those by BoardWorks which do have some level of interactivity with embedded Flash files. But this can be expensive.

3. Open source alternatives

I don’t know of many open source alternatives to the IWB software apart from  Open Sankore but features-wise it is nowhere near ready to be used in a classroom. If you know of any others, post them in the comments.

4. Online alternatives

One of the best tools I’ve seen recently is a collaborative whiteboard tool called Desmos, but sadle it’s not yet out of bet. You might also be able to use online pages such as Dabbleboard or similar. You could possibly use some of the various online noticeboard tools, but these are limited and most do not allow for handwritten notes..

So what do you use?

If you are a teacher who doesn’t have access to what I would class as “proper” notebook software (ActivInspire/Easiteach/Smart Notebook) – what do you use on your interactive whiteboard? Have you moved away from a whiteboard completely and just use a wireless slate to control third party resources on your computer? Can you get by on just online resources? Is it essential to be able to write and annotate in a dedicated piece of flipchart software?

As an extra thought – I know some teachers are looking at a combination of an iPad 2 and Apple TV hooked up to a projector, allowing you to project the iPad screen onto the wall. I only have an iPad 1 so haven’t been able to try this yet. While you can show any iPad app, you do limit yourself from being able to use all the Flash resources that are on the internet. Only a fraction use HTML5 right now.

Please share your solutions in the comments below. I’d be interested to hear what you do.

Photo Credit : Evaluation Scale by BillsoPHOTO



Author: Danny Nicholson

Danny is an author, Science teacher, ICT Consultant, PGCE lecturer and computing / interactive whiteboard trainer. He has delivered training courses across the UK, in Europe, and in Canada. Please get in touch with your training requests.

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  1. I think you are spot on here Danny. IWBs can be expensive to out in, and a lot of teachers just use it as a glorified whiteboard at best, and piece of white wall at worst! I think that there is no reason why you couldn’t use a combination of ppt and web resources. I have used both main IWB software, and currently use notebook. I think it is a good piece of software, but for the cost I am not too sure.
    Projector/ pc/ Internet is the most cost effective way to go in my opinion.

  2. I spent a lot of time finding sites to use with my Wiimote Whiteboard and then I created my website I do need to update a few of my links but I still use it every day,

  3. We have Activinspire for our whiteboards at my private school. The public school teachers all around us are using SMARTboards.
    Is there anyway to convert their lesson plans for Activinspire?
    The material I’ve found seems to be 3 to 1 SMARTBoard. Any advice?
    I’m a bit of a novice at this.

    Thank you.

  4. Hey Peggy. Activ Inspire will open most Smart Notebook files (they may need a little tweaking once opened)

    In ActivInspire go to File -> Import -> Smart Notebook File (v8, v9, v10)

    Once opened, you can then save as a Promethean Flipchart file.

    Also – don’t forget to check out Promethean Planet for lots of Promethean Files :

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