I just completed a survey of faculty at my institution in which I asked which emerging internet technologies they are most interested in learning more about. The top two topics cited were “Video Streaming and/or Podcasting (TeacherTube, etc.)” and “Interactive Whiteboards (web based)”. Since I happen to have covered TeacherTube and other YouTube alternatives for education and Podcasting in March, I am going to take a look at the number two topic, interactive whiteboards, this week and next.
What am I looking for in an Interactive Whiteboard for use in the classroom?
Interactive whiteboards have existed for many years, and there are a number of widely used proprietary products on the market, such as Smartboard and Promethean. That being said, I am interested in online applications, preferably free, as there are a number of these available and these are the kinds of tools I like to focus on here at emergingedtech.com.
In my opinion, a good interactive whiteboard application should be easy to share with other users, have a relatively intuitive interface (or provide a useful help tool if the application's functionality isn't highly intuitive), and allow for the saving of sessions (or at least copies of the visual content resulting from a session). The abilities to import a document or image, and to easily create a variety of shapes and symbols, are desired as well. An interactive chat function would also be a real plus. The overarching objective is a tool that will allow multiple users (such as a classroom full of students) to collaboratively edit a pictorial document, with each student able to easily add or manipulate content. An invitation mechanism can provide some level of control over who can participate (having many users editing a document at once can create a bit of a free-for-all, and an invite function might provide a little control over that). The presence of a chat facility can be a real benefit for remote or distance learning situations.
Products I found in my search
I came across four products in my search for online interactive whiteboards: Scribblar, Dabbleboard, Skrbl, and ImaginationCubed. I briefly tested each of these applications, and was somewhat disappointed by two of them, but found the other two to be have a nice level of functionality. Following are some brief comments about my findings for each of these products.
ImaginationCubed (www.imaginationcubed.com) is a free tool from GE. At first glance, it seems a bit limited, but it does have some nice features. A “Replay” function quickly replays everything that was done to create the drawing up to its current point. You can save files (by emailing a link, which when clicked on, opens the file and replays it, and then lets you continue editing it). There is an integrated set of “stamps” (iconic representations of figures such as people, etc.). While I did not see a help function, the functionality was so straightforward that it did not seem necessary. [Ed Note: As of July 2011, it appears that this application has been taken offline – KW]
Dabbleboard (www.dabbleboard.com) has a free option and various paid plans, with each level of paid plan allowing for more users (the plans run from $8/mo. for 1 user to $200/mo. for 100 users). The application was impressive and had a great overview video available. It was easy to invite another user to participate, and to save files for later use. There is a library function which allows you to save drawings, and a public library where you can pull up other drawings. The self-completing drawing tool was unique – you could draw part of a shape and it would complete the shape for you, or you could choose to draw freehand.
Skrbl (www.skrbl.com) has a free edition, and a paid “team” version that provides more functionality and a lot more storage space. Unfortunately, I experienced a number of problems during testing of the free version. I could not determine how to size an inserted image, the color fill function would not work for me, and while utilizing shared access we found that the tools behaved problematically – for example, when we switched from the delete function to a different tool, everything we clicked on kept getting deleted anyway. The application is still in Beta, so they are presumably still working some of the kinks out, but these kinds of issues were frustrating and I quickly lost interest in the product. I will say that the app looks like it has a lot of potential, and will probably be worth checking out again after it matures further.
Scribblar (www.scribblar.com) also has a free edition and a paid edition. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the free edition allows you to save your files, or to import files as some of the above products allow. Another major drawback was the apparent lack of any sort of help functionality. Determining how to share access was a bit of a guessing game – we figured out that you had to enter the URL to get access (there is no “invite” function we could see). The application also froze several times during use. This app appears to be pretty new, and still lacks maturity – it may evolve into a more robust tool over time.
Given these initial findings, next week we'll take a closer look at Imaginationcubed and an even more in depth look at Dabbleboard (which appears to provide the highest level of functionality of the four applications above). Please come back and learn more about what these products have to offer!
As always, I welcome and encourage feedback, so if you know more about these tools, please weigh in.
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
6 free Online Interactive Whiteboards (April 2010 follow-up to the above article)
9 insightful videos about using SMART Boards in the Classroom
PolyVision ēno whiteboards: A great alternative to the SMART Board
Promethean’s Interactive Whiteboard and related instructional products