ActivInspire Class: Is the Promethean Whiteboard Worth it?

8 Jun

This is my staff development of the summer, which is a two day class covering a piece of software by Promethean called ActivInspire. ActivIsnpire is the latest software that is utilized with the Promethean Activboard. I’ll write a bit more about the whiteboard itself in a minute, but the class itself was mostly about using the ActiveInspire software.

The software is a really nifty package, filled with a lot of tools and features that a teacher can use to present content from the front of the class. There are some good drawing tools as well as some good interactive lessons. It is graphically and visually rich which may or may not work with my students. My SID/PID students, that is. Let’s face it: my kids are the ultimate in testing for relevance and flexibility and accessibility. I explored around and there are a variety of activities appropriate for k-12. But it might be difficult to bridge the huge gap between where my kids are (never more than 36 months) to where NCLB is requiring (no less than 14 years) so it might be difficult to actually use it. The good news is that it looks like this would work with my Wimote setup.

But this is also the depressing thing. Our school district is ordering tons of the active whiteboards at no less that $2000 each. I can do the exact same thing for less than $100. So can you, and you can do it easily and painlessly by checking out the folks at Penteractive. The Promethean pens, which don’t even contain a battery, cost over $100! (See Mark’s comment below) My IR pen was about $8.

The Wii setup might be somewhat inferior to the Promethean whiteboard. But how inferior is it? Is it 20 times worse? And I’m not convinced that the Wiimote solution is inferior at all. Consider that the Promethean board can not be used as a dry erase board or anything else whereas the Wiimote can work on any flat surface. So why aren’t more schools using this inexpensive and versatile technology? The only thing I can guess is because it looks too geeky. But it’s really not even as difficult as the Promethean board. In fact, it is actually tons easier because there isn’t anything that needs to be bolted or installed on the wall. Penteractive is actually offering support for their kits and at much less than the other commercial products.

If you are looking for an interactive whiteboard, I highly recommend investing in the Wiimote setup. At the very least, it costs so little that it is worth it just to try it out. What you may discover is that you don’t have a lot of use for a whiteboard or that you need more training or that you need more or better software to take full advantage of it. If the technology changes (and it will) the schools are not out $thousands$ per classroom but only hundreds tops. With the availability of the hardware and software, it just looks irresponsible sinking money into technology that will be obsolete in a short amount of time.

Supposing the whiteboard technology is replaced by 1:1 netbooks or smartphones, or it gets abandoned for some reason. The bluetooth and the wiimote can still be used for other things. What happens to an obsolete or broken Promethean board? Could they be used for something else? How easy will it be to dispose of or recycle them?

We are often so anxious to move the new technology into classrooms we give no thought to what happens when it is time to upgrade, replace and move the stuff out. At the least, the Wiimote offers multitouch for less than a single pen from Promethean $100 and offers more versatility.

Having said all of that, the ActivInspire software is pretty good and worth a look. Promethean offers a lot of good support for it and there is lots of premade materials being generated by other teachers all the time. My advice is to invest in the software, but not the boards which are large, bulky and expensive. For what they are charging you could get a lot more interactivity and interest from the full Wiifit game, laptop plus projector and still have money leftover.

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15 Responses to “ActivInspire Class: Is the Promethean Whiteboard Worth it?”

  1. Mark Robinson June 9, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    I work for Promethean and wanted to say I hope you continue to explore and enjoy using the ActivInspire software with your Wiimote and your students. We have made the ActivInspire Personal Edition available for free which along with the free Promethean Planet resources/community, makes for quite a lot…. for not a lot!

    If you will forgive me, I would like to correct the pen pricing comment though. Pens are a similar cost to your IR pen and most certainly not over $100. They are also covered under a warranty and anyone needing a replacement can contact Promethean or their reseller. A spare is also provided.

    Can you let me know where you heard that $100 figure/rumour from?

    Re, multi…. The Promethean board technology and ActivSoftware is multi-pen ready and can upgraded with a simple firmware update for many addtional functions in the future. So hopefully there are many years before you would ever need to think of recyling it. 🙂

  2. Beth Sullivan June 11, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    The price of $100 per pens was an unofficial “quote” that was given to me from a vendor – HOWEVER, we were discussing the price of the dual pens not the original pens. I was inquiring about the functionality of the dual pensoption with the new software “ActivInspire” and they were informing me about the need to purchase “special” pens for that function.
    Since we have started installing ActivBoards we have been very pleased with the warranty of the “pens” – I believe for 1 year. We have also been provided with spares.
    I hope this clears up any misconception concerning the pens and their price.
    Thanks,
    Beth Sullivan
    Instructional Technology Specialist
    Newton County School System

  3. Mark Robinson June 12, 2009 at 3:33 am #

    Yes. This will refer to the ActivArena upgrade. This pack will provide several new pens and software updates to Activboards so that more than one student can collaborate on the board and use different tools. So it is in effect a major functionality update. The new Inspire software has a new option to give a second learner their own onscreen toolbox that the upgrade activates.

    At the end of the day it really all comes down to how it used. So it sounds like you are already asking questions and challenging conceptions and I hope the software whether used with a Wiimote or with something else helps deliver some of the things you hope it will. If it does not – do let us know.

  4. Daniel Dage June 12, 2009 at 8:38 am #

    Thanks for chiming in, Beth and Mark! I’ve made the corrections and updated the post plus done a follow-up on the training and Activboard use.

  5. John Mitchell June 22, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    As the proud owner of Penteractive.us, I am glad to see this healthy discussion and hope others will consider the wiimote whiteboard alternative. I haven’t had a chance to play with ActivInspire yet but hope to soon. I once was speaking to a vendor about costs of interactive whiteboard systems and their seemingly astronomical costs. He asked me why I thought manufacturers price the systems so high. I said marketing and research. His reply was “No, because they can…”

  6. Daniel Dage June 25, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, John! I do think you definitely meet a need with your business and join you in hoping that more people consider the Wiimote alternative. Thanks for making technological innovation affordable for the rest of us!

  7. Stephen Collins July 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    I hear the Promethean pens are reasonably priced since the design change removing the battery from the pen and electronically charging the gid instead. Neat idea, but is it safe? I was talking with some other teachers and the question came up that is a cell phone used too often can be unhealthy (causing possible brain cancer), what is the effect of a charged wire grid board when used over a 6 to 8 hour day? Since I am one of the few male teachers, I was not as concerned as my female colleague’s. Anyone know if any type of long term testing has been done so that we all don’t develop problems a couple years down the road? As for the Wii remote, looks like a great alterative.

  8. Barry Davis July 29, 2009 at 4:09 pm #

    — any long term testing?

    I would imagine 40 years of testing is enough! Aren’t these whiteboards using the same graphic tablet interface used for decades by artists and computer users. Their inherent safety has never been questioned in all that time?

    Just simple “Bad Science!” Got to forgive the fools that believe it.

    The Wiimote you suggest as an alternative, uses Bluetooth radio communication that is far, far more powerful that the whiteboard. You suggesting those cause cancer too? An IR pen to go with it transmits InfraRed radiation… is that going to cause cancer?

  9. Stephen Collins July 30, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    My understanding was that yes the way it gets coordinate values essentially has not changed, but the method at which the board and pen communicates has changed. The way it was explained to me was that the large wire grid that makes up the entire board under the surface is rapidly charged throughout the entire grid. This enables Promethean to use a battery less pen. The concern I raised has nothing to do with the wireless aspect for connecting to the computer, only the potential harm that may or may not be caused by the boards’ new way of powering the pen. I understand that they have been doing it this way for only a couple years (Not 40 years). BTW Promethean appears to have less than 12 years in the whiteboard biz. Barry perhaps instead of taking tone to the question/concern, you should better understand the technology changes and the possible side effects. Perhaps then you will see this as an innocent question looking for an intelligent answer to alleviate concerns about potential risks. BTW I am a technology teacher and have a background in electronics and engineering.

    If you would like to discuss the Wii and it’s Bluetooth device application, tread lightly because Promethean also uses Bluetooth in their wireless setup. Wireless and it’s issues is a completely different topic for another time.

  10. Mark Robinson July 30, 2009 at 11:53 am #

    I work for Promethean and can add to this.

    As a sucessful, international company, Promethean technology must meet extremely stringent and independent international standards and approvals for all its electronic devices.

    Further details can be found in Promethean product specifications.

    To the question of the Activboard, the field is extremely small and extremely localised and is in no way comparable with a Cell Phone which must transmit over miles.

    It has also been suggested that there has been a major design change to the Promethean pen technology. There has not. There has been an upgrade that allows more than one pen to be used called ActivArena , but these pen work the same way Promethean pens have always worked.

    None of Promethean’s current products use Bluetooth as also suggested, although that has been an option in the past.

    Promethean cannot comment further on the speculation made in an earlier comments about Cell Phone and Wi-Fi safety since those are not products areas Promethean develop.

  11. Stephen Collins August 3, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    Mark how long ago did Promethean change from a battery pen to a battery less pen? When you puy the optional wireless kits, if it is not Bluetooth, what technology is it? Please provide a link to where I can find the countries certification for testing. I know that you build mainly out of China these days, but I guess the same standards apply.

  12. Daniel Dage August 3, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    Alright, Stephen, now you’re just being silly! I know people who have practically lived on their cell phones, and the damage caused by it is debatable at the very least. If a body is spending that much time at the whiteboard, they have more serious problems. A single board is shared by a typical class of over 20, and the students should be interacting with it as much as the teacher.

    Whether it be chalk dust, fumes from dry erase markers or radiation from from monitors. screens and activeboards, the overuse of any one technology has its hazards. You live by the board, you die by the board! I generally try to keep my laptop Bluetooth off my ear and not resting on my head. But that’s just me!;-)

  13. Stephen Collins August 4, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Daniel why does it seem that instead of someone, anyone giving actual factual information about the boards’ grid and testing/certifications, all I get is I am being silly. You know the funny thing is that I am not the teacher that came up with this question. A tech savvy science teacher asked me and that generated a conversation. Perhaps if the dealer who was at our district never mentioned how it works, it would simply be ignorance is bliss. But since the question did come up, I figured I would look for an intelligent answer, not simply “now you just being silly” or “40 years of testing is enough”. For all we know every whiteboard on the market is dangerous in one way or another. The point is that Promethean did make a change from the 40 years of similar technology from powering the pen with a battery to now rapidly charging the board/grid so that the pen does not need a battery. I am the only person that seems to get this? Perhaps in your case ignorance is bliss, and 10 years down the road you may be forced to believe otherwise, but I think a proactive stance does not hurt anyone. Actually it makes people feel better about a product when and if we all know it’s safe. Please write back when you actually have some real information to add. If caring about my fellow teachers is a crime, then lock me up I’m guilty!

  14. Daniel Dage August 4, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Alright, Stephen, here you go….from:
    http://www.prometheanworld.com/
    Call toll free, 1-888-65-ACTIV or 1-888-652-2848 and call their tech support with your questions.

    If you are still not satisfied with their answers, start a support group or something. Or wear an aluminum foil cap.

    The Activeboard is over priced, in my opinion, and probably represents some sort of future landfill hazard as it badly needs some sort of recycling plan when the world goes to more mobile and individual presentation technology. Maybe we can attach legs to them to make coffee tables or artists can paint on them and create works of art. That’s a good question: what will happen to all of the old active boards once the technology moves on?

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  1. ActivInspire Training pt. 2 « The Life That Chose Me - June 12, 2009

    […] thanks to Mark and Beth for clearing up the over-priced pen controversy in comments to my last post. I did make […]

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