Snazzy, feature-rich smart boards make presentations come alive

Not to date myself here, but when I was a kid, we used chalkboards in school.

Do you remember beating out the erasers and having that chalk dust go everywhere? Or that annoying screeching sound that came from nails on a chalkboard?

Well, with the advent of the whiteboard, those days are gone. Most modern school systems now use whiteboards, as does every office or training facility.

However, presentation media such as whiteboards and other educational tools have evolved significantly, a lesson I learned last week in Orlando at the FETC (Florida Educational Technology Conference), a division of 1105 Media.

There, I was impressed by some of the cool tools that vendors had on display, some of which may very well be what your in-house training centres need.

Wonders of interactive whiteboards

For example, there were several displays that revealed the benefits of teaching subjects on interactive whiteboards.

A company called Smart Technologies had various types of Smart Boards and demonstrated how much easier it is to make the instructor a human mouse while teaching a subject such as PowerPoint.

The touch-sensitive display (which actually looks just like a whiteboard) connects to your computer and digital projector. The projector beams the image of your computer screen onto the Smart Board.

With the touch of a hand, the instructor can then control computer applications directly from the display, write notes in digital ink using a special pen or your finger, and save work to share later.

Not too far away was another impressive booth by Promethean, which has its own interactive whiteboard for teachers to use to enhance the classroom-learning experience.

In this tough economy, some may think tools of this sort don’t fit in the budget. The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.

This is where a demonstration by Howard.com proved interesting: The company highlighted Mimio technology.

A hardware strip attaches to the side of a traditional whiteboard and uses sensors to triangulate the location of the pen and wirelessly send information back to the system; the pen effectively acts like a mouse.

What is great about it for presenters is that you can walk into any room and make any board interactive in moments for both Windows and Macs.

Impressive instructor tools

There is also a tablet, which allows you to use a mouse or pen to write on the board without having to stand at it. In the business world, this would be a great way for two people to work together on a presentation.

One person works the presentation, but if something comes up that the other person needs to handle, they never have to break stride thanks to the tablet control. Mimio has a variety of other impressive solutions for instructors as well.

Now, while I was obviously impressed by the new boards, I was equally impressed by the virtualization technology demonstrated by nComputing, which shows how organizations can save a ton of money by virtualizing the desktop of a single machine.

They say the average person only uses 10 percent or less of his or her system’s capacity.

The nComputing desktop virtualization kit comes with vSpace desktop virtualization software, a PCI card, and five XD2 access devices. You put the PCI card into the shared PC and load up the virtualization software.

Then you connect each user’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse to their access device, called the XD2.

The OS, as well as software applications, run simultaneously and independently on each virtual desktop. Imagine having 10 PCs but really having only one to maintain (anti-spam, anti-virus, backup/restore).

The nComputing software works on Windows and Linux, and most applications run without difficulty.

This is not only a cost-effective solution many organizations may be looking for, but it’s also green in that it reduces e-waste.

Now, initially I was invited to attend the conference as a speaker on the subject of Windows Vista and Windows 7. The crowd comprised different levels of education professionals (everything from preschool to university education was represented) and the room was packed.

They were impressed by some of the features in Windows Vista I highlighted, such as Parental Controls, and they were also interested in the big question: Should I wait to upgrade from XP to go directly to Windows 7?

One nice thing about a show like this is you also get to play with some of the latest technology on the market.

For example, I had the chance to work with the new TouchSmart from HP and talk with folks from the company a bit. We discussed forthcoming software for the touch technology for the health care and education markets.

I also spoke with Carla Faini, academic programs manager at Microsoft. She was eager to let me know that Microsoft has several good initiatives for educators.
Free online courses

For example, you can download free materials for teaching and learning Web design, including a new one-semester curriculum unit prepared by Microsoft.

This is a one-semester course (90 class hours) which is a “complete, standards-based, eight-module Web design curriculum that thoroughly spans Web design knowledge and skills and promotes meaningful, real-world learning experiences.”

The curriculum is currently in beta version and is being taught by educators in the United States and several countries through a pilot program.

This curriculum project is an extension and enrichment of a short Expression Web curriculum unit and tutorial that was developed for U.S. high schools. Microsoft identified the need for additional and expanded materials while conducting two pilot projects in fall 2007 and spring 2008.

You can sign up to participate in the spring pilot program by sending an e-mail to ew4hs@microsoft.com. You can purchase Expression Studio (Microsoft’s suite of design and media applications for developers and Web designers) for every instructional computer in your school for a total of only $299.

So although focused more toward the K-12 crowd, the technology was innovative and certainly indicative of what we need to see in boardrooms and presentation centers, not to mention training facilities: education technology that benefits the minds of tomorrow while continuing to support the minds of today.

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