As students across the country go back to school this month, many of them will be instructed in classrooms where blackboards have been replaced by new technologies. Sales of interactive whiteboards jumped by 48 percent in the second quarter of 2009 compared with the same period last year, and they are on track to reach a record $551 million by the end of the year. Though school districts—which are some of the biggest bulk buyers of digital whiteboards—have faced heavy budget cuts in recent months, the education-technology industry seems to be somewhat immune from the vagaries of the economy. Companies that sell whiteboards are seeing 'no sign of recession,' according to Colin Messenger, an analyst at Futuresource, a research firm.
An interactive whiteboard connects a computer and a projector to a screen at the front of a classroom, on which lessons can be displayed. Teachers and students can open objects on the PC's desktop or access the Internet by touching a finger or an electronic pen to the board. Proponents say that the device's interactive nature creates a learning environment that is more dynamic and more engaging than that of a traditional classroom.
The interactive whiteboard push has been so strong that some school districts hit by pay cuts and layoffs have still been able to upgrade technology thanks to federal stimulus funding, according to Iwan Streichenberger, a spokesman for Promethean USA, one of the leading companies in the field. Other struggling districts have been awarded local and state grants to purchase interactive whiteboards. Still, many schools are in a holding pattern as they await the distribution of additional federal dollars earmarked for education technology. Among the companies vying for customers in this lucrative niche industry, 'there is eager anticipation of the impact of the stimulus package,' says Messenger.