Sunday, July 3, 2011

My interactive whiteboard

The school has recently sprung for an interactive whiteboard for my classroom.  A Promethean 2.1m wide board.  We purchased it from Concept AV, who have successfully added themselves to my list of inept IT organisations.  At this stage, I can't recommend them.  In fact I probably can't recommend getting far enough away from them.. but that is my general comment about all IT people. 

To start with they didn't return calls.  We called them and said we had a budget, how much and when can you install.  "We'll get our sales team to call you."  Four calls later someone responds.  The salesperson comes and we explain where we want the points and where the board is to go.

Two guys turn up and it's a bit of a Laurel and Hardy show.  I'm not getting involved, I point them at the room and go to lunch.  I have no idea how they managed to get it up the stairs in one piece.  It's delivered but not installed.

We say to them, install on any day but x, because on that day we are having exams.  "Sure," they say, "We'll be there on day Y."  I move shelving (and 300 or so books and files) and move all my classes for the room to be free on day Y, lugging 30 texts from one room to the next.  Needless to say, no-one showed.

The next day we call them and find out that they are now coming on a new day.  No prizes for guessing which one - yep.. on our exam day.  After some gentle persuasion they say they'll come on another day.

On the new day, the installer turns up and insists that the point needs to go directly beneath the board (as opposed to the position discussed with the salesperson) and that it will cost extra to put it near the computer that will run the board.  "But that's ok, you can just run a cable around the edge of the room."  No it's not ok, the idea is that it is tidy and has as few visible cables as possible.  A workaround is devised using a double adaptor, more cost and some extra ducting.

I sit down to read the manuals supplied to learn how to use the board.  The aspect ratio isn't set correctly for my laptop and sound isn't working.   RTFM Russ..  but that's right, I can't.. they haven't left them or any other documentation on how to use it - all they have left is a software CD, some cables that won't work with my mac, the projector manual and its remote.  Rummage around on the web, locate the amplifier button (which is wedged against the shelving in a place I can't see without a mirror) and then play with the projector remote to fix the aspect ratio.  Installer says can't use USB for audio with mac.  BS, it does if set correctly and the amplifier is ON.  Go to the shops and buy the mac adaptor for video.  A whole heap of frustration that could have been avoided and prevented hours of fiddling and searching.

Two days later I inspect the setup and realise that there is no RCA adaptor for external video such as used by DVD players or games consoles despite the panel being designed to be used in this way.  "Why only a monitor port when the projector supports a range of outputs?" I ask the installer, "That's the way we do it in all schools".  Can I respectfully suggest it's a bloody stupid way.  So now I have to get up onto the projector, standing on a chair on a desk and run a cable down to the amplifier and the console for our Singstar competition at the end of the term.

In his technical wisdom he suggested using an analogue to digital converter and run the signal along the monitor cable.  Oh yes, and I used the last one I had of those just lying around yesterday nor does the Dick Smith shop around the corner have one.  I wasted another hour checking.

Next, I found that working on the laptop could be a pain especially when the laptop locked and required a password.  As my computer faces the room I needed a fliptop head to put the password in.  Solution: buy a wireless keyboard, $79.

Next challenge.  How to use the board effectively.  It's dropping some of my writing due to lag (it wasn't before, I don't know what's changed, my new mac pro seems fine), so I suppose I'll have to figure out what is causing that too.

So, tips for those getting an interactive whiteboard working.

a) find an organisation that returns calls
b) be very clear about where you want your computer and the connection point to go and request to get it installed there
c) ensure that they install it where your want it
d) ensure you have all the cabling you need to make it work
e) find someone that knows about the board and get them to show you how it works
f) get an RCA cable run from the connection point to the projector and the amplifier on the whiteboard
g) get a wireless keyboard (the apple one is great)

It just reminds me that getting IT implemented so that it works is not a simple task and requires someone with IT skills to be working on both sides of the equation - someone knowledgeable is required on both the buyer and sellers side to get an effective solution.


  1. Don't you have IT support staff in your school to help with this sort of thing?

  2. Russel you state: "Next, I found that working on the laptop could be a pain especially when the laptop locked and required a password. As my computer faces the room I needed a fliptop head to put the password in. Solution: buy a wireless keyboard, $79." This is your issue not the audio visual company's. Surely? The password time out settings need to be changed.

  3. Can't do that.. It's set centrally. Oh, for control of your own servers.

  4. I'd love that control too - how come the only people at school who DON'T have to use the technology in the classroom get to set the system up ?
    10 minutes before password time out in a Year 1 class using an interactive whiteboard ???? Puh-leeze it takes me 10 minutes some days just to get bthem all to stop talking and actually look at what's on display !


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