The launch of the iPhone in 2007 propelled the smartphone out of the business devices market and into the world of consumer electronics. The overnight success and explosive uptake of the iPhone also meant that touch-based gestural devices, a form of technology which had, to that point, been struggling to find mainstream acceptance, was suddenly hailed as the next evolutionary step in human–computer interaction. Fast-forward to 2015 and most readers would agree that touchscreen technology has become one of the most ubiquitous technologies in use today.
Touchscreens have exponentially enriched people’s personal and professional lives in ways that were once unimaginable. Beyond smartphones and tablet devices, this intuitive technology is enjoying considerable success as the focal point of modern collaborative classrooms.
Most ICT managers and tech-savvy principals have come to understand the benefits this type of technology can bring to the classroom. In fact, many education experts believe that large-format touchscreens will ultimately supersede interactive whiteboards (IWBs). The only impediment to the widespread adoption of touchscreen displays seems to have been the fact that, until recently, few of the major brands had products available at a price point that would meet the requirements of school budgets. However, this appears to be changing.
To that end, with a host of new products hitting the market, it would seem to be to opportune time to explore the key benefits of touchscreens in more detail.
Increased Student Engagement
Teachers are moving beyond a focus on content delivery and further towards collaborative lessons to engage students and encourage active participation within the classroom. Given that today’s students are completely at home with interactivity and touchscreen technology and its use is second nature to them, touchscreens help to facilitate these goals.
Screens can be operated with a finger or stylus, allowing students to easily navigate applications, edit digital content, make annotations, brainstorm, give presentations, manipulate images and trigger multi-media content. Participation is further enhanced by the multi-touch capacity, whereby multiple students can operate a touchscreen at the one time, interacting with multi-sensory digital content (and each other) in ways that were not possible until now.
Many schools have diverse ICT needs and consequently operate on more than one platform and/or operating system. Touchscreens are compatible with both PCs and Macs, although Mac users need to download drivers to enable single-touch operation. Increasingly more brands are releasing drivers that replicate the use of Mac trackpads, which maintains the intuitive nature of using touchscreens and decreases training required when implementing a new technology.
In terms of operating systems, mainstream touchscreens support Windows (7 or above), while some models also operate with Chrome and Linux. For schools using Windows, Windows 8 and the upcoming Windows 10 have been designed specifically with touchscreens in mind, which will further enhance the user experience.
Teachers have the freedom to choose their preferred software applications to support classroom learning and specific tasks rather than being locked into using product-specific software. For schools operating on Windows, it is worth exploring the multitude of apps that complement the curriculum. There is also software available to help teachers, for example, share lesson plans and other materials across different platforms.
Easy to Use
To start using the touchscreen, users simply turn on the panel, connect USB and HDMI cables to any laptop or PC using Windows 7 or above and the screen is instantly ready for action. Having pre-installed drivers on Macs will provide the same seamless plug-and-play experience.
Many models also feature options to allow PCs to be installed within them, either by using a slot-style PC compliant with Intel’s open pluggable standard (OPS) – or a similar proprietary system – or by inserting a mini-PC into a designated cover in the back. The great thing with most touchscreens is that they can grow with a school’s needs and budget as options can easily be installed at any time, which simplifies future PC upgrades.
Touchscreens have integrated speakers, which are normally more than ample for the average classroom environment. They also produce bright, colour-rich images ideal for high-resolution video. Adding a web camera turns the screen into a low-cost videoconferencing unit, which, for example, allows collaboration between schools or enables teachers to reach remote students.
Touchscreens also work well in a portable capacity, which may be an advantage for schools with a limited technology budget. There are many mobile touchscreen systems on the market, varying from fixed height to height-adjustable models, with some able to transform into a table mode configuration.
The average touchscreen is rated for a minimum of 50,000 hours of use, making it a cost-effective solution for many schools. The technology is robust and dependable, especially when a major brand screen is purchased. Touchscreens from leading brands are generally designed for heavy usage, such as those seen in airports, hotels, hospitals and upmarket retail outlets. Many models even include a warranty that allows for 24/7 operation as a testament to their reliability.
Touchscreens use full high definition (1080p) and ultra high definition (4K) resolutions. To put this in context, full high definition provides an increase of over 65 percent additional pixels over the typical resolution of IWBs. 4K resolution is still considered several years from mainstream acceptance, especially in a classroom environment where 1080p resolution is already a quantum leap forward. There is also no technology, even in its infancy, being considered as a future competitor at this stage.
The first IWB was released in 1991 and has not changed in any significant way since. Some IWB vendors have already stopped or considerably scaled back their manufacturing and it is only a matter of time before all IWB production ceases. On the other hand, manufacturers are committed to the large-format touchscreen market, allocating considerable research and development resources. This gives schools the option of accessing the technology they want from brands they know and trust.
Many forward-thinking schools are transitioning to this technology because they recognise that touchscreens provide a vastly improved user experience and access to tools that better support classroom learning, with little to no training required. Furthermore, they will be hard-pressed to find a need to upgrade the screens for years to come.
Guy Monty is a veteran of touchscreen technology, having supplied integrated flat panels since 2011. As a passionate touchscreen evangelist, he now helms a multi-brand touchscreen company called The Future Tech Co., where expert consultation is at the heart of the business. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 02 9227 8600.
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