SMART Boards, only cheaper
by Daniel Bush
Sep 29, 2009 | 5382 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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A laptop, projector, Wiimote and specially designed infrared pen
It's not that old-fashioned chalk blackboards are stupid, exactly: there’s just a much smarter alternative.

Modern interactive learning boards, known as SMART Boards, have become increasingly popular in high school and college classrooms in recent years.

Using a digital projection, the boards produce a live computer image that can be easily manipulated by teachers and students. Today, SMART Boards are essential in any high-tech, state-of-the-art classroom.

The only draw back is their cost.

SMART Boards use a laptop, projector, and typically an expensive built-in white wall. Installation fees are costly. According to the Department of Education (DOE), the city spends between $2,000 and $6,000 on each system, depending on what type a school needs.

This places the latest must-have educational tool out of the reach of many schools with smaller budgets, where funding is tight and reserved for other uses, such as infrastructure improvements.

Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley has proposed a solution to this problem, in the form of an alternative SMART Board technology whose drastically reduced cost would be affordable to just about any school across the city.

Call them smarter, cheaper boards, the councilwoman said in an interview unveiling her project.

A Carnegie Mellon University graduate named Johnny Chung Lee, now of Microsoft Hardware, is widely credited with inventing the system the councilwoman now hopes to put into play on a wide scale in New York.

The central components of Lee’s interactive board is a wireless video game remote from the Wii Nintendo system, which costs about $45, and an infrared pen with an LED light, which can be built for $5. The system also uses a laptop and projector, which most schools now have.

Think of the wall as the computer screen, and the pen, which communicates with the remote, as the computer’s mouse.

The stationary Wii remote is aimed at a wall painted white, where the digital image of a live computer screen is projected.

The remote tracks the infrared light in the specially designed pen tip. When calibrated, the pen can manipulate images on the projected computer screen, just like a SMART Board, though with some minor glitches.

Thanks to Lee’s research, “we’ve identified a cheap way to use a Wii remote and an infrared pen to create basically the same technology as a SMART Board for a lot less money,” Crowley said.

The alternative approach cuts out costly installation fees and the cost of special white boards and other components, Crowley said.

“Our idea may not work as well or look as fancy as the SMART board,” said Crowley, “but it does the trick and brings the newest interactive technology to classrooms that otherwise would not have it.”

Lydon Sleeper, the councilwoman’s chief of staff, performed a demonstration of the new technology at Crowley’s Middle Village office recently.

Though not quite as smooth as the costlier SMART Board technology on the market today, the Wii remote system is still very efficient and just as useful.

Sleeper said it stands to reason most schools that could not afford SMART Boards would jump at the opportunity to buy the cheaper version, if the technology is made available as Crowley is suggesting.

“We think its affordability relative to SMART Boards makes it an easy option for school districts and schools that are cash strapped,” said Sleeper.

The idea makes sense, said Nick Melito, Msgr. McClancy High School’s director of admissions and assistant to the principal. “We would be interested,” Melito said.

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