Purchasing considerations

Alternatives to interactive whiteboards

There are several alternatives worth considering, which are detailed below.

Whiteboard conversion kits

We have already mentioned a clip-on conversion kit for existing whiteboards that allows your ordinary existing drywipe board to become an electronic copyboard (for example, Mimio or eBeam). The clip-on device is linked to the laptop and can detect the movement of an electronic stylus pen on the surface of the whiteboard. These kits use ultrasonic signals or radio waves to locate the marker and eraser. A battery-powered ultrasound mouse pen makes the whiteboard interactive.

Wireless keyboards

Wireless keyboards can be used to control a PC, so they could be used to drive a PC-data projector combination to give some of the functionality of an interactive white board, although without a stylus the option of writing or drawing on the screen is lacking. Two types are available. The cheapest is the radio frequency keyboard with a built-in trackball or separate infrared mouse at around €140.  More expensive is the radio frequency remote keyboard and ‘gyro’ mouse at around €400. A gyro mouse is hand-held remote control which tracks hand motion and relays it to the onscreen cursor.

Wireless graphics pads

Wireless graphics pads are small portable panels that can be written or drawn on with an electronic pen. Unlike tablet PCs or interactive white board tablets (see below), the image does not appear on the pad. It is sent to the projection screen only. Left and right ‘mouse’ buttons on the pen can be used to control Windows applications. Wireless graphics pads cost around €800.

Tablet PCs

Tablet PCs are laptop PCs without a keyboard. Interaction is via the screen using a stylus. They can be connected to a network via a cable or a wireless LAN card and from there to a data projector. At around €1,300, a networked tablet PC linked to a data projector is a cheaper alternative to an interactive whiteboard. It can be passed around between participants for individual contributions, but cannot be used as a group input device in the same way as an interactive whiteboard.

The handwriting recognition software for tablet PCs is not as well developed as that for interactive whiteboards and currently, it is not fully embedded into applications. (One must use pop-up windows instead.)