The rise of interactive flat panels in the education sector

As teaching practices change and students move towards more collaborative learning practices, what role will IFPs play in education and can they ever truly replace projection technology?

In recent years there has been a shift away from linear learning towards lessons based on engagement, collaboration and interactivity. Technology has been instrumental to this shift, with projectors, interactive whiteboards and now interactive flat panels.

First of all, let’s be clear on the difference between whiteboards and flat panels: an interactive whiteboard (IWB) is a large interactive display that connects to a computer. A projector projects the computer’s desktop onto the board’s surface where users control the computer using a pen, finger, stylus, or other device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or floor stand. Interactive flat panels (IFPs) require no projector, no calibration and feature anti-glare glass meaning clearer images even in rooms with high levels of ambient light.

But why would you choose to invest in an IFP over the simple projector solution that has done the job well enough and at a reasonable price for a number of years now, and are IFPs the best solution for every situation?

There are many technical features that make IFPs stand out in the classroom. While the initial cost of ownership may be higher than projection technology, TCO will be about the same as they consume less energy, require less maintenance and need fewer replacement parts.

Image quality can also be improved and IFPs won’t suffer from image fade, which projectors are prone to. Full HD and 4K Ultra HD panels are now available, including the ActivPanel from Promethean, which features a 10-touch surface and wireless mirroring of mobile devices. IFPs can also be quicker to set up as teachers will not have to spend time adapting the lighting to ensure the content is clear, they are silent in operation and easier to install.

However, the key benefit of IFPs is the level of interaction and engagement they inspire among students. Rather than simply listening to a lecture or watching a projected presentation, IFPs encourage students to get involved whereas IWBs were largely used to show student’s information.

This interactivity is enriched as the teacher is able to use apps to great effect, available on the computer device interface. As students will have grown up using tablets and smartphones, there will be absolutely no learning curve should a classroom move to an IFP.

Collaboration is also taken to the next level when students are able to share their work with classmates and colleagues in real time. Cloud functionality takes this further and allows you to share with other departments across the school.

For example, the RP790 from BenQ features a custom Android OS that comes with various apps for classroom instruction, from WPS Office to Web Browser, EZWrite and Media Player. This closed platform puts schools in full control of the RP790, by preventing downloads and use of unauthorized apps.

With flipped learning still being considered by some educational establishments, IFPs can aid in this transition. In a flipped classroom, instructional content is delivered outside of the traditional learning environment – often online at home. This enables classrooms to become more collaborative spaces where students work together to research in-depth topics, give presentations or participate in discussions and problem solving. An IFP would be an ideal tool in this scenario enabling students to work in small groups, learn in a more collaborative fashion and share ideas.

Before a school makes a decision on a suitable solution, it is important that the learning environment and the aim of any purchase is taken into consideration. In large rooms, such as lectures or auditoriums, for example, a projector could be a wiser choice with devices able to create larger images. In addition, short-throw interactive projectors such as Epson’s BrightLink 697Ui are catching up and can respond to as many as six fingers or can be used with its pair of included digital markers.

All in all, there is a lot of choice out there and it can be difficult to make a decision. Seeking advice from a similar type of school that is already successfully using interactive flat panels may be useful or speak to an integrator or technology provider for advice and to find out more about the options available to you.



Author: Toni Barnett
Managing Director of CDEC