At this time of year I spend a lot of time running interactive whiteboard sessions with student teachers. Most of them would really like to be able to download the IWB software to their own laptops so they can practice using it for when they begin teaching. Annoyingly, this is not an easy thing to do if you’re a student teacher.

To use most IWB software you need a licence key. The teachers in the placement schools will have been given keys already. But in many schools there is a reluctance to let the student have the key. Either because they don’t have enough licences, or the tech gatekeeper in the school controls them and doesn’t see a student teacher as a full member of staff.

Add to the fun that a student might spend one term in a Smartboard school, then switch to a Promethean school for their second placement. They’ll also then find out that their files are not interchangeable.

Attempts at producing open-source software have rarely run smoothly, and the path is littered with bad and difficult to use software. It’s no wonder that most students fall back into presenting using PowerPoint.

So what can you do? Here’s a summary of some of the options open to you.

Smart Boards and Smart Notebook.

The Smart Licensing approach is something of a complicated beast. Schools now subscribe to an annual scheme that gives updates to the most recent versions (Version 16 at the time of writing). Schools will get a year (or more) of licence bundled with their new Smartboard (or Interactive Projectors). But if you’ve an older boards then you have to pay. Your old keys won’t work.

You can now buy an annual licence as an individual for your own use, but the price is pretty high, especially when compared to an annual licence of something with much more use, such as Office 365. (Plus the UK price of £199 is extortionate compared to the equivalent US/Canada pricing of $129. It’s almost double!)

You can download the latest version on a 30 day trial. After that it stops working completely.

For my PGCE students I recommend getting hold of Notebook 11.4 which allows them to run Smart Notebook to prepare for lessons on a Smartboard, but doesn’t need a licence key. 11.4 has less features, but is good enough for learning to use the software – plus the files it produces work fine on later versions if your school has those in the classrooms.

To get version 11.4, follow this guide. Be aware it probably won’t work on newer Mac computers.

Promethean Boards and ActivInspire

ActivInspire licensing is slightly more straightforward. ActivInspire can be downloaded on a 60 day trial. It can then be activated using the licence key that comes with the board. Some schools leave this code stuck to the board! If it’s not activated, it becomes Personal Edition, which allows you to open and explore ready-made files, and gives some basic tools.

As an free cloud-based alternative, ClassFlow is Promethean’s new online whiteboard software. Teachers can also download ClassFlow Desktop for free. With ClassFlow Desktop, a native app for Windows PC  and Mac, a teacher can capture anything displayed on his or her computer and share it with students as interactive lesson content. Read More about Classflow here.

You can download ActivInspire here.

You can access Classflow here.

Prowise Boards and Prowise Presenter

Prowise Presenter is browser-based interactive whiteboard software that stores your files in the cloud. This means there’s nothing to install and you always have your files with you. No need for licence codes! It’s good for students who need to test out the basics of using a IWB. It’s also a great tool for those who are teaching in a school (or schools) with multiple whiteboard types. You can read more about Prowise Presenter here

You access Presenter via your browser. There’s also a desktop app version available which also gives you the camera capture tools that you’d find in Smart and Promethean. You will still need an online connection to use it though.

Prowise Presenter can be accessed for free so it won’t cost you anything to test it out. Licences are available which give you more space for files should you wish.


Using IWB Software on other boards

It’s important to remember that your interactive whiteboards are just screens. The important bit is the computer, and that can run any piece of software. This means that any brand of whiteboard software will work fine on any brand of board. It may be missing a few features, or it might show a watermark. It’ll work.

But there’s a “But”.

The terms of the licences don’t allow you to do this. Promethean don’t allow Inspire to run on other brands of board, and Smart do likewise. But they’ll work fine. Bear this in mind. Check with your school if you’re unsure.

The easiest solution is to get hold of Prowise Presenter which will run on any board you choose and has no restrictions.

Converting Smart to Promethean

Converting Between Versions

Moving files between the different types of software is also tricky. SMART and Promethean have never played nicely with each other, and the cold war between the two keeps preventing their files being moved between platforms. The common IWB format has been a bit of a disaster, and most files need a lot of work once moved to another platform.

As it stands, your options are limited – this blog post explains more.

  • Prowise will import Smart Notebook files, IWB files and Powerpoint but not Promethean.
  • Smart Notebook will import old Promethean files and Powerpoints and will export as IWB or Powerpoint.
  • Promethean will import old Smart Notebook files (version 10 and older).

Third party software like Mimio Studio will open both Smart and Promethean files, but you have to buy it, so it’s not a great solution for students.

Other Alternatives

There are of course other types of IWB out there, and other types of software, but I don’t tend to deliver training on those or support them. If you’ve found solutions that work, share them in the comments below!

PowerPoint is a standard option, and I use it a lot as the backbone of a lesson/presentation. I then swap to IWB software for the interactive bits. Microsoft Ink is making PowerPoint more usefl. You can now annotate slides. Maybe eventually Microsoft will add an IWB mode which will make the rest of this blogpost irrelevant! (Hint – come on Microsoft!)

There are lots of online alternatives  to powerpoint which let you create great looking presentations on any device. Storing them in the cloud means you can work on them wherever you are as well as easily share with others and embed into other websites. They may not have the flashy animations of PowerPoint, but that’s not a bad thing! This blogpost explains more : 10 Online Alternatives to PowerPoint.

Some schools are looking to move away from this format, and use iPads as an IWB replacement, although I still think the best way forward should be an interactive screen at the front of the class, coupled with tablets. If you do want to move away from the front of the class, then there are several options available to you. This blogpost explains more: 8 Apps to turn your iPad into an Interactive Whiteboard

And don’t forget; if you want to get more from your Interactive Whiteboard then you can get me in to deliver a Smartboard CPD training course. Get in touch and I can tailor a session to your needs.

Good luck! Any questions, give me a shout on Twitter (@dannynic), or leave a comment below.