Sharper vision: What’s new in interactive displays for education

By: | July 25, 2016

Advances in interactive display technology expand the ability for teachers and students to collaborate in the classroom as evermore powerful mobile devices are used to share content.

Advances in interactive display technology expand the ability for teachers and students to collaborate in the classroom as evermore powerful mobile devices are used to share content.

“The best new solutions enable teachers and students to swipe across displays as easily as they might move between screens on one display,” says Jim Flanagan, chief learning services officer at ISTE. “It is less about just the display hardware or features, and more about how they support redesigned learning that enhances student engagement and personalization.”

Vendors now base their more “human-centered” designs on the latest teaching and learning models, aiming to accommodate the new ways in which teachers and students interact, Flanagan says. This is in contrast with the old way of thinking: displays that reinforce the traditional, teacher-centered model.

As touch-screen displays come down in price, they will gain market share until the next breakthroughs in augmented and virtual reality, he says.

With the cost of displays dropping, schools can fit classrooms with multiple mobile screens that connect with tablets and smartphones to support student-driven, project-based learning, Flanagan says.

Students can use mobile devices to interact with the teacher and others more readily than if they relied solely on a front-of-the-class display.

Interactive displays can have a major impact on teaching if they are used to their fullest potential, says Mike McGowan, the new technology director for Sunnybrook School District 171 in Illinois and former technology director at Morris School District 54 in Illinois.

“Teachers can now facilitate learning a little more,” McGowan says. “They can call students up to the display to interact with material. They can have a student move words into proper places, they can have the students complete interactive games and activities right at the board by just simply moving objects with their fingers.”

With interactive displays, teachers can build a series of activities in a file and have a small group work through them at the board. The teacher, meanwhile, can work with other students in the classroom—increasing potential for whole and small group instruction, McGowan says.

“Now, lessons are easily reusable, and reviewable,” he says.

Stronger classroom connections

NEC Display Solutions’ new projectors—designed specifically for classrooms—can connect to as many as 50 devices. Up to 16 thumbnails can be displayed, allowing both teachers and students to share images (such as photos or math graphs) and send reports to each other wirelessly from smartphones and tablets.

Students in remote locations can collaborate by connecting to the session through the cloud, says Bob Guenter, NEC Display’s senior manager of projectors. Projectors can also be used with whiteboards instead of computers.

Today’s projectors can be set up far more quickly than the devices that schools used just five years ago, he says. They also have annotation tools that are more intuitive and allow for multi-user functions, so two or more students can work at the whiteboard simultaneously, Guenter says.

Interactive projectors enable pen- and touch-based interactivity on a standard whiteboard in the classroom, which reduces costs, especially in comparison to installing a new projector and interactive whiteboard, he says.

Decoupling of display hardware and software is a another major trend, Flanagan adds. “Displays and interactive whiteboards must be able to support any software platform,” he says.

Software takes center stage

SMART Technologies Inc. considers software a key component of modern display technology. Software and hardware are more integrated now than they were in the past, and there has been an effort to coordinate software, interactive displays and student devices, says Jeff Lowe, vice president of marketing at SMART.

Districts want the flexibility to shift from whole class to small group to individual instruction without technology getting in the way. The software supports whole class collaboration so users can share and work on lesson content. Students can create digital content using their devices while teachers can add assessments and game-based activities.

Lessons and notes written in dry-erase pen on SMART’s kapp whiteboard can be digitized and shared with dozens of students on iOS or Android devices.

Another vendor, Promethean, also sees the importance of software and the cloud. Cloud-based instructional platforms, digital curriculum and educational apps can link front-of-the-classroom interactive displays with students’ devices, says Matt Franz, vice president of product marketing at Promethean.

Hardware solutions are working with cloud platforms that allow teachers to present lessons, assess students on individual devices and tailor instruction to match each student’s comprehension level, Franz says. For example, Promethean’s laser curtain whiteboard technology—combined with wide-angle optics—increases touch sensitivity and provides a more natural writing experience, he says.

In the past, 78-inch to 88-inch surfaces were considered standard. Today’s technology makes 102-inch and 135-inch widescreen and ultra-widescreen surfaces possible in classrooms.

Districts deploy new displays

Fulton County Schools in Atlanta is spending $20 million on a 6,100-unit roll-out of Epson’s BrightLink 595Wi interactive projector.

Previously, the district had a mix of interactive whiteboards, flat panels and old projectors. But leaders replaced it all in an effort to standardize display technology, to provide interactive experiences in every classroom and to centralize technical support, says Tim Dunn, Fulton’s director of operational IT program management.

Return on investment was not a major consideration because the goal is to enhance instruction, Dunn says.

Various district departments—including academics, instructional technology and facilities—worked together to decide which interactive projectors to buy and how to manage the large rollout.

In RFPs, districts should specify their requirements—such as how much they’re looking to spend, what kinds of features and capabilities they need, and how a display integrates with mobile devices.

Then, they should test multiple display technologies with different screen-sharing tools in actual classrooms before committing to a deployment.

Morris School District 54 deployed SMART Technologies SB680 SMARTboards “to make lessons more engaging” by enabling students to move objects on a display board or to use a single interactive pen to display multiple colors, McGowan says.

Prior to deployment, Morris schools wanted an upgrade of its whiteboards. “We needed the software to drive instruction as well,” McGowan says. “So the software that was available with the board made a world of difference.”

One product, SMART Notebook, gives teachers the ability to interact with what’s being displayed—such as by adding or removing objects or text.

“When you just have a whiteboard and projector, you are just displaying content,” McGowan says. “Now, you are giving full interactivity. If you see something you can manipulate it.”

Notebooks will enable the district to go even further with augmented reality features that will give students the ability to manipulate 3D objects.

Like Fulton, the Morris district does not place importance on ROI. “What we were hoping for is things like increased student engagement and excitement about class,” McGowan says, “which then helps raise student achievement.”


Bob Violino is a freelance writer based in New York.

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