Dry-erase whiteboards hang in walls across a hospital or clinic, from the nurses’ stations on each floor to training rooms in the basement. They’re used to share up-to-the-minute life and death information about local emergencies. They’re used to update personnel schedules and rotating shifts. They’re used to note patients’ data. In short, they’re a critical communications tools that, in many healthcare organizations, are behind the technological times. An interactive whiteboard (IWB) can be used to record and share all the same critical information, but without risk of data being erased and lost.
IWBs let people use simple hand gestures or pens to interact with the board, both writing on the board as if with a dry-erase marker or manipulating the content on the board as with a touch-screen. An IWB can record everything written on the board, and send it to every doctor, nurse, or administrator who needs the information. Those files can then be accessed on the other devices used in an e-health practice. With an IWB, everyone can work together more easily and in creative ways. IWBs engage users’ imaginations and encourage them to collaborate in visual and auditory ways.
The use of IWBs around the world is growing, says a June 2011 report by Futuresource Consulting, a research firm that specializes in education technology. It found that the IWB market grew in 2010 by 15 percent, which translates into more than 3.6 million globally installed IWBs. In the U.S., the IWB market in 2010 grew to more than $1 billion does for IWB hardware and accessories, according to a recent survey conducted by Education Market Research.
“IWBs enhance the overall learning experience. They can be used to add multimedia, create dynamic lessons or simply add a new level of class participation,” explains Michael Crawford, project manager at Bluedrop Performance Learning, a training company and courseware provider in Newfoundland, Canada. “Simple things like getting a learner to come use a drag-and-drop to answer a question can enhance the learning experience exponentially.”
IWBs are widely used in classrooms, from elementary schools to university lecture halls, but they’re similarly useful in corporate boardrooms, hospital training labs and any other setting in which people are working together and brainstorming ideas. IWBs facilitate collaboration both locally in a conference room and, if multiple systems are connected across the Internet, between groups meeting in different locations; notations made on a whiteboard in the U.S., for example, will also appear on the connected whiteboard in the UK, and vice versa. Any notes that are taken on the whiteboard, problems solved or pictures drawn can be saved, along with audio comments.
“The majority of users will use them to save and distribute meeting notes and run interactive training sessions. Those industries working with diagrams, drawings, and plans get the most benefit out of using this technology as they can quickly make design and product changes, remotely involving colleagues and suppliers across the globe,” says Kevin Donaghy, director of Virtual Channel Ltd, which provides training on the SMART brand of IWBs across the UK.
An IWB is a large interactive display and digital project that connect to a computer; in many cases, the display looks exactly like a traditional whiteboard, except for the projector attached at the top. The projector beams an image from the computer to the display, where users stand to work with the image. Depending on the system and the software it ships with, users can interact with the materials projected on the board with their fingers, a special pen or stylus, or a remote device. IWBs often also have an integrated sound system.
The whiteboard display can either be mounted to the wall, not unlike chalkboards of old, or to a specialized floor stand. Some boards are nearly indestructible and can be written on like a regular whiteboard, and others are even magnetic. The size of the IWB is important for usability, and they vary from six to eight to even 12 feet across.
“In this case, bigger is really better. It is very easy to underestimate the size required for the interactive board to be effective,” says Mark Madigan, president and CEO of IT Cadre, a technology solutions and resiliency services firm in Washington, DC.
Several vendors offer IWBs, but the market is dominated by a few names: SMART Technology’s SMART Boards, Promethean’s ActiveBoards, and PolyVision eno IWBs. EMR’s National Survey of Interactive Whiteboard Usage: 2011 found that 70.5 percent of the 1.5 million installed IWBs in classrooms were from SMART Technology; about 29 percent of them were from Promethean. Other popular brands include Sharp Aquos Board and Hitachi Starboard.
Some popular vendors, such as Mimio, are focused on creating interactive classrooms — they ship primarily with education-enabling software — and don’t necessarily design their interactive products for industries outside of education. For private organizations, this can make finding the right vendor a little trickier.
“Look for the whiteboard product that complements your business. Look for attributes that feed the look and feel — cables, power, touch pointers and mobility. Consider how all of those items will fit in your environment,” advises Madigan.
No matter how well an IWB’s specs match up with an organization’s business model or integrates with existing technology, if it’s hard to use by non-technical people, it turns into a wasted investment. In fact, IWBs can quickly become plain old whiteboards or simple projection screens if users aren’t properly trained. Depending on their role in the organization, some people will need to learn how to create content for the IWB system as a teacher or trainer, while others need to know just how to interact with the IWB as a student or meeting participant.
When people know how to use IWBs as easily as they wield a dry erase marker, this technology promises to enable simple, intuitive collaboration and learning. Kevin Donaghy expects adoption to increase as people become more comfortable with tech technology in general, especially tech-savvy graduates entering the workplace for the first time.
“Companies will start to use this technology out of the meeting room to collaborate with suppliers, colleagues, and customers. More players will enter the market, and the key differentiator will not be the boards, but the software supplied with them,” predicts Donaghy.