A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on the Mimio interactive whiteboards we installed. Overall, I liked them much more than I expected and the wow factor for students and staff was actually more helpful than distracting. A few readers posted comments on the other technologies available along these lines, so I decided to do some research. Let us know via talkbacks below about your specific experiences, but here's what I've found (and what I'd like to try in the next couple of years as we expand our fleet of interactive boards):
First of all, one reader called me out on the price of SMART boards. While I tossed out the number of 5 grand, he noted that his school had obtained them for much less. I did some looking around online and found overlays for 42" plasma screens in the $2000 range (not including the 42" plasma). The larger products from SMART designed to be combined with digital projectors (or including close-mounted projectors of their own) appeared to run quite a bit more. The 680i (including a projector with integrated speakers) was available on TouchBoards.com for $5599.
The Mimio boards we recently installed retail on TouchBoards.com for $999 (educational pricing). Even cheaper versions can be purchased that simply attach to existing whiteboards. In some ways, you get what you pay for. While my research certainly showed some serious price disparities, it was also very clear that the SMART board systems are really impressive in terms of features and interactivity. New integration with SMART's in-class testing devices and really cool software round out a great package. I also have no doubt that lower-end or older models of the SMART Boards can be had more cheaply; however, the price difference is both significant and real, even if the magnitude is usually less than $4000.
A couple of other readers recommended Promethean Activboards. These seem to offer lower cost, whiteboard-based solutions, as well (although not as cheap as the Mimios, running in the $1400-$2500 range), but included many of the attractive features found on the SMART Boards (interactive handheld devices for the students, Bluetooth connectivity, etc.). I'll need to track down one of these systems to test since they look like a nice compromise.
The real question to ask here, though, is whether I can satisfy my needs for instructional tools with the cheaper product? Do the full-blown SMART Boards add that much more in terms of in-class value? I'd like some additional feedback on this, so talk back below. For me, though, I'm quite content to post notes, drawings, etc., to the web and re-project captured whiteboards from earlier in a class. This might be from my own lack of experience (after all, I largely ignored interactive board technology until I was forced to implement it; then I really began to find it useful).
As one reader put it,
Welcome to the AV fold. Keep focused on the desired outcome rather than the technology and you'll make good decisions.
I'm inclined to agree. What satisfies your needs? Of course, most of us are in public education, so taxpayers would probably like for us to be as realistic as we can about our "needs." Does a touchable plasma screen (or the Microsoft Surface, for that matter) satisfy your needs better than a sensor-loaded whiteboard? For me, I'd say it has less value, largely because of the way I teach. Will I teach differently in 5 years as these devices become more affordable? I'll let you know in 5 years.