Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ten Questions You Should Ask Before Purchasing Interactive Whiteboard Content

SMART Exchange, Promethean Planet, mimio Connect and the eInstruction community are great places to start searching for the content you need to teach effectively with your interactive whiteboard; however, many times you will need resources in addition to or different from the user generated content available in these libraries. In fact, 88% of educators said they would use IWBs, or would use their existing IWBs more often, if more digital content were available according to the “K-12 Technology Tools and Trends 2009” report produced by Simba Information and Market Data Retrieval (MDR).

Inevitably, as schools continue to invest in interactive technologies, more and more companies will be offering interactive whiteboard content. Creating quality, interactive content outside of the software provided with IWBs is an expensive endeavor, so most of these resources will not be provided for free. Those that are at no cost will typically be found on web pages filled with ads-- but that is a topic for another post.

So as the amount of paid content grows, how do you know what interactive whiteboard content you should invest in?

Here are ten questions you should ask before purchasing interactive whiteboard content:

1. Are these resources already available in my IWB software?

This may seem like an unnecessary question, but there is content currently available for purchase that includes spinners, dice, currency, flash cards, and a host of other activities and manipulatives that are already located in interactive whiteboard software galleries. The gallery in most IWB software is quite extensive. Take a few minutes to browse through all of the options available to you before investing in outside resources.

2. Are these resources already available online?

NLVM, Shodor, and Illuminations provide many free online and downloadable interactive manipulatives. Yet some paid content still includes base ten blocks, arrow cards, rulers, clocks, fraction bars and pattern blocks—all tools that can be freely accessed online. If you were to remove these manipulatives from the package, how much content is left?

Familiarize yourself with the content available on free educational sites to be sure you are not paying for an activity that has a similar version available online for free. I am aware of one content provider who is selling content packages that contain activities they already provide on a free website. (Note: It is important to differentiate between free content that is ad supported and free content that is advertisement free. Sometimes it is of value to pay for content that duplicates activities available online if the content online is surrounded by advertisements.)

3. Are these resources like a textbook online? Could I create these resources myself?

If content looks like it is a scanned .pdf from your textbook, is similar to a Power Point slide with some simple text and images, offers no functionality beyond drag and drop, or looks like something you could create in your IWB software, you can save your money and most likely find comparable content free on any IWB community site.

4. Are these resources limited in number or comprehensive?

Some interactive content packages are grouped in large grade level bands. For example, a math pack may include 100 lessons for K-5th grade. Look closely at the number of lessons that pack includes for your specific grade level and consider the number of topics it covers. If I am a first grade teacher, only 20 of those lessons may apply to my classroom, and they may only address 6 of the 15 math topics taught in my curriculum.

Since a single classroom includes students of widely varying abilities, it is important to have access to materials at other grade levels. Determine whether the content you purchase is comprehensive and will allow you to choose materials from different grade levels or whether you are limited to the content for your specific grade.

If content is limited, investigate whether the content resource points you to additional interactive activities either within their program or on the web. For example, if you use two decimals lessons from their content but aren’t finished teaching decimals, does the resource continue to assist your efforts?

5. Can my students access these resources?

In addition to accessing content for whole class instruction with IWBs, some web based solutions also allow students to access content on computers. This helps teachers to make a connection between whole class instruction and individual student learning. Some online content providers add increased value by inviting students to access content at home for further review and exploration. Offline programs may also allow individual student access, but the program must first be installed on each computer.

If student access is included, consider whether or not the content will still appeal to your students after experiencing it during whole class instruction. Is the activity engaging and are the questions randomized so students will still feel challenged during subsequent visits? Or does the program provide enough content options for each topic that the issue of repetitiveness is eliminated?

6. Who created these resources?

It is important to consider the source of content we use in our classrooms. Find out whether the resources you are considering were created by educational publishers, teachers, or a software company. As a classroom teacher, I believe educational content should be written by teachers with classroom experience and degrees in education, not computer programmers or graphic designers. They are certainly needed as contributing partners in programming and creating quality resources, but the writing and design should be performed by education professionals.

7. Can I search these resources by state and national standards? Can I search these resources by my publisher-based curriculum?

At the very least, a product should provide a way for you to view which state and/or national standards are aligned to each of their resources. At the very best, a product will provide a way for users to search and find content aligned to each specific state and/or national standard.

A hard to come by but very useful time-saving feature is the ability to search and find resources aligned to each unit/lesson/chapter in specific publisher-based curriculums.

8. Do these resources include voiceovers?

Voiceovers add value and increased functionality to interactive content. They help to differentiate instruction and to engage auditory learners. If voiceovers are present in paid content, they should sound professional and preferably offer the option to be turned on or off depending on the needs of your specific classroom.

9. Is there support for the content and are updates provided?

Content installations often don’t go as planned. You will have questions as you begin to use new content, and there may be connectivity issues with web based solutions. At a minimum, you should expect a basic level of technical support via phone and email. You should place even more value on content from companies that go beyond the basics to help you integrate the content into classroom instruction or to assist you in locating specific resources via phone, email, and newsletter support.

Updates are a known part of content development, so you should expect updates to your content at least once a year. If the content is installed locally on your computer, find out if the company provides regular updates. If so, how do you know when updates are available? How are those updates delivered, and is there an additional charge? If the content is web-based, will updates appear automatically? How often are updates provided? How will you know what has been updated? Is there an additional charge?

10. How is this content delivered, and what program does it require?

Content will typically be either web-based or installation-based. Web-based content is delivered online. This means content can be accessed on any computer with an internet connection via a web browser. Some advantages include no installation, automatic updates, quick response to technical issues within the content, and easy student/teacher access from any computer anytime.

Installation-based options require installation on your school’s server or on individual computers where the content will be used. Access to this type of locally hosted content is not dependent on an internet connection.

As with any type of software, basic computer operating requirements should be explored. Many content providers offer a free trial which should be taken advantage of to test how the content performs on your specific hardware.

Beyond the basics, you should also consider whether the content requires a specific program to operate. For example, if content is created in SMART Notebook software, that software must be installed on every computer on which you will want to access the content; and if you change IWB software or use multiple brands of IWB software within your building, the content will only be accessible by teachers with access to SMART Notebook.

Always take advantage of free trials offered by content providers to facilitate your evaluation, but keep in mind that the trial may only offer access to a portion of the available content. Contact the content provider or attend an online demonstration for a more thorough evaluation of both the content and the company.

Click here to download a handy .pdf that places the ten questions to ask before purchasing interactive whiteboard content in a table format to assist with your personal evaluations.

What questions do you ask when evaluating interactive content for your classroom?


  1. Nice article. I'll be sharing it with my department heads.

  2. You raise very valid points about the purchase of interactive content. However with regards to Promethean, 95% of their online content is free, meets about 99% of your suggested criteria (there are very few with voice overs). Anyone, students, teachers, parents, can access all their resources for free. Not only access them but download them as well. check it out.

  3. Lloyd,

    Thank you for the compliment and for taking the time to comment! It was nice to meet you in person this afternoon!

  4. Mark,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment! I think Promethean Planet is a wonderful resource for teachers to begin looking for content which is why I included it in the beginning of the article. Being a Promethean reseller yourself, it is understandable why you are an advocate for the site. It is important to believe in and promote the products you represent!

    Even with access to Promethean Planet, outside resources still add tremedous value to teaching with IWBs. I say this from the perspective of being a former classroom teacher and from working with many classroom teachers who use Promethean Planet that also use other paid content.

    There are several reasons additional content is needed in the classroom, a few are:

    1. Allowing student access of content facilitates a connection between direct instruction on the IWB and individual student learning. While students can access content on Promethean Planet on computers at school and at home, I've been in few if any schools where that occurs. Filp charts are designed specifically for whole class instruction and Planet does not (nor was it intended to) facilitate individual student use of flip charts.

    In contrast, web-based content faciliates student use by requiring only a browser for access--no software needs to be downloaded and installed on school or home computers. In addition, many paid content offerings have a student interface or student version that was designed specifically for student use with easy navigation and access to resources designed to compliment whole class instruction.

    2. Paid content can and should offer increased functionality beyond the capabilities of IWB software. Animations, manipulatives, and experiments are all valuable assets to be integrated into classroom instruction.

    3. With Promethean Planet being such a huge all encompasing resource, paid content can offer a more focused source of individually vetted and carefully developed high quality resources making efficient use of teacher search time.

    The comments above are not meant to take away from the obvious benefits provided by Promethean Planet. It is a wonderful community of like-minded IWB educators.

    It is just important for teachers to be aware of and informed about all options available to them so they can make educated decisions on the resources that best fit their individual classroom needs.

  5. I would join and share this info on the SMARTBoard Revolution Ning, a network of over 5000 SMARTBoard users sharing ideas, lessons, websites etc. at

  6. Obe,

    Thanks for your comment. I would be glad to share on the Ning. Thanks for the invitation!

  7. I think before any of this I would note that you don't need a costly IWB or software. You can teach equally or more effectively with a Tablet and projector and save thousands. Don't fall victim to sales people. You don't need to purchase the gadget or the software. Put those extra thousands into equipment for your students.

  8. Also most manufacturers of IWBs will have options to allow students to use the same software at home to make their own presentations or for offering a common digital workbook format.

    As well as content one should also consider software applications or programs.

    For Math, programs like Cabri, Sketchpad or the free (and very good) Geogebra are essential.

    I think Google Earth should be learned by every educator of social studies or geography (and more) it is great on an IWB.

    I also enjoy a program called Phun for Science:

    Consider a graphing calculator application like TI's emulator, so that you can model student calculator use.

    Some Interactive whiteboards, such as the new Promethean ones, allow more than one student to work with the content at the same time and this adds a whole class of collaborative and group activities to the content mix. I do think there will be big trend away from single user use of large format interactive surfaces to collaborative student use over time.

    Most whiteboards can also be bought with student devices that allow for in-lesson assessment and differentiated instruction - so that is factor to consider when looking for content.

    Good post... teacher have to be looking all the time - not taking what they get or just using what they used before. Digital content is changing the world and how kids process knowledge and information.


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