As more and more districts embrace interactive whiteboard technology to engage students and shift classroom work towards interactive, multimodal approaches, the competition is heating up between players in the smartboard space. The very term "smartboard" suggests that SMART Technologies has the upper hand, but in fact, it only has about 50% market share globally. While that's nothing to sneeze at, there are plenty of competitors. Promethean in particular offers an impressive collection of community-created educational materials. So is this just another religious debate or is one platform really superior to another?
In fact, there is essentially feature parity between the two companies. Both offer a wide range of sizes, portable units, height-adjustable mountings, wireless options, multiple models of interactive response systems. slates, and document cameras. The whiteboards on both sides of the fence come in multiple price ranges and both offer high-end products that support multiple simultaneous users.
Promethean products tend to be a bit more expensive, but when you're spending on the order of $4000 for a complete system, you aren't generally exactly in netbook territory where small price differences can make or break a decision. Promethean also offers incentives that can bring the prices down, so cost isn't much of a differentiator either.
Promethean sets itself apart with its PrometheanPlanet website. Along with countless resources from Promethean itself, the site brings an extremely active community of teachers together who share literally hundreds of thousands of lessons and resources with one another. These resources, prepared in Promethean's software, can be reused easily and allow teachers to come up to speed quickly. Promethean was created for the classroom and it shows in the way its online community is organized.
SMART, on the other hand, continues to cater to both business and educational markets. This isn't a bad thing; on the contrary, business needs can drive pure technical innovation. However, the focus of the entire website and support system is less teacher-centric. That being said, because of its greater marketshare, the user communities that have grown independently around the SMART Notebook software (files from which can be easily exchanged) provide more than enough resources to get teachers started and help them reach advanced levels of proficiency. It is also easier to find teachers who have experience with SMART who can provide training and champion use for their peers. One final advantage? SMART is an ecosystem partner with Intel for their Classmate PCs and all Classmates come with SMART Notebook software preloaded.
I don't actually think that schools can go wrong with either SMART or Promethean. In fact, at the early stages of interactive whiteboard rollouts in a district, it's a good idea to have some of each available for teachers to use and evaluate. When it's time for a district to hang its hat on a particular technology, though, user surveys and discussions will be key. Is there a group of teachers with experience on a particular platform? Do teachers have preferences? If so, why? Are there neighboring districts who have already rolled out interactive whiteboards on a larger scale and can partner in terms of training or simply allow classroom observations? Do your teachers (or curriculum coordinators, more likely) have lessons in mind or will they need a community from which to draw canned lessons at first?
Any way it goes, it's clear that students of widely varied learning styles respond well to interactive whiteboards. Teachers, when they become adept at using the technology, invariably report what an important tool the whiteboard becomes in the classroom for engaging students and communicating concepts in greater depth and more clearly than they could otherwise.
What do you think? Do you have experience with either or both platforms? How about some of the smaller competitors? Share your thoughts in the talkbacks.