Big Questions about Big Screens

At the recent IPPN conference expo, it was interesting to see the number of companies selling interactive touchscreens. They are being hailed as the successor to Interactive Whiteboards and they were certainly giving the principals some food for thought.

The big selling point seemed to be that with an Interactive Touchscreen, there was no need for a projector and, in some cases, a laptop or computer. With projectors breaking down over the last few years, principals seemed turned on by the idea of not having to worry about maintaining and replacing projectors or projector bulbs. The ability to have an operating system built into the screen was also an interesting feature and certainly a bonus.

However, there are some questions that need to be asked about these big screens. It is now about a decade since Interactive Whiteboards came into our classrooms.

Firstly, we need to think of practicalities. Are they worth the extra expense? Currently a touchscreen costs about the same price as Interactive Whiteboard systems used to cost back in the early days. For an equivalent-sized screen, one is looking into the €5,000+ price point. Interactive Whiteboards now cost about half this price.

Another thing to consider is to examine how robust they are. In the early days of Interactive Whiteboards, this was a big question with various companies boasting all sorts of tests they did on their boards (including driving a truck over one) in order to test how robust they are. How robust are interactive touchscreens?

What happens when an Interactive touchscreen has a problem? With an Interactive Whiteboard, there were several components and generally, one could swap in and swap out the problem, (usually a projector bulb). Replacing a projector bulb is a lot cheaper than replacing a complete Interactive touchscreen.

We don’t know the lifespan of Interactive Touchscreens in classrooms. It’s probable that they have a similar lifespan to a television but in a classroom environment, with a lot more dust and possibly more usage, how long should one expect to get from a touchscreen? How does this compare to an Interactive Whiteboard?

Finally, and this would be my biggest question. Do we need interactivity from our whiteboards anymore? Have we moved on from the methodologies that the Interactive Whiteboard gave us? Unfortunately, the IWB was most suited to a traditional teaching methodology with the teacher up at the board and the children looking at it. Most teachers have realised the shortfalls of relying on this and stopped using the Interactive part of the the Interactive Whiteboard and many schools were simply using the projector, with many schools just buying projectors for less than €1,000. Is it possible to buy a very large TV screen that is not interactive and have  similar system for a fraction of the price? A quick search showed me that it is possible to get an 80 inch TV for about €3 to 4,000.

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure if we’ve moved beyond the Interactive Whiteboard in Irish schools yet so there’s a possibility that these touchscreens will become more commonplace in our schools. I can certainly see the advantages of not needing projectors but the questions above really need to be answered.

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