Interactive whiteboards, also known as “digital whiteboards”, seem to be the latest trend in education. At least from the teacher’s point of view.
Given that all my immediate family are teachers, and I have taught my mom how to use the digital whiteboard at her school, I feel like I can talk a bit about them.
A digital whiteboard is essentially a big touchscreen (100” or more). Usually the image is projected with a beamer and they use infrared, ultrasound, or some other cheap system to touch-enable the board.
From a hardware point of view, it is quite simple. You can even use a WiiMote to convert any surface into a digital whiteboard thanks to Uwe Schmidt’s WiiMode Whiteboard software.
The interesting part of digital whiteboards, at least for me, is software.
I have tried myself three software packages (TeamBoard, SMART Notebook and Promethean ActivInspire) but there are many more: DabbleBoard, NotateIt, Luidia eBeam, BoardWorks, etc
All of those can be used for education. Some of them are generic enough to be fit for business meetings (DabbleBoard, NotateIt, TeamBoard), while others are highly specialized (Interact, focused on music-teaching).
I consider ActivInspire very good, with SMART as a distant second.
Now, let’s cut the crap. Why am I talking about digital whiteboards and commercial software in Planet KDE?
For starters, because there is no open source alternative. The only open source package I have found is Open Whiteboard and it has not been updated in four years.
Then there is the Linux issue. SMART works on Linux but that’s about it. And it’s not even the full package, some features are missing.
And of course, in KDE we happen to have the wonderful KDE Edu project!
Back in December I thought about this: would it be possible to develop a digital whiteboard software based on KDE? That’s actually why I started working on KSnapshot: screen capturing was one of the missing features in SMART.
The answer to the question is “of course”. However interested I am, currently my spare time is all taken by another project I am working on. I do have a clear picture of what needs to be done, though, and I’d love to mentor if someone is interested in taking over:
- Dissect ActivInspire, SMART, TeamBoard, eBeam, etc. They all have nice features and huge failures. Give me one day and I’d hand you a long list.
- Start small: use KParts and DBUS and take advantage of KolourPaint, KSnapshot, Flake, etc
- The first application would be a simple single-page, vector graphics, Paint-like program: draw lines, figures, insert text boxes (with formatting), pictures, hyperlinks, etc. Add snapshotting (via a call to kbackgroundsnapshot).
- Then, extend that application to allow multipage “notebooks”, some screen effects (like Calligra Stage‘s), template pages (useful for exercise sheets, “blank” pages which include date, time and letterhead), hiding the solutions, record and reply, etc
- Going a bit further, we could have a special “personality” of Plasma Active for education. Let’s give some actual use to those iPads kids are receiving. Anyone involved in an educational Linux distribution knows the kind of customization I am talking about.
- Your ideas?
I think this project could be developed as a collaboration between KDE Edu and “KDE Business” (a hypothetical extension of KDE PIM). Being unique (open source, multiplatform, powerful), it would have a lot of potential to carve in those markets.
On the other hand, this is actually an application, something built outside KDE SC, which means it might fit better as one of the projects in that hypothetical Apache-like KDE eV I talked about a few weeks ago.
Oh, by the way: some schools seem to be adopting whiteboards for children of all ages. I am strongly against it. In my humble opinion, and that’s what my experience says, computers should only be involved in the classroom after the students have mastered how to do things manually. Disagree? OK: what would you say if when you were a student, you would have been told to use a typewriter and a solar calculator instead of a notebook and a pencil? Ridiculous, isn’t it? My point, exactly.
Volunteers, please comment and/or contact me.