Generation screen

Simon Fry examines how interactive screens are keeping students engaged in the classroom

With ‘screen time’ a part of most young people’s daily lives, using equipment with similar capabilities and performance in their education makes perfect sense. Not only do such screens bring the internet’s information and images into the classroom and university learning space, but they provide the interactivity children love and paying students expect, while preparing the latter for the workplace environment they are soon to enter. Establishments seeking to reduce expenditure should note the extensive savings brought by one supplier to a Lancashire college.

Blackburn’s Griffin Park primary school sought a cost-effective solution to their outdated interactive whiteboards, reviewing solutions from three competitors before ultimately choosing ViewSonic’s 65” and 70” Full HD Displays from a range available in sizes 42” to 84”. They initially tried a sample before ordering three units; finding these to be a good fit in their classroom environment, the school ordered a further four units, fitting one in every classroom. The units were priced less than the competition and led to an overall reduced total cost of ownership, with both an increased response time and reduced set-up and maintenance times.


These multi-touch-enabled displays allow two users to simultaneously write or draw on the board using their fingers or stylus. The displays have an ergonomic design making them more flexible to use and come with a tempered glass overlay; anti-glare treatment prevents sunlight glare while rounded corners help avoid injuries.

Griffin Park Headteacher Catherine Clayton-Young said: “The children were really motivated by the screens. Their set-up meant we were able to relocate them in our classrooms onto different walls and then we were able to reorganise our classrooms, creating more space for the children and their desks. The governing body was so impressed with the boards we decided to bring forward our rolling programme for the replacement.”

NEC’s products are having a similar impact, according to Jon Garaway, Education Account Manager, NEC Display Solutions. “NEC is selling more of its new ShadowSense touchscreens due to the control and flexibility the system offers. Based on the new touch technology ShadowSense™, NEC’s new P Series touch displays deliver true multi-touch support with up to six simultaneous touch points, ideal for classrooms and small group learning. Unlike other optical technologies, ShadowSense uses innovative high performance sensors to provide unprecedented performance, stability and accuracy. The anti-reflective coating means reflections are reduced to a minimum which significantly increases readability of content. In the UK it appears many universities are beginning to question how whiteboards are being used – if at all – and are definitely looking at alternatives such as screens and tablets, but where a university is training students to become teachers, whiteboards are still popular.”

One higher education establishment using NEC is the University of Derby. When seeking to stimulate and encourage student participation and offer its students experiential learning opportunities mirroring the workplace, the University installed the Learning Curve, a technology-rich space designed to be used before and after formal teaching by small student groups. It features coffee lounge areas leading through to a number of adaptable learning spaces. Each ‘pod’ comprises a large NEC touchscreen display mounted on a moveable table enabling the space to be reconfigured as required and for all members of a working party to have full access to view and touch the screen. With multi-touch capability supporting up to five touch points, students find the touch control highly intuitive, controlling the content as they would a tablet device. 

 “Learning is more active which makes it easier to learn and understand.”

The multi-touch displays come with free DisplayNote software, allowing the University to take collaborative learning to the next level as their learning spaces initiative evolves. Ample power sockets for mobile devices, individually-controlled lighting and all furniture being moveable ensures a more engaging learning experience. There are six ‘pods’ in total, four private spaces and two which are more open, each suited to different groups of students and their needs. One MBA student said, “Learning is more active which makes it easier to learn and understand.”

One of the major factors in interactive screen development in recent years has been the rapid increase in their size, making large group interaction more feasible. Screens measuring from 55” to 80” have easily replaced the average 6’ x 4’ and 8’ x 10’ projection screen, making the visuals accessible to groups of up to 30. Significant reductions in the total cost of ownership of such technology has been underpinned by ever-improving operational performance figures, with some institutions realising significant energy savings across their screen inventory by careful selection of the most efficient models.

This is clearly illustrated at one of the Saville installations for Bury College, where the original specification for interactive boards and projectors was changed to 65” interactive screens with AMX Apollo hard-wired control panels. These screens used a reduced-power consumption of 308W as opposed to 500W for the board and projector, thereby producing an energy saving of more than £30,000 across the estate over five years. This was achieved with no limitations on interactive activity.

Caister Junior School, near Great Yarmouth, previously used projectors with interactive touchscreens to assist with teaching, but when the products were coming to end-of-life, images had become grainy and maintenance costs were high. Anthony Hall, ICT coordinator, said: “We looked for a new, highly-intuitive teaching aid displaying content with a high degree of clarity. It also needed to be reliable, easily used by pupils and work without dimming the lights, as this can make both pupils and teachers sleepy.”

Cost was also a factor. “While the up-front cost was important, a long-term return on investment is vital for all schools as budgets are tight.” A number of technologies were reviewed before 12 of Sharp’s PN-L602 60” interactive touchscreen monitors were chosen for their image quality. “The monitors provide an accurate and consistent writing experience and are very flexible. We use them as a ‘normal’ whiteboard, to display internet content, play video and really draw the children into lessons,” said Anthony. “We also connect in-class visualisers to the screens, which can magnify photos and objects by up to 200 times. When you put a leaf on there, for example, the image quality is breathtaking. The monitors turn good lessons into great lessons.”

 “While the up-front cost was important, a long-term return on investment is vital for all schools as budgets are tight.”

Interactive technologies are growing in popularity within the education sector, thanks to increasing gamification and hands-on learning. Consequently, manufacturers such as Sony have begun to prioritise R&D investment in this area. The use of interactive screens in classrooms is evolving to assist peer-to-peer presentations, encouraging greater student participation and display additional content from various sources to supplement and illustrate lessons. Though harnessing the latest technology is important, it is vital manufacturers appreciate the financial constraints many educational establishments are subject to, and offer affordable options suiting all budgets.

Sony took this into account when building its exclusive partnership with U-Touch. U-Touch produces fully interactive screen overlays compatible with any size of BRAVIA Professional Display (up to 85”), including 4K models, to become touch sensitive when connected to a Windows PC. These are exceptionally easy to install, meaning educational institutions can easily take advantage of interactive technology.

Pupils and students used to working with their own tablets will use classroom and learning space interactive screens just as intuitively, while teachers and lecturers will relish the opportunity to reconfigure the physical area in which such screens are used to maximise their educational impact. Indeed, the next challenge for educators will be to ensure future learning spaces allowing for interactive screens to be used to their full potential.