Designing software for getting the most of the Interactive Whiteboard
Javier Sarsa Garrido
Faculty of Education
University of Zaragoza
Rebeca Soler Costa
Faculty of Education
University of Zaragoza
Abstract — The introduction of the Interactive WhiteBoard
(IWB) in the educative system embodies new methodological
approaches that require prior research and training in
teachers. To meet the educational opportunities offered by the
new digital classrooms, the integration of Information and
Communication Technologies (ICT) has to be considered from
a new interactive learning horizon. In Spain IWBs have early
been adopted in classrooms, since 2005, but thanks to the
School 2.0 program (2009), the implementation of ICT has
been fostered by the central government. However, even
though teachers may have an IWB in the classroom, it does not
mean that they use it for interactive teaching and learning
purposes. Specific software for digital boards has to be created
in order to benefit from this innovative learning tool.
This paper presents practical examples of the IWB application
in classroom teaching. It also shows the need to implement
software to develop students' goals achievements when using
the IWB. The lack of specific software in IWB tools is an
important barrier. The main interest lies in the learning
opportunities it offers to children as a writing device, as a
resource to correct exercises, as a means of interactions, etc.
Interactive Whiteboard current programs are rather linear in
the sense that only a few of them allow students’ interaction
with their peers.
Technological innovations emerge so fast that new educational
innovation processes are constantly being introduced. This has
advantages and disadvantages. The advantages relate to the
endless possibilities of expansion, consolidation and training a
student can receive, once the teaching staff has been trained.
The disadvantages refer to the necessary assessment process
that each innovation program requires. As a result of this
handicap teachers need to identify new methodologies or
modify the ones currently used. Similarly, software has to
evolve to get the most of the latest ICT, like the IWB. This only
can be reached if authoring tools develop as far as to achieve
programming instructions to run the possibilities of the IWB,
such as handwriting recognition, strokes and shapes
recognition, finger dragging or multi-student collaboration.
Keywords-component; interactive whiteboard, IWB, ICT,
digital classrooms, authoring tools, learning outcomes,
educational applied research.
Traditional devices such as slide projectors, videotape,
audio cassettes… have almost vanished under the
deployment of possibilities showed by computers. The
traditional blackboard seems to be the next victim. The
Interactive WhiteBoard (IWB) has consolidated as one of the
main devices to last long time in classrooms, living together
with or even contributing to the disappearance of the
foregoing technology. Many teachers consider the IWB as an
invaluable classroom tool. Though IWBs begin to be used
ten years ago it is now when it is developing. The massive
incorporation of IWBs into teaching in some countries is
expanding so fast that teachers need to use a completely
different technology. Even more teachers suddenly are
forced to modify a big part of their teaching strategies to
adapt them to this “new guest” that determines the kind of
contents and the didactical methodology. In Spain IWBs
have been recently adopted in classrooms (about 2005), but
thanks to the School 2.0 program (2009) fostered by the
central government, they have developed massively.
However, if we consider the investment that the
implementation of IWBs supposes in each classroom, it
would be convenient to clarify what advantages they have
and the didactic methodologies that emerge with them. There
is controversy on the need of having IWBs in classrooms
because many general purpose programs are often conceived
as IWB‟s specific software though it can be used in any
computer. Even considering the IWB as an extraordinary
technology it is important to identify accurately which are its
contributions to the teaching-learning process. Several
authors agree on its didactic uses: “Effective use of an
interactive whiteboard encompasses and extends a range of
teaching styles. It also supports and extends a wider range of
learning styles – but, as with any ICT tool, its success
depends on effective use” ; “Current evidence at both
primary and secondary levels points to a reluctance on the
part of many teachers to do other than use the IWB as a
visual textbook in the same way lesson by lesson. As a
result, pupil boredom once again inhibits understanding and
achievement and the potential for changed approaches is
lost” ; “A number of respondents raised concerns that
IWB use was „just another presentational tool‟ ” .
In the last years some projects have been carried out in
order to identify the best didactic models to be applied in
“2.0 classrooms”, from which the “2.0 Classroom Research”
project has involved 21 centers and 3000 students . This
report highlights that one of the IWB achievements is to
increase attention and motivation in a 100% of the cases they
analyzed (96% of students declared their preference for
developing their classroom activities using ICT). Teachers
consider ICT in classroom valuable (more than 90%) but
acknowledge the time it takes when preparing the lectures.
This project shows the need to develop teacher training
programs based on digital didactics in 2.0 classrooms.
ADVANTAGES OF USING AN IWB
Bautista has gathered some of the advantages of the IWB
. Among them, he emphasizes the possibility of writing
and drawing with colors over the surface, underlining, stating
the benefits for pupils with psychomotor problems, storing
screens drawn in previous days, the big size of the screen,
the triple interaction teacher – student at the whiteboard –
students on their seats, or the wide possibilities of the
software supplied with IWBs. The great motivation and
interest that IWBs produces in students is also highlighted.
Indeed, a main reason of the IWB‟s success in contrast
with the existing computer and projector duo lies in higher
motivation roused in students. In relation with the traditional
chalkboard this motivation is fundamentally caused by the
graphical capabilities of the IWB (use of color, images,
videos…), already available since the computer video
projection system invention. Above all, the key is the sort of
“magic” produced by having the possibility to use regular
tools directly over it (stylus pen, hand or fingers):
“Multimedia and interactive content on interactive
whiteboards is engaging and motivating, particularly for
primary pupils, and students pay more attention during
lessons” . Nevertheless, the optimism derived of the
current research has to be considered within the “novelty
effect” that any new ICT can generate when incorporated to
the teaching. It is important to remember that the perception
of teachers in relation with the improvement of their
students‟ skills when using IWBs and the assessment that the
students have themselves about their performance is not
always objective. It has to be checked and contrasted in
research for determining if there is an effectively positive
“Therefore, a question that remained unclear was as to
whether improvements in pupil attainment during the first
year after the introduction of whiteboards were due to good
teaching as some teachers have claimed rather than
technology alone” . In this sense, “it is interesting to
observe that teachers appreciate the IWB because think that
increases their pupils‟ concentration; an aspect that the
students share although they point out to be more
concentrated when working with their own laptop” .
BECTA‟s recommendations  establish four main
advantages about using IWBs:
Enhance demonstration and modeling.
Improve the quality of interactions and teacher
assessment through the promotion of effective
Redress the balance of making resources and
planning for teaching.
Increase the pace and depth of learning.
But, are these the real IWB advantages? What‟s the
difference between the IWB and the previous system based
on a computer and a projector? Which are really its specific
III.METHODOLOGICAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE
In order to get the most of IWBs, teachers have to be
conscious of their contributions. They will have to think
about the best activities for their students with the IWB and
search for the proper resources (documents, images,
multimedia applications…). On the contrary, the IWB will
not be very useful and probably the students would get more
profit using their own net books.
The didactic models most used and with more excellent
evaluations are those centered on the teacher activity and
control using the IWB : lecture presentations (95%),
resolution of exercises all together and group comments
based on video visualization or digital news (80%), public
correction of exercises (70%)…
Getting the most of the IWBs is achieved when thinking
about what is the real contribution of this technology
opposed to the previous system (computer–projector),
because we can make the mistake of reproducing exactly the
same uses. Here are some examples of methodological uses
for the IWB:
Use 1: Using the IWB as a blank blackboard renews
and amplifies the possibilities of the traditional
chalkboard. These sink into obscurity when using
the computer-projector system over a non-interactive
surface. There are many applications able to create a
new full screen blank document, but IWBs always
count with a presentation software optimum for this
aim (e-Beam -> Interact with Scrapbook, Hitachi ->
StarBoard, SmartBoard -> Notebook, Mimio ->
Use 2: To write over Webpages or PDF documents
(underlining or labeling with markers, framing with
shapes, pointing with arrows…). This possibility
turns any static content into an interactive one. IWB
allows the development of any activity on a layer
above existing content –higher level-, for example
completing a proposed exercise in a PDF document
as it was a paper sheet. There are some applications
like the PDF Annotator that allow saving annotations
into conventional PDF documents.
Use 3: To write/draw into Presentations. The new
versions of some computer programs, for example
Microsoft PowerPoint, include the capability for
making annotations with different kind of felt-tip
pens. They also allow saving the annotations as part
of the presentation. This possibility can be used to
achieve a unique presentation on the IWB in each
lecture: “As the lecture becomes "canned" using
tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint, the ability to
change direction, annotate or illustrate on the fly
becomes difficult if not impossible” .
Use 4: To write/draw over images. The IWBs‟
control software allows importing images or making
screen captures to be labeled. The image then
becomes an interactive content too and it is usual to
point to parts, color zones or write names on it.
Activities in educational multimedia applications:
Use 5: Activities based on handwriting
recognition (number, letters, symbols or even
mathematical formulas). Recognition does not
mean converting handwriting into a typewritten
text; it consists of the ability of multimedia
applications to recognize it and trigger an
action. An example would be the digital version
of Sudoku (Inkdoku for IWB or Tablet PC).
Use 6: Activities based on drawing recognition
(objects, structures, strokes/gestures, shapes…).
Some good examples
applications with these characteristics are
Algodoo (to create freehand drawn physics
systems), Ms Composition Tool (a musical
score editor able to recognize strokes turning
them into notes) or the geometric shapes
recognizer that some IWBs‟ control software
Use 7: Activities based on dragging with
fingers (to place, insert, order, discriminate,
classify, rotate objects, and follow paths...); in
short, drill and practice activities where the
IWB potential can be maximized. Dragging
better than clicking. Finger better than stylus.
Use 8: Interactive
(simultaneous participation or collaboration on
exercises resolution or correction). Modern IWBs
can be shared through Internet in conference mode.
This possibility allows students (with Tablet PC
laptops and from their seats) to collaborate on
activities and exercises solving with the same or
higher precision than most of IWBs.
Use 9: Lecture recordings and storing of previous
whiteboard screens. This function allows audio
recording being recorded at the same time the
activity developed in the IWB. Teachers then can
publish the recordings on the Internet, so that
students will be able to review lectures and their
parents to know exactly the contents of the lecture.
Therefore any software that does not run these specific
advantages of the IWB and Tablet PC belong to the
conventional software that can be used equally, or even
better, with a normal computer. In such case IWBs would
not contribute with any substantial advantage. Furthermore
IWBs do not lack problems either: in some trademarks the
stylus still works with low precision; it is hard to get used to
making actions that can be easily carried out with the mouse
(right button or double click); and generally it is not possible
to obtain a perfect stroke as in paper handwriting. The need
of periodic calibration of IWBs is another inconvenient. The
following charts show a sketch of each type:
Figure1. Use 1. Using it as a blank space, IWB can substitute the traditional
chalkboard for any exercise. This option is incorporated by the software
supplied with the IWB.
Figure 2. Use 2. Writing or drawing over Web or PDF to fill in the blank,
underline, highlight, etc. This option is incorporated by the IWB software.
Figure 3. Use 3. Writing or drawing over presentations to point, underline,
highlight, etc. This option is incorporated by the IWB and programs in
order to make presentations.
Figure 4. Use 4. Writing or drawing over any image to point, mark, color,
etc. This option is incorporated by the software supplied with the IWB.
Figure 5a. Use 5. Writing or drawing on multimedia software with
handwritten number recognition capabilities. Author tools do not include
programming instructions to do that. There are only standalone solutions.
Figure 5b. Use 5. Writing or drawing on multimedia software with
handwritten text recognition capabilities. Author tools do not include
programming instructions to do that. There are only standalone solutions.
Figure 6. Use 6. Dragging objects with your finger to place them in
puzzles, schemes, diagrams...This can be programmed with any common
multimedia author tool.
Figure 7a. Use 7. Dragging with your finger to insert an item into ordered
sequences. This can be programmed with any common multimedia author
Figure 7b. Use 7. Dragging with your finger to order items into sequences.
This can be programmed with any multimedia author tool.
Figure 7c. Use 7. Dragging with your finger to classify or discriminate
items. This can be programmed with any author tool.
Figure 7d. Use 7. Dragging with your finger to rotate 3D objects. This can
be programmed with author tools that support 3D objects or applications
like the Google 3D warehouse.
Figure 7e. Use 7. Dragging an object with your finger to follow up the path.
This can be programmed with any multimedia author tool.
Figure 8. Use 8. Several students can participate in activities
simultaneously. Some IWBs‟ software allows this multi touch possibility.
Also IWBs can be shared through Internet and the students can collaborate
from their seats.
Figure 9. Use 9. IWBs allow recording the lecture in real time. This option
is incorporated by the IWB software or third party applications. There is
also the possibility of saving previous blackboard screens with the IWB
THE NEED OF AUTHORING TOOLS WITH SPECIFIC
PROGRAMMING INTERFACES FOR IWB
One of the reasons why there are almost no educational
multimedia programs available to get the most of the IWB‟s
handwriting and drawing capabilities is the lack of
characters or shapes. It happens something similar when
to recognize handwritten
talking about voice recognition. The most widely used
authoring tools (Adobe Flash, Adobe Director, CourseLab,
eXe Learning, Articulate, etc.) lack instructions for
managing image and voice recognition (the existing
solutions are OS dependent, for example ASR engines). Nor
have Xtras or Extensions increased the authoring language
possibilities in the field of handwriting recognition. There
are some extensions that connect the authoring tools with the
operative system or third party applications; but these are not
standardized solutions and don‟t allow further multiplatform
content distribution. Therefore a new innovation (perhaps
generation) in the evolution of authoring tools for
implementing recognition functions for different multimedia
items is necessary. Externally we can find abundant
independent solutions to recognize handwritten texts
(Myscript Stylus, ritePen, PenReader…). There is also
support to handwriting recognition in some operative
systems (for example last versions of Windows with the
Input Panel and the Mathematical Input Panel). However
while authoring tools have been improved to implement
support for 3D elements vector images or new video formats
lack any recognition. In short, this means the real evolution
to get the most of IWBs will take place when authoring tools
include a handwriting recognition system (ICR, not OCR), as
well as with symbols and shapes. This will boost the design
of IWBs software for students, thus allowing freehand
writing and drawing. In this way, the computer will be able
to understand their strokes.
IWBs offer didactic possibilities for classroom uses that
few technologies have. The most interesting uses have been
explained in this paper. However, sometimes people attribute
them innovative qualities that existed before. IWBs gather all
the advantages of the computer-projector duo and also add
new functions that we need to know to get the most of them.
Though IWBs by themselves include very useful didactic
functions in their control software, many multimedia
applications do not get the most of their capabilities due to
the lack of instructions. In fact there are no Xtras or
Extensions to complement authoring tools for recognizing
letter, numbers, shapes or symbols (only a few SDKs for
high level languages programming). Such evolution of
authoring tools would allow the design of exclusive software
for IWBs and Tablets.
The results of this research have been acquired thanks to
the project of IWBs implementation of the Faculty of
Education of the University of Zaragoza and interviews with
teachers of schools participating in “School 2.0” project.
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Interactive Whiteboards in a range of contexts” Proc. SITE,
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Investigación y Educación,
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Numeracy Strategies: Final Report”, UK, University of
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