Experiences with Activpanels
We’re fortunate to now have six classrooms at ELC equipped with Activpanels (in addition to six with IWBs, four with wireless projectors for iPads and two with Smart TVs). I’m particularly fond of the Activpanels and have used them countless times, and have even delivered a short TD session for my colleagues on the basics of how to use and make use of them.
In our quieter season, many of these classrooms are made available as bookable rooms, but frequently they’re allocated as classrooms to particular groups. It’s at this time, when one is part of my regular classroom, that I become most comfortable with using the Activpanels – and Active Inspire, the IWB programme on the panels.
Some benefits and drawbacks to the Activpanels and Active Inspire – in my experience:
- Active Inspire documents can contain multiple pages, so unlike a regular whiteboard which you have to wipe clean when you need more space, space is unlimited.
- Active Inspire allows you to save documents – really useful for revisiting and reviewing work at the end of a week/course, and for emailing to learners. The email possibility is especially useful for Business English clients who frequently bring their own laptop and want to be able to look at the day’s material at home.
- Active Inspire also allows you to resize and relocate parts of your board – selecting and dragging items to reorganise. You can paste in images and cover parts of the board to reveal later. It allows for a great deal of flexibility. It also has an ‘annotate’ function, allowing you to view whatever is behind the programme window – be it the desktop, a website, word file, etc. – and write on top of it. Brilliant for encouraging noticing of features in a text and correcting.
- Easy internet access, for dictionaries, news sites, company websites, vocabulary in google images, Ted talks and Youtube clips, etc. Of course the list is endless, but I mention these as ones that I regularly use in class.
- The Activpanels operate much like a large iPad, in that they’re touch-screen. We have stylus type pens but can also use fingertips. When I use this it feels like I have more control over things than when I use a mouse. This also means any number of people can ‘write’ on the board at any one time – great for group games and learner involvement.
- The boards also have a mouse and keyboard, which can be passed around the class for learners to use, making both the work we do on the board and access to resources far more collaborative. This is something I’d always encourage as I feel that developing a sense of shared responsibility increases learner engagement and investment in the classroom.
- The boards lend a certain professionalism to the classroom, which learners respond very positively to. A more professional environment means the learners – essentially clients – feel they’re getting their money’s worth, and invest more in their own learning in the classroom. This isn’t speculation – on several occasions I’ve had problematic (lazy or demotivated) learners in a class become more actively engaged and interested in a classroom with an Activpanel. Of course there are doubtless multiple contributing factors to their change in participation, but when you see a learner become both impressed with and enthused by the technology in the room – made available to them as much as the teacher – it’s clear that it’s having a positive effect.
- Occasionally there are hiccups with the technology – the board doesn’t boot up properly or the DVD drive won’t read a disk. The boards were put in last year so most or all of the issues we’ve had with them have been resolved now. We have a great tech guy who comes in regularly, and our management team and buildings manager are well trained in dealing with tech issues. We also get regular training in using the boards, and each teacher is given a handbook on booting up, troubleshooting, etc. I’ve never yet had a ‘hiccup’ that hasn’t been fixed in time for my lesson. 🙂 Of course that so much support is available is reflective of the environment in which I work, as opposed to the boards themselves, but it’s worth noting as someone considering using such technology might factor into their decision what support is available.
- I was going to mention recalibrating here, but on reflection I’m not sure it’s actually a drawback. It’s a necessary part of the upkeep of an Activpanel, and so easy to fix if you know how. And that seems to be the point I’m making repeatedly throughout this blog – when it comes to technology it’s about knowing how to use it. Which is (largely) about how mush training and support is provided by the institution.
- For me the biggest flaw with the Activpanel technology is to do with handwriting. When you write on the screen – on Active Inspire, for example, the handwriting comes out scrawly. I usually have pretty neat handwriting, so it doesn’t tend to be a problem for my learners – but it’s a problem for me as I feel I have less immediate control over my organisation of the space on the whiteboard (I say immediate as everything is correctable by resizing, etc – see above). For teachers with messier handwriting, I can see that this would be problematic. It’s easy enough to use the keyboard and type on screen, but personally I find writing by hand quicker.
The process of writing this has been quite revealing for me – the benefits of having an Activpanel in the classroom clearly – in my school – outweigh the drawbacks. In the rooms where Activpanels are installed we also have a regular whiteboard, which can be useful if you want to keep separate notes / vocab, etc, visible for learners. Thinking about the possibilities has made want to move classrooms again!
I found some images of Active Inspire screens from a class I taught last year. Not my best work, but demonstrates the annotate function described above, some of the possibilities the programme allows, and the effect on handwriting.