Interactive whiteboard

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Interactive whiteboard at CeBIT 2007

An interactive whiteboard is a large interactive display that connects to a computer and projector. A projector projects the computer’s desktop onto the board’s surface, where users control the computer using a pen, finger or other device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or on a floor stand.

Basically, an interactive whiteboard is a type of touch-sensitive computer screen. They are used in a variety of settings such as in classrooms of all levels of education, in corporate board rooms and work groups, in training rooms for professional sports coaching, broadcasting studios and more.

Uses for interactive whiteboards include

  1. Operating any software that is loaded onto the connected PC, including Internet browsers or proprietary software
  2. Using software to capture notes written on a whiteboard or whiteboard-like surface
  3. Controlling the PC (click and drag), mark-up (annotating a program or presentation) and translating cursive writing to text (not all whiteboards)


The interactive whiteboard is connected to a computer through a wired medium (USB, a serial port cable) or with a wireless connection (Bluetooth). Usually, the device driver software is loaded onto the attached computer. The whiteboard driver automatically starts when the computer is turned on, and the interactive whiteboard becomes active once the driver is running.

The driver converts contact or position with the interactive whiteboard into mouse clicks or digital ink. This can be done by a tactile surface or though a positional system such as infrared.

There are six different types of interactive whiteboard that control the computer via the board: analog-resistive, electromagnetic, infrared optical, laser, ultra-sonic, and camera-based (optical).

  • Analog resistive — Two electrically conductive sheets are separated by a small air gap. Touching the surface of the board presses these sheets together, closing the gap and establishing electrical contact. The resistance changes in the sheets establish the precise (X,Y) location of the touch. This technology allows one to use a finger, a stylus, or sometimes a dry erase marker on the whiteboard. The full range of mouse functions, including mouseover, hover effects and right click, are usually supported with this type of interactive whiteboard.
  • Electromagnetic — An array of wires behind the board interacts with a coil in the stylus tip to determine the (X,Y) coordinate of the stylus. Styli are either active (require a battery or wire back to the whiteboard) or passive (alter electrical signals produced by the board, but contain no power source). In other words, there are magnetic sensors in the board that react and send a message back to the computer when they are activated by a magnetic pen. Electromagnetic models enable the user's wrist or hand to rest on the whiteboard when writing. These types of board usually support the full range of mouse functions, mouseover, hover effects and right click.
  • Capacitive — Just like the electromagnetic type, the capacitive type works with an array of wires behind the board. In this case however the wires interact with fingers touching the screen. The interaction between the different wires (laminated in a patented X- and Y-axis manner) and the tip of the finger is measured and calculated to a (x,y) coordinate. No pen is needed to touch the screen, and all the electronics are behind the screen, invisible and protected against vandalism.
  • Laser — An infrared laser is located in each upper corner of the whiteboard. The laser beam sweeps across the whiteboard surface—much like a lighthouse sweeps light across the ocean—by using a rotating mirror. Reflectors on the stylus or marker reflect the laser beam back to the source and the (X,Y) position can be triangulated. This technology has a hard (usually ceramic on steel) surface, which has the longest life and erases most cleanly. Markers and styli are passive, but must have reflective tape to work. Touch cannot be used.
  • Ultrasonic and Infrared — When pressed to the whiteboard surface, the marker or stylus sends out both an ultrasonic sound and an infrared light. Two ultrasonic microphones receive the sound and measure the difference in the sound's arrival time, and triangulate the location of the marker or stylus. This technology allows whiteboards to be made of any material, but requires an active dry-erase marker or stylus. Touch cannot be used.
  • Optical and Infrared — When pressed to the whiteboard surface, the finger or marker sees the infrared light. Software then manipulates the information to triangulate the location of the marker or stylus. This technology allows whiteboards to be made of any material; with this system no dry-erase marker or stylus is needed.

Most interactive whiteboards capture annotations and emulate mouse and keyboard functions. Users can control pop-ups, hints, hyperlinks and mouseovers.

Interactive whiteboards have some issues similar to regular whiteboards. Permanent markers, for example, can create problems on some interactive whiteboard surfaces. Punctures, dents and other damage to interactive whiteboard surfaces do not typically occur in the normal course of classroom use.

Front and rear projection

Interactive whiteboards are available in two forms: front projection and rear projection.

  • Front-projection interactive whiteboards have a video projector in front of the whiteboard. The only disadvantage to these boards is that the presenter must stand in front of the screen and their body will cast a shadow. Presenters quickly learn to compensate for the shadow by slightly extending their arm with or without a stylus. Some manufacturers also provide an option to raise and lower the display to accommodate users of different heights. Electromagnetic boards come with a proprietary pointing and writing device. Analog-resistive boards come with non-proprietary pen tools and the option to use a finger or other device to interact with content on the board's surface.
  • Rear-projection interactive whiteboards locate the projector behind the whiteboard so that no shadows occur. Rear-projection boards are also advantageous because the presenter does not have to look into the projector light while speaking to the audience. The disadvantages of these systems are that they are generally more expensive than front-projection boards, are often large, and cannot be mounted flush on a wall; however, in-wall installations are possible.

Short-Throw Projection Systems and Interactive Whiteboards

Some manufacturers offer short-throw projection systems in which the projector is much closer to the interactive whiteboard surface and projects down at an angle of around 45 degrees. These vastly reduce the shadow effects of traditional front-projection systems. The risk of projector theft, which is problematic for some school districts, is reduced by integrating the projector with the interactive whiteboard. Reduced installation costs make these very cost effective.


In most cases, the touch surface must be calibrated with the display image. This process involves displaying a sequence of dots or crosses on the touch surface and having the user select these dots either with a stylus or their finger. This process is called alignment, calibration, or orientation.

A few interactive whiteboards can automatically detect projected images during a different type of calibration. The technology was developed by Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories, Inc and is disclosed in patent 7,001,023. The computer projects a Gray Code sequence of white and black bars on the touch surface and light sensitive sensors behind the touch surface detect the light passing through the touch surface. This sequence allows the computer to align the touch surface with the display; however, it has the disadvantage of having "dead spots" in the analog-resistive touch surface where the light sensors are present. The "dead spots" do not allow touches in that area to be presented to the computer.

Classroom uses

The Harnessing Technology schools survey 2007 carried out in the UK by BECTa, reveals that Interactive whiteboards are in place in almost all schools (98% of secondary and 100% of primary schools); they are intensively used, and, on average, highly rated by teachers on fitness for purpose. They also state that a majority of teachers believe that use of ICT resources save, rather than cost them time; the interactive whiteboard is particularly mentioned as a time saving device.

Interactive whiteboards are used in many schools as replacements for traditional whiteboards or flipcharts. They provide ways to show students anything that can be presented on a computer's desktop (educational software, web sites, and others). Projectors, which are used with the interactive whiteboards, can also be connected to a video recorder or a DVD player, or users can connect to a school network digital video distribution system. Some interactive whiteboards are available online in the form of interactive vector based graphical websites.

In addition, interactive whiteboards allow teachers to record their instruction and post the material for review by students at a later time. This can be a very effective instructional strategy for students who benefit from repetition, who need to see the material presented again, for students who are absent from school, for struggling learners, and for review for examinations. Brief instructional blocks can be recorded for review by students — they will see the exact presentation that occurred in the classroom with the teacher's audio input. This can help transform learning and instruction.

Many manufacturers are providing classroom response systems with their interactive whiteboard products. With bundled (free or for sale) classroom response and interactive whiteboard systems, teachers can present material and receive feedback from students. For example, the interactive whiteboard allows students to solve puzzles and math problems and demonstrate their knowledge. It also allows the teacher to keep notes, as an electronic file, on the lesson for later distribution either as a paper or any number of electronic formats.

Many companies and projects focus on creating supplemental instructional materials specifically designed for interactive whiteboards. One such technology that is making its way onto the interactive whiteboard surface are 3D virtual environments. 3D virtual environments allow students the ability to directly manipulate 3D virtual objects directly on the interactive whiteboard surface. The opensource Edusim project is a 3D virtual environment specifically designed for the classroom interactive whiteboard.

Academic literature reviews

There are a number of literature reviews and papers on the use of interactive whiteboards in the classroom:

  • Beauchamp, G and Parkinson, J (2005) Beyond the wow factor: developing interactivity with the interactive whiteboard. School Science Review (86) 316: 97–103.
  • Glover, D and Miller, D, Averis, D and Door, V. (2005) The interactive whiteboard: a literature survey. Technology, Pedagogy and Education (14) 2: 155–170.
  • Smith, H.J. , Higgins, S., Wall, K., and Miller, J. (2005) Interactive whiteboards: boon or bandwagon? A critical review of the literature, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21(2), pp.91–101.11

Office uses

Interactive whiteboards are used in office environments to capture meeting notes and to work on collaborative projects. They are particularly useful with interactive applications, such as presentation software, Computer-aided design (CAD) packages, and others.

Associated equipment

A variety of accessories are available for interactive whiteboards:

  • Projector — Allows a computer display to be projected onto the whiteboard. 'Short Throw' projectors are available from some manufacturers that mount directly above the board minimising shadow effects.
  • Track — Allows the whiteboard to be placed over a traditional whiteboard or tackboard to provide additional wall space at the front of the room. Some tracks provide power and data to the whiteboard as well.
  • Mobile stand — Allows the interactive whiteboard to be moved between rooms. Many are height adjustable as well.
  • Printer — Allows copies of the whiteboard notes to be made.
  • Slate or tablet — Allows students control of the whiteboard away from the front of the room.
  • Student Response System — Allows students to answer test questions posted on the whiteboard or take part in polls and surveys.
  • Wireless unit — Allows the interactive whiteboard to operate without wires to the computer, e.g. Bluetooth.
  • Remote control — Allows the presenter to control the board from different parts of the room and eliminates on-screen toolbars.
  • Virtual Environments — A free and opensource 3D virtual environment called Edusim - - built on Croquet allows students to directly manipulate 3D virtual objects from their interactive whiteboards