When you think of engaging, immersive technology, applications such as video games come quickly to mind. What about technology for the classroom? For students to learn effectively, they need to be motivated, stimulated and excited. As children grow increasingly savvy with technology used for entertainment and fun outside the classroom, technology needs to strive for similar standards of engagement and interaction.

Tomorrow’s classroom

Imagine a classroom where in the focal point is the center of the room where a 3D image of the solar system is projected. Students interact with the projection: drawing, rotating, adding notes. The teacher zooms in from the solar system to a planet, then to the gas molecules in its atmosphere and brings up a pie chart that breaks down types of gas in the atmosphere and a timeline of scientific discoveries related to the planet. The teacher quickly explores the layers and switches between visualizations when questions arise.

This is a vision of navigating and interacting with the digital world in a completely natural way. The display provides a window into endless amounts of information, and the interaction technology enables teachers to easily explore, add to and edit that information. This seems a far cry from interactive display technology today. Descriptions of interactive whiteboards often rely on analogies to commonplace tools. It is like a whiteboard that is digital. It is a projected image that a person can drag and move things around on. It works with a stylus like a tablet does. These examples demonstrate that the way people currently use and think about interactive whiteboards has not moved far beyond its antecedents.

Changing the face of interactive technology

Current interactive whiteboard technology still is far from reaching the full potential of what interactivity can enable. With a mouse and keyboard, one person can point, click and type. The promise of interactive whiteboards is that they enable us to easily and intuitively access, create, edit and manipulate digital data—and on a scale large enough for multiple collaborators and for an audience. Although the basic technology has existed for almost a decade, improvements to the technology itself and how it is used in terms of available applications and education and training are needed.

Using an interactive whiteboard should make navigating and creating things in the digital space feel so natural that teachers and students do not have to think twice about what they are doing. Drawing enables more free and intuitive input than being confined to a keyboard and mouse. However, interactive technology’s initial setup and infrastructure can prove challenging. Interactive whiteboards today still often mean large, cumbersome installations with a special surface or projector setup, as well as fiddling with cables and connections to a computer.

As technology becomes smaller and more flexible, so too must interactive technology. People are becoming increasingly mobile. Computers have changed from being the size of a room, to desktop size, to laptops, to in a pocket. Accordingly, for interactive whiteboards to stay relevant, they must be as mobile and easily set up as the computers to which they add interactivity.