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Questo post oggi è direttamente scritto in inglese ed è tratto da parte di una mia relazione scritta per conto dell’Interactive Computer Aided Learning Conference 2009, che si terrà dal 23 al 25 settembre prossimo in Austria. Il tema della mia relazione è proprio la rassegna (personale) e comparazione delle varie soluzioni interattive da sfruttare online, senza cioè acquistare nulla da parte della scuola. Gran parte delle soluzioni presentate sono accessibili dopo essersi registrati (gratuitamente) e non sempre è necessario installare qualcosa sul proprio computer o laboratorio informatico: molte delle proposte lavorano con il cosiddetto Cloud Computing, tramite RIA e linguaggio Ajax, “caricando” i dati sui server online.
Ho diviso i servizi in due categorie:

  1. Sistemi di conferenze online con possibilità di annotazione su lavagna interattiva, in gran parte gratuita e operanti su qualsiasi computer, senza dipendere dal sistema operativo. Grandi possibilità di condividere lo schermo, anche a distanza.
  2. Software per l’annotazione e “cattura-schermo”, anche qui senza bisogno di dipendere da un sistema operativo preciso e qualche possibilità di condivisione. Sempre gratuito.

This paper presents a personal review of useful tools and solutions, though not pretending to be fully comprehensive, although the scenario is in constant update. To start, the teacher can go through the following checklist for display technology, and consider some elements of IWBs development in his/her school:

1) the actual provision of devices;

2) the easiness of software use and resources;

3) staff training;

4) technical support from producers/distributors,

5) installing an IWBs as part of a pilot project, or starting from a systemic initiative;

6) local initiatives, or existing, national policies;

7) embedding ICT into the curriculum, or designing a clear pedagogic focus

Interactive Whiteboards2The online tools of Web 2.0 applied to interactive whiteboards can answer most of the questions above, if not all, by allowing schools to cut costs on equipment and huge training efforts. The final choice is then determined by the actual learners’ needs and teacher’s consideration of the factors related to the curriculum, the school economic budget, the facility to integrate materials, etc. The tools and services listed and described later on offer different opportunities that teachers can select and adopt, according to the specific contexts.

Regarding commercial IWBs (the “hardware”), commercial devices on the market present rather similar features: screen size, software, touch-screen capabilities, Usb ports, etc. Thus, producers as Hitachi, eBeam, Nec, Promethean, Smart, and so on offer plenty of attractive devices, solutions, and prices, but rather common elements. Schools and teachers could consider also various online conferencing systems with whiteboarding capabilities, and devices with screen capturing and annotation software.

1. Online conferencing systems with whiteboarding capabilities, mainly free and working on any computer, regardless of OS:

· Blackboard (http://coursesites.blackboard.com) uses a Java applet ‘virtual classroom’ with a whiteboard, enabling users to engage in real-time discussions with other students, browse the websites suggested by the instructor, ask and answer questions from the instructor or other students. Verbal interaction is significantly enhanced by using the whiteboard to draw or display text and images, select and enlarge/move/cut/copy/paste/delete/group an item, draw free hand using a custom pen colour, enter text using the keyboard, draw a straight line, a square or a circle, finally, highlight an element with an arrow.

· TalkAndWrite (http://www.talkandwrite.com/) a whiteboard integrated with voice and video, is a plug-in for the well-known audio-conferencing tool Skype (http://www.skype.com), which simulates the interaction of two partners working side by side on a common document. This can really represent a help for oral production, even offline.

· Microsoft NetMeeting is the application already pre-installed on most PCs operating under Windows (named Windows Meeting Space under Windows Vista), allowing chat sessions and videoconferencing for online collaboration to take place.

· Vyew (http://vyew.com/) is an interesting software that includes live desktop sharing, whiteboard and the capability to present files to your audience from whatever platform and OS, provided the browser compatibility. Vyew is available freely to use up to twenty participants. Desktops can be shared and saved using a built-in capture tool, while diagrams created with plug-ins such as DiagramVyew can be shared with others.

· Yugma (http://www.yugma.com) runs on Java and is another powerful online conferencing system software-based. It is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux, with a special attention to screen-sharing capability. The free version has the possibility to invite up to 20 attendants, while the effectiveness of screensharing, of course, depends on the presence of broadband facilities.

· Zoho Meeting (http://meeting.zoho.com/) Zoho offers a competitive suite of online web applications geared towards increasing productivity and offering easy collaboration. Unfortunately, Zoho Meeting free version is limited to a one-to-one webconferencing. A solution to this limit is represented by another Zoho service, Notebook (http://notebook.zoho.com/nb/login.do?serviceurl=%2Fnb%2Findex.do), which enables the user to create different types of content (texts, images, audio, videos, etc.), to aggregate and embed information in one place from multiple applications, to share from one page to a whole book.

Screen capturing and annotation software, mainly regardless of operating systems. Here the free, costless version are highlighted.

· Clivir (http://www.clivir.com/) is basically a learning community site, built for like-minded people to meet, share and learn together. The resource website presents some reliable information and solutions

. Dabbleboard (http://www.dabbleboard.com), an online whiteboard, The free version will help the individual to draw, visualize, explore and communicate ideas (with unlimited Undo/Redo functions, drag-and-drop tools, etc.) with any number of people.

· Groupboard (http://www.groupboard.com). Interactive website tools based on multi-user Java applets for education, business and fun. The user can add whiteboard, chat, games, message boards, voip conferencing and web conferencing to a site by simply copying a few lines of HTML code, through a customizable interface.

· Scribblar (http://www.scribblar.com/) is a free online collaboration tool that features live audio, chat, whiteboard and image sharing capabilities, amongst other things. As many other tools, Scribblar has a free version and a paid one, with the first one providing most interesting services, such as secure, unlimited invitations to spaces (called Rooms), after a free registration.

· Scriblink (http://www.scriblink.com/), a browser-ased IWB, a free digital whiteboard that users can share online in real-time. It is like having a pen and paper, minus the dead trees, plastic, and the inconvenience of being at the same place at the same time.

· Skrbl (http://www.skrbl.com) is presented as a simple and easy online multi user whiteboard, giving out the personal URL and start working together. Skrbl lets you to sketch, text, share files, upload pictures all in one common shared space. There is a free edition, and a paid “team” version that provides more functionality and a lot more storage space. Some occasional crashes (failed uploads) reported by users, but still interesting.

· Stixy (http://stixy.com/) seems a pretty cool organizational tool that has a sleek drag’n’drop interface, letting you create a virtual whiteboard for anything you would like to create. The tool allows the user to upload work, add comments, share files, invite co-workers, and star collaborating on documents, photos, etc. through specific widgets.

· Thinkature (http://www.thinkature.com) is among the most appealing tools in this group. Thinkature is a collaboration working-space environment, a meeting room, a personal web-based whiteboard. It runs inside every browser and there is no special software to install. You (and all of your guests) can join a workspace instantly and without worrying about versions, operating systems, or firewalls.

· Twiddla (http://www.twiddla.com/) is a free, web-based meeting playground, without needing any plug-ins. The tool enables browsing websites and drawing on them, sharing sites and files, as well as communicating either using a chat channel or an audio option to communicate verbally, marking up websites, graphics, and photos, or start brainstorming on a blank canvas.

· Virtual Board (http://lightools.fredisland.net/), is somehow considered as “one of the richest and most advanced screen annotation tools available online”[1]. It integrates screen capturing, live text annotation and markup, zooming and use of a clipart. Annotations can be saved and loaded. The graphic interface encompasses the tools for drawing freehand, plotting lines, drawing filled or empty rectangles, squares, ellipses and circles, displaying text in differents colors, size, font and attributes on resizable cliparts, zooming in and out the whole or a part of a screen, as well as manage colours.

[1] R. Good, R. (2006). “Whiteboarding tools and technology: a mini-guide”, at http://is.gd/2HORm