Do interactive flat panels really offer value for money?

A basic panel with wireless screen mirroring software is often a better choice for interactive teaching than chasing the shiny new thing, writes Richard Freeman.


In many schools, students have the option to take notes, complete homework assignments, and take tests on their own on school provided devices. Teachers teach from laptops or tablets, often using a digital display, instead of the chalk or whiteboards that are still hung in classrooms.

In short, technology is a foundational component of any modern classroom, but the question remains, what technology offers the right ratio of value and cost?

For the last ten years, interactive flat panels (IFPs) have taken classrooms around the world by storm. You only have to step onto an edtech exhibition floor to see the number of IFP providers touting the benefits their state-of-the-art displays bring to teachers and students and offering endless adventures in creativity.

Yet no one seems to be asking what teachers actually use them for once they are purchased and installed. The clamour for the latest shiny thing hides a potentially troubling reality: that the panels are primarily being used as TV displays for sharing PowerPoint presentations. Many teachers remain stuck facing the front wall of their classrooms trying to figure out how to move a slide, rather than interacting with their students during class time.

Should IFPs be the default choice for every classroom?  
According to the UK Department for Education’s 2022-2023 Technology in Schools Survey, (“DfE report”), 86% of teachers report using interactive whiteboards as part of their lessons (we’ll take this to mean IFPs or older interactive whiteboards), the same percentage that report using laptops/notebooks. The percentages differ when comparing teachers in primary schools (96%) versus those in secondary schools (76%). Considering the suitability of technology, i.e., whether it is fit for purpose, the statistics differ a bit depending on who is asked. Teachers by and large see IFPs as being mostly or completely fit for purpose (98% of primary teachers, 86% of secondary teachers), while IT leads are less emphatic (90% and 77%), primarily because of wear and tear, unsupported/outdated software and expired warranties.

While some of these percentages may seem like a point in favour of IFPs, in particular for primary schools, it’s critically important to dig a bit deeper before jumping on (or staying on) the IFP bandwagon. I suggest applying three distinct lenses to help schools work out what comes next – value for money, desired level of interactivity and integration into learning.

Value for money
Simply put, IFPs are expensive, requiring large capital outlays for their initial acquisition, configuration, installation, training and eventual replacement, along with ongoing maintenance costs. Looking at the retail pricing, IFPs can cost a school around £2,000-£3,000 per screen. Multiply this figure by the number of classrooms in a school and the total cost rises quickly.

With numbers this large, you must ask, could the money be better spent elsewhere? Is there a less costly alternative that provides similar functionality in terms of the features actually needed? With financial barriers (96% of leaders cite budget constraints while 93% cite the prohibitive cost of some technology) noted in the DfE report as the biggest barrier to increasing the uptake of technology, schools must think carefully before authorising spending.

Likewise, the sheer size of the initial investment locks a school into a specific set-up in which the focus is squarely on the front of the classroom. Educational best practices are always evolving and a significant number of education champions suggest that facilitating student discovery, discussion, and collaboration offers the greatest benefit for learners, as opposed to a lecturer stuck presenting at the front of the classroom.

Desired level of interactivity
Another challenge with IFPs lies in the technical and social constraints placed on the students when interacting with the content being presented. Secondary-school age students are very comfortable in their own seat, with their own device. Having to leave that space to present or give answers at the front of a class may lead to disengagement or worse still, stress for the students.

With the prevalence of student devices in classrooms, it makes sense to focus on how to enable the sharing of content and collaboration, without the disruption of having students move to the front of the classroom. Only the most expensive IFPs enable this kind of interactivity, but the same functionality can be obtained with alternatives that avoid a hefty hardware purchase and additional training expenses.

Integration into learning
Simply installing an IFP or any piece of technology in the classroom will not have a meaningful impact without also ensuring teachers both see the value in and are ready to capitalise on the full spectrum of capabilities offered. Without comprehensive training, teachers may find themselves merely scratching the surface of these interactive tools, leaving potential value unrealised. Again, it’s worth pointing out that barriers to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) were noted as a factor in the DfE report and include cost (63% of leaders, 65% of teachers), lack of time (68% of leaders, 75% of teachers), and lack of skills and confidence (60% of leaders, 39% of teachers).

If IFPs are proving difficult to integrate effectively into teaching and learning, other options that are easier and less costly to implement are worth considering.  If teachers are predominantly using IFPs for annotation, video playback, and sharing slides, is an IFP necessary? All of these things can be done with a simple flat panel TV and some additional technology tools for a fraction of the cost. Indeed, multiple flat panels could be installed within a single classroom, solving some of the challenges of larger classrooms and opening up new possibilities for small group work, and the total price would still be less than a single fully loaded IFP.

An IFP alternative: wireless screen mirroring
For schools that have not yet invested in IFPs or fir those whose IFPs need to be refreshed, it is worth pausing for a moment before making a decision to throw more money at another expensive device. Many alternatives are available, offering greater usability, compatibility and economy, while alleviating some of the frustrations teachers, students and IT departments face when implementing, using and maintaining IFPs over their lifespan.

The combination of a wireless screen mirroring solution that delivers classroom control for the teacher, paired with a more basic panel can deliver an IFP alternative that satisfies educators and students without overburdening a school’s IT team and budget.  This sort of solution meets the school where they are on their technology journey and doesn’t force expensive and time-consuming training programs on teachers to deliver their curriculum effectively.

Vivi is an option in this space, built for education and used in over 100,000 classrooms worldwide. It offers seamless compatibility with existing technology that allows teachers and students to wirelessly share their screens with a classroom display. Not only does Vivi provide a tool for teaching, but the platform also includes digital signage and a messaging module to allow simple school-wide communication that makes the most of every penny invested in panels.

As school budgets and teacher’s time are squeezed ever tighter, prioritising fresh, easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy technology could be an alternative worth looking into.

Richard Freeman is vice president of sales, EMEA, at Vivi International Ltd.

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