Saturday, 27 April 2013

Why we're getting rid of all of our Interactive Whiteboards

I have never been a fan of IWBs, mainly because most schools installed them as a marketing tool ("to keep up with the Joneses"), and few schools put the requisite training in place to make the most of the investment. I acknowledge that in trained hands they are a really useful educational tool, but most are just expensive mice. But that's not why we're getting rid of them.
IWBs regularly need re-calibrating and they are ridiculously expensive to run and maintain. Teachers forget to turn off the projectors at night or to report that the filter needs changing with the consequence that the bulbs don't last long - and at £150+ a pop - they are very expensive indeed.  Here at Berkhamsted we are set to spend over £40k this academic year on consumables and repairs to our projector stock (£37,290 in 2010-11; £39,105 in 2011-12 and £39,795 so far this year); and these costs do not include hardware replacement - and most of our projector estate is now over five years' old.
So we have made the decision to get rid of them all this Summer. Instead we are installing the Epson EB-485WiE, which is quite a remarkable bit of kit as the demonstration video below shows:

The EB-485WiE provides all of the functionality of an IWB but without the need for a special screen. They can project onto any flat surface (wall, whiteboard, table top). 
The disadvantages:
  • You can't 'drive' with your finger and have to use a pen, 
  • They are not easy to wall mount at a height for young children to work on, because any adult would be likely to hit their head on the projector - so they are probably not so well suited wall-mounted to the KS1/ KS2 environment. 
  • You can only save interactive drawings at PDF/JPEG through Epson tools which means you can't edit at a later date.
The advantages:
  • They can be WIFI and so can be driven by an iPad
  • They are networked so they can report back to the ICT Support team any problems or if the filter needs changing.
  • They don't need recalibrating.
  • There is pin-point accuracy and edge to edge interactivity with no lag time when drawing.
  • It is still possible to use the Smart Software, so teachers don't need to start again from scratch.
  • The image is larger than a usual IWB - it can be up to 100 inches.
  • You can use two pens so two people can drive simultaneously.
  • They can be used on a tabletop - great for KS1/KS2.
  • The replacement bulbs are significantly cheaper (just under £50 with double the lamp hours - the old replacement bulbs range between £120 and £250). 
We are moving our Senior School IWBs to our Prep Schools to refresh, update and extend the number of IWBs for them to use. Let's just hope we can find a cheaper source of replacement bulbs!

The Project Specification:
  • EB-485WiE Projectors
  • New (non-interactive) White Boards (P3 rated Semi-Matt Vitreous Enamel)
  • Speakers
  • Control box
  • All Cabling
  • Wireless Plug in
  • Apple TV
  • Installation
  • Smart Software Licence
  • Spare Pen Sets
Costs and Finance Structure:
  • The unit cost of the projector is £1,040 based on our quantity (just over 100 units).
  • We are going to lease the Epson Projectors over five years. The total project cost is going to be between £50k and £55k, a relatively small increase on our ever escalating costs of maintaining the old stock.
  • We have added the warranty for bulbs (at about £7.00 per unit based on our quantity), so there should be no replacement bulb costs.
  • The pens have batteries, so there are some consumable costs there.  (We are hoping that one set of batteries should last the whole academic year.)
This project should be seen within the context that we are giving a choice of staff mobile devices to each Department so our new solution will have to work with Windows 8 laptops, Tablets, MacBooks, iPads. 
(I am grateful to Berkhamsted's Director of ICT, Dave Pacey, who has headed up this project. For the record, I have no association with Epson - I just think that they have come up with a great bit of kit - Well done!)

Updated article Sunday 28/04/13 Updates in Blue


  1. Interesting but slightly flawed I think. The issues of leaving projectors on is really a staffing problem and can be helped with setting the timers on the devices. The Smart Notebook software comes with a licence where it prohibits use on stations that aren't connected to a smart Board... That makes your intentions to use it illegal .

  2. Anonymous: We brought Airliner Slates for our department ages ago and the serial numbers mean we can use Smart Software on any other machine in school and at home which undermines your assertion above.

  3. It is possible to buy licenses for Smart Notebook to use on any hardware - we have.

  4. The costs you mention are all associated with projector replacements, but you'll still have a projector!
    The IWB has no running cost at all, unless it's damaged

  5. I'm a big fan of these interactive projectors, and I totally agree that most IWBs are seldom used properly, but I'm not convinced of the cost saving argument here; your current maintenance costs seem abnormally high. The Epson bulbs are cheap at about £55 a pop, but even if you were spending triple that, £39,000 in projector maintenance is more than 230 bulbs a year, so I suspect bulbs are not the only cost you are currently bearing. What other costs make up that figure?

    You're also very fortunate that you have SMART licences covered already. Last time I asked Steljes for a quote they came back with a price of £648 each. Assuming you're buying around 35-40 of the Epsons (given your lease cost and per-unit price), you'd be looking at another £22-26k in software licensing!

  6. Smart have changed their Notebook license.
    We were advised that we could not transfer an existing license to a non Smart projector.
    At nearly £500 for Notebook per projector this made the Epsons too expensive if we wanted to maintain Notebook as our software.
    If you can adapt to other, cheaper, IWB software then the Epsons are a very good option with low running costs and the ability to project from a varity of devices.

  7. To take all the comments so far:

    Site license is available for Smart - We have already purchased.

    IWB's themselves have no running costs, but you have to look at the total solution. You cannot use an IWB without a projector so if you look at all of the costs associated with the solution, it is half the cost. Again all classroms have had to have seperate whiteboards due to teaching styles, therefore more cost again if you use IWB's

  8. I think it may be a good idea to suggest you visit us for our next IT Open Day (in the Autumn Term). Discussion can happen then (in depth) and we can explain why we have gone down this route and where we are going next (this is part of a larger plan).

  9. Thanks for all the comments and feedback and for the Twitter debate.
    We have a site licence for Smart.
    The key driver for this move is that it enables us to replace our current old projector stock at little additional capital outlay.
    The projectors provide greater flexibility to the classroom layout (the normal whiteboard onto which we will be projecting can be used either as a screen or as a whiteboard).

  10. Hi

    We made a similar decision in Sept 2011 - two in each class space, mounted above writable walls. Get in touch with me at the school if you have any questions.

  11. Does anybody have an actual video of these projectors in use? I can't find anything on them... just the above...which isn't real...



  12. Hi,

    It looks like you still need to plug a cable into a device to display a picture / ppt? Did you evaluate the systems with wireless device connectivity? If so how did you find them in comparison to these?


  13. We went down a similar route last summer and started installing the Epson interactive projectors for much the same reasons as you have identified in your piece. We had surveyed staff to find out what they didn't like about our existing SMART installations and the Epson seemed to be the best bet for us.
    However, six months down the line, I am looking back on this as one of my worst decisions for the ICT provision within the school and I just thought you ought to be aware of some of the drawbacks we have experienced:
    1. The software is rubbish but I think you have dealt with that on the SMART Notebook network licence. Anyone else thinking of doing this - you MUST get such a licence, the software which comes with the Epson device is extremely limited.
    2. Writing on the board is not particularly pleasant. Although the second generation of pen is far better (pivot switch rather than pressure switch), writing a full sentence will normally involve at least one 'lag' which results in having to go back over it again. It also 'clatters' quite a lot because both the tip of the pen and the board are very hard surfaces. It sounds silly but the softness of the SMART pen nibs make writing mush easier.
    3. You must ensure that there are batteries about - and lots of them. The pens go BONKERS when the batteries are running low and do not detect pressure or release meaning you get nothing at all followed by great streak across the board which you cannot release.
    4. The ability to project onto a plain board is helpful but many of my teachers found that they also wanted some normal whiteboard space to write on in addition to the projected image. This meant putting another board alongside which sort of defied the point in the first place.

    Having said that, there are a few great things about these machines.
    1. The networking thing is brilliant. Network management can monitor for faults and power them on and off automatically which is a blessing.
    2. The Epson control box and speakers are really good and very simple to use. They also allow for a resident machine to be plugged in all the time and still allow sufficient connections to plug in a laptop and drive the interactive board without having to pull out all the wires.
    3. The image size is great - we got 109 inches on one of ours which is seriously impressive and which has been a real boost for the sciences from the 70 or so which are available from SMART.

    Overall, I have not found them to be as impressive as I would have hoped and the sentiment among the staff is that they are generally not as intuitive or user-friendly as the SMART boards which they replaced. This has persisted beyond what I would normally see in terms of 'bedding in' time and I must admit that I use the board less as an interactive tool than I did before.

    I am sure that the iPad driving would allay many of these concerns (not something that we have the budget for) but I would advise caution if you are not too far down the road.

    Twitter @qgecon if you would like to discuss any of this.