I love that working in the NYC schools system affords the opportunity for teachers and admins to be a part of local edtech events that you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. These include learning opportunities like our tech summit, STEM institutes, and partnership/certification program. It also includes large vendor interaction opportunities like the past Big 3 in EdTech event and our annual Modern Classroom Display Technology Event. That last brings together the various interactive display companies that can be purchased in the DOE and to present their latest offerings.
This year had an interesting change. Two years ago SMART and Tequipment, as the dominant company, took many lashings for board and customer service issues. That allowed Promethean to look like the golden choice that many schools went with. Now that many more schools have Promethean boards than before, they are experiencing issues. There were some complaints about malfunctioning boards and insufficient training, but that’s part of growing. Both companies seemed committed to resolving all issues as quickly as possible. But there are many other options available beyond those two. If you want to dig deeper into whether they are a worthwhile investment for schools you can find the basics in The How, Why, and Really? of Interactive Displays. Here though is an overview of what the event shared. an overview of the latest that they offer.
WHAT TO BUY
You should keep in mind though that regardless of the board (or any other technology), it’s all about training and service. No technology will be helpful without the proper structure and training which is why there are key questions you should ask before purchasing any technology. I’ve helped a lot of teachers whose schools have bought new boards, but they didn’t really know how to really use them effectively despite the initial training some company’s offered. Switching from a projector to any brand of flat panel is a worthwhile upgrade whether SMART, Promethean, Triumph because of ease of use and lower cost of maintenance. They all have Airplay, Chromecast, and built-in operating systems. Whatever you do, schedule training for your teachers on how to use/manage the new tech. Most companies, when contacted, will offer to bring a trial board for you to test in your school. You should look into that and along with the other keys to successfully implementing technology in classrooms. Keep in mind upgrading to a newer LED display should last 10-20 years with the only update ever needing to be the small built-in computer on the side.
Whatever you’re considering there are a few things you need to keep in mind to help you decide what system best suits your needs.
- Screen Size: In general, the 70″ displays are the right sizes for most classrooms though you may be stuck in a closet-sized class or want one for an auditorium.
- OS: Most displays now have native Android but some offer Windows. Does it matter? Do teachers have laptops to connect or do you need a computer for cluster teachers and substitutes? Do you need central management?
- Network: Obviously wired connections tend to be more reliable, but maybe the board will need built-in WiFI.
- Location: Is it going on a wall or on a mobile cart? Who is using it? Remember the kindergarteners are short, so consider how high it should be or if it needs to be adjustable.
- MDM: Is there a system for updating and managing the devices at a scale or will teachers be trained in how to maintain them?
- Content & Curriculum: Are you just displaying lessons and websites that you’re already using or does the software to interact and display content matter? Do you just want to write or do you need interactive games and activities?
- Cameras & Accessories: Will you be Skyping with another class in Beijing or doing some video conferencing with your other sites? Do you have HDMI or VGA? Is the audio through the USB or a headphone jack? Don’t forget that cords and adapters are the difference between an interactive display and an expensive, shiny brick. Make sure you have what you need.
- Connection: Will staff be connecting computers or tablets? Will they use a wired connection or do they want to move about the room and project wirelessly. Below is a chart showing the different ways to connect an iPad to an interactive display.
I’m starting with SMART because they’re the company everyone knows even if there are more options than ever before. As I’ve said in the past, the one thing that sets SMART apart is the software, though that gap is narrowing as Promethean’s Classflow becomes more full-featured. They have a number of great game-based learning options. SMART was bought out by FoxCon which has led to some real changes in their technology and service.
The good story for Notebook is that the basic features are totally free. That means even when your subscription for the premium features expires, you can still use the standard software and open your previous advanced lessons. The new SMART Learning Suite features though do require a subscription. I’m not upset about that seeing as even Kahoot and Padlet are no longer wholly free and Notebook does what those sites do and more. My biggest annoyance with that is that a basic feature like Activity Builder which was previously free is now part of the subscription. Some people have an issue with a watermark after their subscription expires, but it should go away when you connect it to a SMARTBoard. The software now opens with a menu of recent files, example lessons, and links for SMART Learning Suite Online which continues to gain many of the features of the desktop version including SMART Lab, game-based learning activities, and the ability to create a Notebook from a PDF or Powerpoint file. Free lessons are still available on the SMART Exchange.
The one big change is that they now offer a lower cost model, the MX Series, which still has many of the features and has front-facing speakers (sound is a frequent complaint on many of the boards. The latest 7000 series boards offer a built-in Android OS, Chromium browser, Smart Kapp iQ (shared whiteboard) for shared writing, built-in Notebook, a PDF viewer, SMART Lab, SMART Amp, Airplay, Google Cast, and Windows screen sharing. You can even write on those shared screens with an ink layer. You can connect multiple other inputs as well and the display allows for 16 touch points and at least 6 tools to be used simultaneously. For less expensive options they have their smaller 6000 series and non-touch 2000 series. Check out a comparison of their models.
Tequipment (Teq) is the company that sells and services SMARTBoardsin New York City, but they now offer much more including MakerBot and Ultimaker 3D printers, a variety of classroom robots as well as pi-top computers. After issues a few years ago, their service continues to improve and their training is amazing especially since their Teq Online PD trains teachers in educational practices across the spectrum. Many school tech upgrades have failed because of a lack of planning or ongoing professional development. You can access their presentation slides for more details.
- Decrease in prices
- Online software improvements
- More built-in board software capabilities
- Faster service
- 10 hours online PD
- 1 year of Learning Suite subscription free with a boar
Promethean, the golden boy two years ago, is experiencing some growing pains, but they continue to put out quality equipment and improvements in software. The ActivPanel is a powerful and reliable display with built-in cross-platform screen sharing and built-in Android and whiteboard software. They also have a cheaper i-Series as well. They have always made great boards, but now Classflow software offers more activities and interactive content. One issue I’ve noticed with schools though is confusion between their software which includes Classflow, ActivInspire, and the built-in whiteboard software which is neither of the two. Some schools have also mentioned inconsistent ability to connect to touch on laptops.
Classflow is a great whiteboard software that offers the ability to push content to student devices as well as differentiate content amongst student groups. There are far more resources on the site, but not all are free. The boards also offer the ability to install ActiveConnect G-Series and some Android apps, but there aren’t many quality educational apps available yet. In truth, none of the boards are Google Play certified, but they can install some apps along with their built-in timers and tools. As a bonus, the built-in whiteboard software does work with Google Classroom while even Google’s Jamboard is not yet fully integrated. You can learn more through their online webinars or by viewing their slides.
- Free 2 hours of PD per board
- All software comes with free upgrade
- Classflow is freemium
- Simultaneous multi-device mirroring
- Issues interacting with Office apps
- Low price point
- Allow for personalizing the devices with apps and images
- New MDM to manage
They are managed by their parent company VWR. Their boards offer built-in Android and browsers as well as screen sharing with annotation. Their software TB Comensius, DisplayNote, RM Easiteach, and Triumph Cloud function with the basic tools you would expect. 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. The boards are open source though so you can run other company’s software as well.
The bottom line is that they were once the lowest cost boards, but Promethean has matched that. They do offer the widest range of board types and sizes though. The software accomplishes the basics and a little extra, but the boards can be a bit glitchy and the touch drivers don’t always work or update immediately with newer computers. Check out the complete info on their updates.
- Offer a wider variety of screen sizes and types
- Offer a full Windows computer included
- Lower price point on some models
- 30 built in apps
- Cloud and software free
- 2 hours free PD per board
The Jamboard is the newest entry into the educational interactive display space, and they certainly behave that way. They are overexcited to show you the handwriting recognition and stickie notes-features that have been common to other boards for a while. Although I will say the autodraw feature which creates icons from your shabby sketches is pretty cool.
The physical board isn’t that different. Yes, at 55″ it’s smaller than most other displays and the mobile cart offers fewer adjustment options than similar mobile display stands. The clarity of the 4K display is nice and red is a pretty color, but that’s about all I can say for it. The one feature the board has above the others is though is the built-in camera for video conferences. You can easily do in-screen video Hangouts. Granted a simple webcam or laptop camera can take care of that with other boards, but it’s always nice when it’s all together.
While the board itself is somewhat unimpressive to me, the software is solid and you don’t need the board to use it. Download the app from the Play Store or the Apple App Store. It has a lot of the features teachers like from other whiteboard software with the easy built-in drive-sharing and collaboration features you’d expect with any Google tool. It’s like whiteboard functionality at each desk. Check out their full presentation or watch a live stream overview. You can also find their recommendations for the first day of Jamboard or solve your issues through the Jamboard Help Center.
- Easy Google compatibility
- Built-In collaboration
- Built-In Camera
- Great software that doesn’t require a board
- Only 1 size
- Higher price-point
What Epson offers is the ability to replace old display projectors as well as set up new wall touchscreen options with 6 points of touch. The upside is price and a large display area, but the downside is that it will only work on flat, clean, and undamaged walls (which don’t exist in a lot of NYC schools). Their moderator software can connect up to 50 participant devices to the projector and as many as 4 simultaneously. You can also use it to push docs and other content to students. They also provide deals for individual SMART Notebook licenses. You can check out the complete Brightlink info.
- An inexpensive replacement option
- A huge display area
- 5000-hour bulbs for as low as $49
- A wider variety of projector options at low prices
- Laser projectors don’t require bulb replacement
- Screen share 4 devices simultaneously
More Display Options
The ScreenBeam allows for wireless touch ink layers across devices. It’s a good option for live video since the connection is point-to-point instead of networked. One of the features I really like about it, at least when utilizing Windows device, is that is reciprocally touch-compatible. What I mean is when you touch your tablet it moves on the display, but touching the display also affects the tablet. It’s one of the easiest mirroring options that just seems to work and it is compatible. And while they are partnered with Microsoft, the system also works with Macs and Chromebooks. It has classroom management functionality as well through Classroom Commander. See a complete overview.
- Easy to use & reliable
- Reciprocally touch-compatible
- Doesn’t require an external network connection
- Can see student screens and manage devices
If you’re looking for an easy way to share to existing screens across a variety of devices, the Airtame is worth consideration. It allows for several wireless streaming options and the ability to set multiple signage displays. That means you can control several displays easily from any networked computer through their Airtame Cloud software. In fact, I was considering it for just that option, but they aren’t fully compatible with video streaming. For reliability, it can connect to 2 VLANs simultaneously. They also offer cloud management software for all of your connected displays. The offer chat and phone support and since they have a local office in Brooklyn, it’s easy to get support. Check out their overview.
- Can access the screen’s background from other networks
- Stream to multiple screens
- Good for digital signage
- Issues with video streaming
Apple TV & AirPlay are not new and Airplay is available on many of the new boards, but the device’s apps and voice-activation capabilities make it worth an additional look. You can connect via Bluetooth and peer-to-peer even when the network stinks. You don’t even need the newer Apple TVs so the price is cheap. The new Apple Classroom is also much easier for teachers to set up themselves
- Inexpensive screen sharing option
- An Apple-only option
- Several downloadable educational apps
- Voice-activated capabilities
- Manage devices via Apple Classroom
Mimio is by no means new to me or to the display world, but they haven’t been available to New York City teachers for several years. I decided to include it though since I have had experience with it in the past. It used to be that they offered you the ability to create a touchscreen display on a standard whiteboard that is a less expensive and portable alternative. They still do that with the MimioTeach, but they now offer full 20-point LED display solutions and interactive projectors. Their MimioStudio software offers many of the whiteboard and sharing features of Notebook and Classflow as well as a grade book for built-in assessments and the ability to import Notebook and ActivInspire files.
- Many display options
- Solid learning/display software
- Collaboration app
The eBeam Edge+ is similar to Mimio in that it offers an interactive display on the wall, but you aren’t relegated solely to interacting via the marker. Their eBeam SmartMarker will pick up your writing regardless of what kind of marker you are using. Just stick your normal dry erase marker in their marker cradle.
Their software is free and works across platforms. It includes a number of interactive tools, widgets, and the ability to connect and interact with students and staff on their devices. It allows for easy collaboration.
- Work on existing wall/whiteboard with a projector
- No expensive markers needed
Acer was at the event in conjunction with Google to show off its Chromebook options. They’re useful to mention since they do have built-in Chromecast and Google Cast for Education enabled to allow for screen mirroring on displays. They have a variety of models that include a touchscreen or not, a convertible or clamshell, large format, and thin models. The screens vary from 11.6 to 15.6 inches. All models are durable with rubber bumpers, recessed keys, spill-proof keyboards, and 180° hinges. They come with a 3-year warranty and accidental damage protection. Check out their complete list of offerings.
In the end, your choice should start with your instructional goals for your classrooms. Does it even need to be a touchscreen or will teachers and students be projecting the work from their devices. Some of the displays have amazing software features, but who is going to train the staff to use it? Keep in mind all the details I shared at the beginning like screen size or operating system and remember that having a display at the front of the room doesn’t mean that’s where you should spend most of your class time either.