A classroom digital whiteboard could give students of a not-too-distant future access to creative possibilities that no school-aged artist has ever had before. A screen spread out across the wall of their art room could create a portal to another country and a digital canvas of unlimited potential. On it, they might make a video call to their peers across the ocean or paint a picture using any color imaginable.
Digital whiteboards have undergone a recent resurgence in popularity in the business world. There are several quality devices currently on the market that allow multi-touchpoint, hands-on collaboration in real time coupled with robust video conferencing. But what is intended as a professional tool to spark creativity and group thinking in the boardroom may find its true potential in the art rooms of the nation’s schools–provided those schools can find someone to foot the bill.
The Whiteboard Revival
A digital whiteboard does precisely what the name implies–it recreates the office staple in a digital way so it can be viewed and used in real time during a video call. The technology has been with us for a while but was originally priced out of the reach of small-to-medium businesses. That all changed in recent years as commercial giants like Google and Cisco produced units in a more user-friendly price range. Lesser-known companies have also joined the groundswell, and devices from i3 and Mondopad have added ever greater numbers of simultaneous touchpoints so that multiple users can write and draw at the same time.
In school art rooms, the Surface Hub could be the coolest canvas in the history of crayons and finger-painting.
The biggest player in the field, however, remains Microsoft and its immense Surface Hub 2. This tile-able, 50-inch beast is armed with a 4K webcam and can be flipped from vertical to landscape orientation as needed. It’s due for release sometime this year; here’s a demo of the product from the 2018 Microsoft Ignite conference:
In the boardroom, the Surface Hub has an ostentatious quality that befits what is essentially a really big iPad that’s likely to cost around $10,000. In school art rooms, though, it could be the coolest canvas in the history of crayons and finger-painting.
Digital Whiteboards and Video Calling
The hands-on aspects of a digital whiteboard are at their best when applied to a remote group video call. In this situation, each member of the remotely located meeting can see and use the same common area in real time. That means on-the-fly creativity can be encouraged and the visual aspects of a project can be better presented.
Adding a digital whiteboard to the video conferencing equation opens up all kinds of artistic possibilities.
Architects and designers, for example, can shape and reshape their intentions as quickly as ideas occur to them. In a more sedate setting, a shared visual workspace allows brainstorming sessions to progress without the need to type ideas into a word document or write them down on paper and convert them to a digital format at the end of the meeting.
In a classroom, though, a digital whiteboard might allow young minds to express themselves visually using their hands. It’s a more intuitive way to record ideas and tell stories–including through the use of video conferencing, which is becoming increasingly popular in schools as a means of hosting guest speakers, taking virtual field trips, and meeting students from distant classrooms. Adding a digital whiteboard to the video conferencing equation opens up all kinds of artistic possibilities.
Art and Video Collide with Classroom Digital Whiteboards
In the not-too-distant future, we could see art classes in schools hundreds of miles from each other come together in a very colorful manner. Standing in front of something like the Surface Hub, a student could place a video call to a friend in another state–or even another country–and begin collaborating on a giant multi-tiled video screen mural.
Each student would be able to use their hands, or a pencil-like stylus, to add their piece of the artistic puzzle, all the while chatting in real-time with their collaborators. The touchscreens make painting on screen as easy as painting on paper, and the video calling aspect could let them exchange ideas with someone from a different culture and worldview.
While the giant screens of the Microsoft and Google devices possess obvious advantages, you could recreate the experience in miniature using an iPad or a touchscreen laptop.
While we assume that eventually, the price of technology like the Surface Hub will drop to the point where it will be possible for at least some schools to purchase them, in the meantime, it’s not necessary to pay thousands of dollars for a classroom digital whiteboard. While the giant screens of the Microsoft and Google devices possess obvious advantages, you could recreate the experience in miniature using an iPad or a touchscreen laptop. The more affordable nature of those platforms means that every student could potentially make a collaborative video call at the same time (video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and BlueJeans can be paired with whiteboard apps to facilitate the hands-on experience, even if their resources are limited by comparison with the Surface Hub).
In this post, we’ve focused on the artistic possibilities of a digital, video conferencing-enabled whiteboard, but anyone with imagination could dream of many other ways to use this tech in classrooms. Collaboration is possible between students in different states or countries on science projects, math problems, language-learning exercises–there’s a whole range of exciting opportunities for students using these devices. The bottom line is that classroom digital whiteboards offer a rare combination of inspiration, collaboration, and execution that could open up whole worlds to young minds.