Since the 90s, SMART has cornered the market on interactive classroom displays (ICDs) and simultaneously ingrained this idea that a classroom is incomplete without it. Even in District 75, our SMARTBoard PDs are among the first to fill. For those who’ve spent years dealing with malfunctioning projector bulbs, speakers, and touch displays though, you may be thinking, “Is it necessary or even useful for improving educational outcomes?” The Innovative Educator isn’t a big fan, but most American classrooms have them and most teachers want to make the most of it. So should you spend your time and money mastering your ICD? The answer is, it depends on the classroom.
It can be a worthwhile resource for a 6:1:1 class who struggle using a mouse and benefit from the social component of working collectively on an interactive board or table. Also, if you have the means and capability to use the board in conjunction with peripherals and student assistive devices then it can serve you and your students well.
If, however, you find yourself investing extra money to make the display accessible (tilting, mobile, etc.), you may want to look for other options. Also if it’s usually being used as a non-interactive display then there are cheaper alternatives. Or, even if touched, a class of 30 students watching 2 students work through a problem might be better served by working individually on laptops or tablets connected wirelessly to a projector. In fact, despite the cost of a 65” board dropping by about half, you can still purchase 12-15 Chromebooks or iPads for the about same price.
Understand that 1:1 devices are no more a panacea for struggling students than displays ever were. Also, any technology or initiative is doomed to failure without the appropriate training and infrastructure in place. That is for another post though. Throughout this post, I’m going to look at what the new LED displays (no projector) from various companies can do and the alternatives that exist. The purpose of this is not to give you a how-to guide for using interactive displays. You can find that in yet another post. Instead, I want to give you an overview of the options that are available so you can determine what’s best for your classroom.
Unlike when SMART first came on the scene in the 90s, now there are a variety of options available for boards.
- Interactive Whiteboard – These are similar to the early models and require a projector. For a brief time some were huge beasts that had rear-projection, but now most use short-throw front projection. Sure you can still get the whiteboards for cheaper in the short term, but the projectors invite extra headaches like blown bulbs and projectors. They also lack many capabilities standard on the newer displays.
- Interactive Flat-Panel Display – These are the newer boards that are a bit more expensive, but they alleviate so many of the issues that come with projector-based displays. Many of these also allow for screen sharing and have built-in operating systems to be used without a computer.
- Non-Interactive Display – This is essentially a cheaper smart TV option that allows for screen sharing in larger classes that don’t need the display to function as a touch surface.
- Interactive Projector – They tend to be less expensive, but there are limitations. For example, if you’re projecting on a wall it needs to be fairly flat, white, and clean for the best performance. These certainly aren’t a given in most of the public schools I’ve been to. The Epson BrightLink is a particularly nice option.
Before you look for a new interactive display you’ll probably want to test out what’s available. Most vendors will allow you to borrow a trial board for a few weeks or at the very least they will set up a demo for you. Simply contact the respective sales representative for SMART, Promethean, Triumph, or any other provider.
to get a trial set up. You may also want to set up disposal of your old boards. Look into what the electronics recycling rules are for your community and district. For example, in New York City we follow the DOE’s E-Waste program.
SMART is the company that most people know. Tequipment is the New York City reseller. Both companies recently saw management changes in hopes to rectify customer complaints about service and pricing. Their new boards though impressively integrate Smart kapp iQ which allows teachers to use the board and browse the web without a computer connected. It also allows for screen sharing from the board to devices or from a wireless device to the board through Apple’s Airplay or Google Cast.
In terms of software, the SMART Learning Suite offers a variety of options to engage students through multiple modalities. Their Notebook software is still among the best for boards, but it is no longer free. Their latest version 17.1 offers new look and assessment tool updates. There is also the new SMART Learning Suite Online along the older Flash-based SMART Express which are both currently free. SMART Lab offers a number of game-based learning (GBL) and assessment tools that can also be accessed through student devices. SMART Response 2 is an online assessment tool that offers results to be exported. SMART Amp, their online software, functions as a shared workspace. Lessons can be downloaded from the SMART Exchange.
- Display: 2000, 4000 & 6000, and 7000 series
- Sizes: 65”, 75”, & 84”
- Cost: $3400 – $9600
- Service/Support: 2-5 years by phone, on-site ($250↑)
- Software: SMART Learning Suite (SMART Advantage license – $1650↑), SMART amp (requires Teq unlimited – ($3900↑), and Kapp (extra $550↑)
- Online: SMART Learning Suite Online, SMART Express, SMART Exchange, SMART LAB, SMART response 2, and SMART amp
- PD: On-site or Teq online PD ($1250↑)
- Overall: It’s a reliable product with great software, but it comes with a bigger price tag and a history of issues with service and support. The newer flat-panels should have less general issues though.
Promethean is SMART’s biggest competitor and the fastest growing display company. Their boards have always been among the most durable. The new displays come with ActivConnect which allows screen sharing amongst devices. The boards now also come with Android OS which allows them to be used without a computer and download and use some Android apps.
The ActivWall is huge and allows for groups of students to work on the board simultaneously. It does use a projector though. They also another baseline projector model with called the ActivBoard Touch. It has a lower initial price point, but, even with the greater hardware support and reliability that Promethean offers, it will continue to have the issues that plague projector-based systems. That’s why you’re usually better off spending more upfront with the ActivPanel LED display.
Promethean’s ActivInspire software has most of the features the average viewer would want, and their online software, Classflow, is a great new addition. It functions similarly to Nearpod with one major bonus. You can create and deliver differentiated content through class groups. You can import ActivInspire, Notebook, Powerpoint or PDF lessons and make them interactive and accessible by student devices. Classflow is now also the place to download professional Promethean lessons. And for those who love Notebook, (and can afford a license) the new flat panels offer more compatibility than ever.
- Display: ActivBoard Touch, ActivPanel & ActiveWall
- Sizes: 65”, 70”, 80”, 84” & 135”
- Cost: $2100 – $9950
- Service/Support: free 5 years on-site with a dedicated NYCDOE team
- Software: ActivInspire & Classflow
- Online: ActivConnect & Classflow (free with some paid pro lessons)
- PD: 2 hrs. free per board, Active classroom PD ($28,000) also
- Overall: They deserve a new look especially because of the wireless compatibility and built-in Android. The free on-site service, PD, and software also make these boards worthy of consideration.
Education must be the only sector that hasn’t already been completely revolutionized by technology.
– Wendy Kopp
Triumph is one of the newer companies in interactive displays, so they don’t have as large of a service team. Even so, the boards have some great features that deserve a look. Theirs were the first boards to offer built-in Android OS and 4K displays. They also offer screen sharing capabilities as well as built-in Windows computers.
They have a variety of sizing options and price points including whiteboards, LCDs, and interactive projectors. Their 55” display, which is more than enough for smaller classrooms, is still among the least expensive. It is also important to note that they function well with Notebook, ActivInspire, and Triumph’s proprietary software. Their software bundle includes TB Comensius, DisplayNote, RM Easiteach, and Triumph Cloud. Comensius is a standard whiteboard software, similar to Notebook, while DisplayNote, similar, to SMART Kapp, allows collaboration across devices. Triumph Cloud is their online whiteboard software that allows you to do everything from annotating on live videos to converting photos to puzzles. RM Easiteach has a number of helpful widgets like tangrams or measurement tools.
- Display: Interactive Projectors, Multi-Touch Whiteboards, Flat Panel UHD Series, Flat Panel FHD Series, LED LCD Android Series
- Sizes: 55”, 65”, 75”, 86”, & 98″
- Cost: $2000 – $11,500
- Service/Support: 5 years on-site
- Software: TB Comensius, DisplayNote, RM Easiteach, & Triumph Cloud (license beyond those with boards – $35)
- Online: Triumph Cloud & DisplayNote
- PD: available upon request
- Overall: Triumph is good if you’re looking for a less expensive and user-friendly alternative to SMART for staff in love with all of Notebook’s features.
They have a wide array of options. While they may not have all the features you want from a fully interactive educational display, they make up in their price point and usefulness as a secondary or basic touch or mirroring display. At the high end, their eBoards offer standard whiteboard interactivity. Their touch overlay models only offer basic functionality for mirroring along with only 2-6 touch points. These could be used for digital group workstations.
It should be noted that their software and systems are made to work with Windows 10 OS. This enables them to easily share or mirror screens wirelessly. The Samsung School tools include software for classroom management (screen management, device control, & lesson toolbars) and multi-device interaction (annotation, assessment, group discussions, screen sharing). They also offer trials for equipment.
- Display: eBoard, CY, & DB series
- Sizes: 10”, 22”, 48”, 65″, 75”, 82”
- Cost: $400 – $7300
- Service/Support: 3 year on-site parts & labor
- Software: IWB 2.0 & Samsung School
- Online: Windows WiDi
- PD: available upon request
- Overall: They are decent for a low-cost basic features board if you’re a Windows school or if you want some extra low-cost displays for work zones.
Welcome to the most device agnostic option. They work with Windows, Mac, Android, tablets, and document cameras. You can even project for devices simultaneously. Epson Brightlink 3LCD projectors (yes projectors, not LEDs) allow you to interact directly on the wall (or a table) with your hand without even needing a board. Their projectors are brighter and more vivid than most you’ve seen, and the bulbs are said to be good for up to 5000 hours. They have basic free whiteboard software as well as software for mirroring devices wirelessly. For SMART aficionados, Epson offers individual and inexpensive Notebook licenses.
- Display: Brightlink
- Sizes: short throw up to 100”
- Cost: $1400 – $2000
- Service/Support: 3-year phone support & replacement
- Software: Easy Interactive Tools
- Online: iProjection
- PD: available upon request
- Overall: They are an interesting choice with a lower price point and direct connection to SMART, but you still have the issues that come with projectors (alignment & bulb replacement).
Sharp offers little in addition to the other options here, but it’s included for the sake of thoroughness.
- Display: Aquos Board
- Sizes: 60”
- Cost: $2300 – $9900
- Service/Support: unknown
- Software: basic touch drivers, mirroring & remote management
- PD: none
- Overall: They’re not really worthy of inclusion with everything else here.
Most boards, companies, and classrooms seem to be moving away from the single touch-screen model with wireless interaction from student devices being key. The next frontier of student interaction though seems to be with mixed reality. With Brightlink style projectors and advancements in mixed reality, (see Magic Leap, Wave Optics, or Frontier) students may be able to work in a virtual space without a board. If you’r looking for more, The Innovative Educator educator offers a few alternatives.
Education should not be about building more schools and maintaining a system that dates back to the Industrial Revolution. We can achieve so much more, at unmatched scale with software and interactive learning.
– Naveen Jain
Since many teachers with boards are also striving to get away from a front of the room teaching model I wanted to provide some ways for you to best utilize wireless capabilities. You also may want to connect a device other than your computer (tablet, document scanner, etc.) to your display. It can be done with cables & adapters (see the mirroring diagram). With new displays though, you no longer have to be tied to the board. You and your students can display and interact with content anywhere in the room. This helps take you away from the outmoded ‘sage on the stage’ model of instruction. These don’t include the interactive workspace apps that some companies offer for student collaboration & interaction which are discussed above.
- Promethean ActivConnect – This is a great option if you have a Promethean display. It comes at NO EXTRA COST. You can connect directly with Apple’s AirPlay, or connect via ActivCast sender to mirror Windows or Android systems. You can also use it to mirror a Chrome browser using the extension.
- SMART – With SMART Kapp iQ you can connect from any CHrome browser or iOS device. It also offers basic whiteboard mirroring while the various apps of the SMART Learning Suite offer some device interaction.
- Epson Brightlink – You can project up to 4 devices wirelessly & simultaneously on the projector.
- Apple TV & AirPlay – It makes your display AirPlay compatible and gives you access to a variety of iOS apps. The latest version also allows voice input.There are also apps that allow you to AirPlay to your laptop without an Apple TV.
- Google Cast for Education – It is a free Chrome app that allows students and teachers to share their screens to a projector & has built-in Google Classroom teacher controls.
- ScreenBeam -Actiontec allows wireless display from Windows devices. Windows 7 devices require an adapter. It is not through an external internet connection, so it works well even when your network has issues.
- Samsung -They use Windows 10’s built-in WiDi to mirror devices.
- Apps for Screen Control – Team-Viewer, Splashtop, or Mocha VNC
- Apps for Mirroring – AirServer, Reflector 2, Mirroring360, Annotate.