Whiteboards & Writing Surfaces

Whiteboards‌

Standard Type Considerations

All writing board installations in spaces with AV and IT technology must be dust free. Whiteboards and writing surfaces using dry erase pens are suitable, however the dust from chalkboards is not compatible with electronic technology and may also have negative OH&S impacts. For these reasons chalkboards/blackboards are not recommended by the AETM and should be either phased out or only used in specialist locations where no electronics are present.
While a range of surfaces including glass are now becoming popular, the standard surface would be vitreous enamel on steel. Any assessment of alternative whiteboard solutions should ensure they:
  • are robust, long-lasting and designed for frequent use;
  • are not susceptible to scratches or absorbing permanent or dry erase markers;
  • minimise specular reflections from light sources;
  • provide a high contrast between written text and board surface;
  • do not add unnecessarily to reflective acoustic surfaces;
  • do not extend beyond human reach;
  • include a simple method for storage of writing materials and erasers;
  • include a minimum 25 year and preferably lifetime warranty.

Fixing Height and Positioning

The bottom edge of the writing area should not exceed 900mm, or be lower than 850mm from the finished floor level for standard whiteboard installations.
Whiteboard surfaces must be placed where they can be clearly viewed by the audience. Academic staff will typically adjust the size of their hand-writing to suit the venue in order to cater for students, however, this approach has its practical limits.
Where viewing written text on a physical whiteboard may prove difficult (e.g. from rear seats of an auditorium) or impossible (in a hybrid or remote teaching environment), a digital whiteboard solution is highly recommended to ensure equitable access of all students to handwritten content.‌
Dedicated whiteboard cameras and the use of whiteboard surfaces under document cameras are other options which can be utilised in the physical space, however these have additional ease-of-use factors involved which will need to be considered, and content sharing with online viewers can still be an issue.

Multiple Sliding Boards

Where multiple sliding board systems are used, they should be constructed so that the bottom edge of the rear board is at a height of 1.0m, with the full area of all boards capable of being displayed above. Multiple sliding board systems should consist of no more than three boards. Whiteboards must be easily operated by an individual.

Storage for Writing Materials and Erasers

Readily accessible storage for pens, erasers and other board-writing materials must be provided. This should be a shelf along the bottom edge of a fixed board or along the bottom edge of the outer board in multiple board systems, or a small shelf or box to one side of the board system or lectern where a bottom-edge shelf is not appropriate. Care must be taken to avoid sharp edges or corners on the shelf system.
Any shelf attached to the bottom edge of boards must not obstruct the user when writing on the board at the lowest possible level.‌

Board Lighting and Reflections

Board lighting must be designed so that boards are clearly legible at all audience angles of view. Board lighting should be on a separately controlled circuit or digitally addressable channel. Where possible, board lighting must not spill onto the projection area in a way which will degrade the minimum system contrast ratio of the display system - see Lighting Design - Ratio of Projected Versus Ambient Lux.
Board lighting should provide 240-320 lux (based on AS1680) on the vertical plane of the board surface whilst avoiding glare and reflections for the audience that could obscure the ability to read the written content. Room lighting and window curtains must also be arranged so that light reflected from the surface of the boards does obscure the audience’s view of the written content - see also Lighting Design - Board Lights.‌

Digital Whiteboards

Digital whiteboard solutions are a common feature of the teaching environment, often allowing users to digitise hand-writing alongside annotating and producing content. The benefit of digitising whiteboard content is that it can be easily saved for distribution to the audience, recorded, streamed and/or shared in a video conference.
The above only holds true in a situation where one or more appropriate solutions have first been selected. This often involves collaboration between technology and educational designers, where the goal is to enhance the learning environment with useful software tools and methods of content digitisation.
It is important that any digital whiteboard solution is easy to use, and should also be integrated with the Learning Management System and be a good fit with the required pedagogical outcomes of the learning environment.

Key Stakeholders

The stakeholders involved in the selection of any digital white boarding solution
Audience, presenters and educational designers‌:
  • needs must be considered as they are the primary reason for providing a digital whiteboard solution;
  • are usually the people presenting content and operating the technology.
  • want to ensure an improved learning experience and their feedback channels can provide input to ensure proposed solutions are suitable.
Organisational technology support, design and project managers:
  • are responsible for proposing a range of solutions to the project and operational teams and recommending the appropriate solution;
  • need to budget appropriately for the design and installation of AV systems;
  • should be involved in integration with lighting control systems so as to optimise the user experience of a space (e.g. when using interactive projection).
Architect, electrical and lighting designers:
  • are responsible for the functional and aesthetic look and feel of the space;
  • are generally the experts tasked with achieving performance criteria (e.g. lighting designers with interactive projection);
  • design and document document systems required to support teaching and meeting spaces, ensuring they are functional.
Facilities management and capital projects teams‌:
  • require finished spaces which are fit-for-purpose;
  • must meet the appropriate local institution, national and international standard;
  • need to fit within each organisation’s targets for capital and maintenance costs.

Digital Whiteboard High-Level Checklist:

As technology managers, it is important to ensure that where digital whiteboard functionality is required, it is provided in the most friction-less way feasible, and the workflow of the end user is considered.
When considering digital whiteboard solutions, it is important to ensure that:
  • content can be easily viewed by the audience (e.g. connected to the in-venue display system);
  • content can be easily stored, distributed and/or captured by lecture recording system;
  • content can be easily shared with remote participants;
  • user experience is responsive, accurate and similar to using an "analogue" writing surface;
  • integration with presentation system is simple and robust;
  • hardware integrates seamlessly with all required software applications (where connecting devices to a computer);
  • solution integrates safely and seamlessly into physical learning environment;
  • solution is simple for users to operate;
  • solution considers accessibility requirements of organisation and state legislature;
  • solution is appropriate to the scale of roll-out (e.g. small, specialised cohort spaces vs. all teaching venues);
  • solution has been signed off by technology design and operational staff as supportable;
  • solution has been signed off by academic staff representative(s) as fit-for-purpose.

Digital Whiteboard Solutions

Technology managers typically have the following options to provide in-venue interactive whiteboard solutions. A variety of specific features exist and continue to evolve within each category to meet each organisation’s requirements and budget, so it is always important to compare the current product offerings and test them against one another using the above general criteria, as well as specific technical criteria for the given approach. All of the following solutions are typically afforded to the presenter in a space, however may also be used for audience capture.
All solutions may suffer from the technology becoming outdated over the course of a learning or meeting space’s life. This is why a solution based on functional requirements is paramount - as outdated technology may still deliver positive outcomes for academics and students, at least until the next replacement cycle.
In all cases, it is recommended to collect analytics to determine that solutions both will be (in planning) and are (in operation) used regularly to support their purported benefits. Ease-of-use, and simple access to training materials and sessions are paramount to enhance learning outcomes and return on investment.

Interactive Preview/Confidence Monitor

A simple and cost-effective way to provide an in-venue interactive option for whiteboard and annotation is a touch-screen display, typically 21-24” in size, situated at the teaching furniture. Where this option is used, it should have the necessary cable slack and mounting solution to be adjusted for regular ergonomic use by different academic staff, as well as include a tethered and compatible stylus.

Interactive Flat Panel Display

A wide range of single and multi-touch interactive flat panel display solutions are available from 32" to 98" (and beyond) using individual panel or LED video wall arrays with integrated or interactive overlays. These particular solutions require an appropriate mounting solution that considers both the total physical weight of the solution, as well as the rigidity for use as a digital whiteboard.
A tethered stylus should be provided wherever an interactive flat panel display system is installed to ensure a compatible writing implement is available to the end user at all times. Where large-format interactive white boarding is required, this is the preferred technology.

Interactive Projection

Interactive projection typically includes an ultra-short throw projector, a matte-white surface and a stylus. They are usually available in sizes proportional to standard whiteboards - ranging between 75"-86" based on a widescreen image.
Although still often a preferred option in K12 environments the popularity of this technology in universities has waned. This is primarily due to a trends-based general reduction in user uptake, along with the challenges of needing to maintain projection system light output and alignment, and because superior alternative technologies have become available. They represent a relatively cost-effective option in some cases, but are no longer recommended for mass deployment.

Tablet Device

Interactive tablet devices or convertible laptops can present some of the best digital whiteboarding user experiences when compared to other solutions. An alternative to deploying wide-spread, in-venue technology is to integrate it into staff computing devices, where they are deployed. This provides an opportunity for staff to become comfortable and use regularly for their sessions, rather than wide deployment of larger format interactive solutions they are less comfortable with, that may go under-utilised.
The provision of BYOD connectivity via wired or wireless technology can enable users to present personal or organisation-provided individual devices, however this can in itself provide challenges to the user experience, so must be carefully considered.

Document Camera/Visualiser

Document cameras (also referred to as ‘visualisers’) can be used for hand-writing, presenting hard-copy documents and demonstrating physical objects in full colour and high detail, from a fixed position. They are typically standalone physical device with either a digital video connection to allow direct connection and viewing on a presentation/recording system, a USB port for ingestion and sharing via a computer, or both.‌

Fixed or Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera

Fixed or Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) cameras can provide a means of framing and capturing handwriting on a standard whiteboard surface. Digital video connection is typically used in cases where local display/relay of camera image is required for presenter confidence/audience legibility (e.g. large lecture theatres) or hardware lecture capture/video conferencing is employed. USB connection for ingestion to computing devices is a common requirement for software-based video conferencing and/or lecture capture.‌

Learning Glass or E-Glass

A specialised solution best suited for dedicated recording studios or distance learning suites. Learning Glass is a standalone, transparent, illuminated writing surface which uses a camera to allow the presenter to ‘face’ their students (most commonly in a virtual sense) whilst writing on the glass board using special pens.
Often these devices can be connected to a computer to combine the video and presentation content into a single image, compositing the image drawn on the transparent surface over the presentation itself. This can then be sent to software recording or video conference applications for a heightened immersive effect.
Devices usually include either an integrated or separate device that flips the image horizontally to ensure hand-writing is the correct orientation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Solutions‌

A variety of solutions exist for translating handwriting with standard whiteboard markers to digital video content through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) analytics which detect the written content and present it clearly to a USB and/or video output, often allowing partial or complete removal of the presenter. Some allow the insertion of digital content without the need for green screens typically employed for chroma-keying out the background behind the presenter.‌

Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Whiteboard Solutions

Below is a non-exhaustive list of some key advantages and disadvantages of various digital whiteboard solutions. The intent is to inform decision-makers to leverage advantages and plan for minimisation or complete removal of disadvantages.
Interactive Preview/ Confidence Monitor
  • Small form factor
  • Cost-effective upgrade to standard monitor at time of purchase
  • Standardisation simpler across teaching spaces
  • No maintenance (re-lamping, filter cleaning or re-alignment)
  • Usually last longer than projection systems
  • Mounting solutions for accessibility are relatively easy to implement and operate
  • Can be difficult to use and become familiar with
  • Less screen real estate for handwriting at standard monitor sizes (18-21")
  • Requires a fixed location and flexible mounting solution
  • Latency can be off-putting to users
  • User Experience is typically dependent on software application and its feature set
  • Technology can become outdated prior to room refresh/replace cycles
Interactive Projection
  • Can be cost-effective in terms of $/area
  • Familiar dimensions and experience to traditional whiteboards
  • Can be used with appropriate standard matte whiteboards
  • Dedicated interactive whiteboard surfaces are often proprietary, lacking interoperability with some applications
  • Many products are inaccurate, especially when poorly commissioned
  • Latency can be off-putting to users
  • User Experience is typically dependent on software application and its feature set
  • Casts shadows which can be problematic if also used primary display surface
  • Projection degrades over time and requires maintenance (re-lamping, filter cleaning and/or re-alignment)
  • Requires more time and attention-to-detail in design and commissioning
  • Requires coordination with artificial and natural light to maintain appropriate contrast ratios
  • Accessible solutions require sliding mount and can be difficult and costly to implement and operate due to the need for short-throw projector light path alignment
Interactive Flat Panel Display
  • No maintenance (re-lamping, filter cleaning or re-alignment)
  • Use standard display mounts
  • Can be familiar dimensions to regular whiteboards at larger sizes
  • Usually last longer than projection systems
  • Often higher $/area for good quality solutions
  • Heavy at larger display sizes, requiring additional wall reinforcement
  • Latency can be off-putting to users
  • User Experience is typically dependent on software application and its feature set
  • Accessible solutions require sliding mount and can be difficult and costly to implement and operate
  • Technology can become outdated prior to refresh/replace cycles
Tablet Device
  • Users may have better familiarity with their own device and software
  • Cost-effective and tailored option to meet an individual's accessibility requirements
  • Technology improvements align with shorter computer lifecycles
  • Can be used with software-based video conferencing screen share
  • Solution is not equitable to all if organisation can not provide devices
  • User Experience is typically dependent on software application and its feature se
Document Camera
  • Integrated camera to allow use of standard paper/pens for hand-writing
  • No concerns with responsiveness or latency for user or audience
  • Device can be used for physical objects
  • Cost-effective
  • Can be bench or ceiling mounted
  • Typically includes integrated light, minimising the need for lighting coordination
  • Solutions for accessibility are relatively easy to implement and operate
  • Requires a fixed, flat and horizontal location
  • Requires available system inputs (video and/or USB)
  • Ceiling mounted requires control system integration for zoom, at a minimum
Fixed / PTZ Whiteboard Camera
  • Camera can point at standard writing surface
  • User familiarity with writing surface
  • No user concerns with responsiveness or latency
  • Device can be used for capture, physical objects and physical demonstrations
  • Presets can be used to capture many different surfaces in a room (PTZ only)
  • Requires more time and attention-to-detail in design and commissioning to ensure appropriate framing of whiteboards
  • Requires coordination with artificial and natural light to avoid glare and ensure contrast ratio of both writing surface and nearby projection
  • Multiple potential stages of potential image degradation - i.e. camera capture and data projection
Learning Glass (or E Glass)
  • User familiarity with writing surface
  • No user concerns with responsiveness or latency
  • Useful for one to many sessions with no local students
  • Allows presenter to face students whilst performing white boarding
  • Often includes integrated board lighting
  • Requires dedicated and specialised in-venue hardware
  • Distracting for in-room students as physical handwriting appears backwards and person is flipped when displayed on screen
  • Products available from very few vendors
  • Requires coordination with artificial and natural light to ensure presenter capture is optimised
  • Typically occupies more physical space than wall-mounted solutions
  • Requires coordination with artificial and natural light to ensure image and subject (human) capture is optimised
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Solutions
  • User familiarity with writing surface
  • No user concerns with responsiveness or latency
  • Presenter can be obscured or removed from presentation image
  • Presenter can be enhanced by digital content (specific solutions only)
  • Requires dedicated and specialised in-venue hardware
  • Can be difficult to operate
  • Products available from very few vendors
  • Requires coordination with artificial and natural light to ensure image and presenter capture is optimised
  • Presenter removal may be undesirable in distance education settings where visual connection between academic and audience is valued
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