Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interactive Whiteboard As A Large Tablet Computer

Last week I attended a workshop on using Using interactive whiteboards, iPads of University Teaching. To an IT professional, the Interactive Whiteboard and iPad need little explanation. An interactive whiteboard is a computer with a large touch screen and applications adapted for touch, rather than keyboard/mouse input. An iPad is a hand held tablet computer from Apple, with a touch screen and applications for gesture input.

The interactive whiteboard and iPad have much in common, as they both have a touch sensitive screen. The interactive whiteboard could be thought of as a very large iPad. Given that iPads are becoming familiar to the general population, which includes educators, it may be useful to explain interactive whiteboards to them in this way.

It may be feasible to go further and build an interactive whiteboard which uses the hardware and software of a tablet computer. This would allow the growing range of applications for tablet computers to be used on the interactive whiteboard. It would also allow the same educational applications to be used by students and staff individually on their tablet computer and as a group on the i-board. The same applications could use both the tablet computers and large scared board simultaneously. Using the same software for both types of units would also make maintenance of the equipment and the training of staff and students in its use easier.

It would be difficult to modify an Apple iPad to drive an i-board, as the Apple software and hardware is closely controlled by the Apple company. However, the rival Google Android operating system is more open to change and is used on a range of hardware from different manufacturers. There are small, low cost computers available running Google Android. These have the same interface ports as used to drive third party i-board hardware. An example of such a device is the $200 Agora Internet TV Portal. It should therefore be feasible to program one of these to work with existing i-board hardware and build an interactive whiteboard which is essentially an Android tablet computer with a very large screen.

The Android i-Board would have limitations, in that it could not run Microsoft Windows applications, in particular Microsoft Office, Word and PowerPoint (at least not easily, some Windows applications run in emulation under Linux). However, there are applications available which can read and write the file formats of MS-Windows which can run on Android. There are also third party Android "Apps", similar to those for the Apple iPad (but not as extensive in number).

More important than emulating Windows applications might be the ability to work with web based applications. This would allow many web based educational applications and resources to be used with the i-broad.

Using the Android hardware and software would have advantages for an i-board. These devices are expensive, large, unreliable and cumbersome to use. Interactive Whiteboards consist of a desktop personal computer running Microsoft Windows or the Apple Mac operating system, interfaced to the touch surface of the screen. To accommodate the PC requires a large device. As a large and complex operating system and application software is being used, the unit takes considerable time to boot, is at risk of viruses and needs frequent software upgrades.

A Google Android computer can be about the size of a matchbox. This need have no hard disk, relying on flash memory and a network connection. Such a unit can be booted quickly as it has a relatively small and simple suite of software. As most of the applications will be running remotely over the network, a powerful process is not needed, nor are frequent software upgrades.

It should be noted that there are other Linux based operating systems available which could be used in place of Google Android, for driving an interactive whiteboard. Android is suggested as it is the most widely known and widely deployed, with more Android devices in use than Apple iPad/iPhones.

No comments: