Interactive Whiteboards come in different shapes, sizes and colours. Each comes with its own software, most of which is dreadful, requiring you to buy a 3rd party solution. However, how one interacts with the board in question, cannot be changed. You have two choices – should you get an IWB that allows you to use your finger or not?
I hope to dispel a few marketing rumours here as well as convince you that touch-based IWBs are far superior to pen (only)-based products. I’ve spoken to almost every IWB salesman in the country and I hear the same excuses, some more vehemently than others. Before I do, I’ll go through the technology behind both options.
A pen-based IWB requires you to have a “magic” pen to interact with it. There are many and various technologies that allow this. Promethean (and its various clones) use an electromagnetic board. The pen has no batteries and uses a copper coil to digitally pinpoint your position on the board. Ebeam (and its various competitors) use infrared beams to pinpoint your position on the board. Both these options provide excellent accuracy but, the battery-less model is advantageous for the reason it doesn’t require batteries!
A touch-based IWB gives you the best of both worlds. Again, there are two technologies. Firstly, there’s the Smart option (or its clones), which uses a board with a thin mesh. By pressing the mesh, the co-ordinates are pin-pointed. Then there’s the TouchIT/Hitachi model which uses infrared beams. Co-ordinates are found by “breaking” an invisible set of beams by putting your finger on the board. Not only can one use one’s finger, one could use any pointy device, such as a dried up whiteboard marker, the back of a pencil or a pointy stick.
So why would you choose to restrict yourself to a pen-based model? Well, you’ve probably heard some of the following:
Hygiene: “Imagine you’ve got a child in your class – a grubby one – who goes to the toilet and can’t quite manage to wipe himself properly. Then he comes back to the room and puts his paws all over your whiteboard – think of all those germs…” This is the most popular excuse I’ve heard from the various salespeople and the one that convinces a lot of people not to go with a touch-based device. So I’ll quickly dispel it with this similar scenario. “Imagine you’ve got a child in your class – a grubby one – who goes to the toilet and can’t quite manage to wipe himself properly. Then he comes back to the room and puts his paws all over your magic pen, which in turn will be passed onto the whiteboard and other children – think of all those germs…” The grubby child is still going to be putting his grubby paws all over your whiteboard no matter what he uses – pen or not. Most salespeople I’ve spoken to, have conceded that this excuse is weak. Promethean have even started a range of touch-based products now – so it goes to show how weak that excuse was (although they will say that they are catering to demand)
Digital vs Analogue: I’ve heard this one a couple of times too. There are certain IWBs that use a digital signal, (Promethean and its clones) and then there’s the rest who use analogue signals. The salespeople will convince you of the pinpoint accuracy of digital systems versus that of analogue systems, “particularly when resolutions on computers go higher”, to quote someone. So, the first thing I do when I test a board is how accurate it is with a pen and, lo and behold, there is no difference in accuracy. For me, the word “digital” sounds more modern than “analogue” but that’s about the only difference for me.
Robustness: This applies to the companies that supply the boards rather than the board attachments like eBeam, Mimio and OnFinity. Each company will argue that their board is more robust than the last. Each salesperson will tell you how many cars drove over their particular board and how it survived. The pen-based people will convince you that one false move and your touch-based board will be destroyed by a stray move. So unless you decide to drive over your board with a 4×4, you can be pretty much convinced that every board is very robust and isn’t going to break any time soon.
Not Natural to Write With Finger: This is another silly excuse from pen-based companies because, with a touch-based IWB, you don’t have to use your finger. So when I’m “writing” on the IWB, I use the back of a pen or a dried up marker. I would argue it is less natural to move things around a screen with a pen than with a hand or finger. A pen-based board cannot adapt to the kinesthetic needs in this case.
I haven’t heard too many other excuses from the pen-based companies. I know that given half a chance they would incorporate a touch-based system into their models if it were possible. And just to prove my point, as mentioned before, Promethean are now selling a touch-based 32″ screen. Pen-based IWBs are restrictive and, unfortunately, with the prices of touch-based IWBs now matching them, there is little reason to go down the route of the pen.
Last Update: August 17, 2017
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