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Interactive Whiteboard Makers Set Out To Prove Interoperability

A new effort is underway to create a set of conformance tests that would assure instructors that they could use and share materials created for interactive whiteboards from competing vendors. The project will be managed by IMS Global Learning Consortium, an international organization that promotes interoperability standards for education technology. A major IMS initiative is the Common Cartridge, a specification to ensure that learning objects created for one vendor's application will operate in another's as well.

Among the initial participants in the interactive whiteboard work is Smart Technologies, which currently claims 63 percent of market share for those products in the United States and 47 percent worldwide. Another is RM Education, a global classroom hardware and software company.

The standards work began in the United Kingdom under the guidance of Becta, a government agency overseeing the use of innovative technology in education. Becta led efforts among vendors with a presence in Europe to create a set of conformance tests based on the Common File Format (CFF) for whiteboard interchange.

The shift of the work comes on the heels of a 2010 announcement by the UK government that it was defunding the agency as part of budget cuts in the public sector. Becta shuttered operations in March 2011.

The first wave of attention by the new alliance will be to enable the media created by the software from one vendor to render properly on an interactive whiteboard from another vendor. In the longer term, according to a statement from the participants, the CFF may provide an interoperable format for third-party providers, such as education publishers, to publish materials to multiple types of whiteboards.

IMS reported it will have initial conformance testing and support in place for the current version of CFF in about 90 days. Once that's done, IMS will facilitate creation of a workgroup to lay out ongoing work.

"A single Common File Format allows schools to easily share resources and use interactive whiteboards from a variety of manufacturers without interoperability issues being a concern." said Kevin Pawsey, managing director for RM Education, "In addition, RM's commitment to sharing and interoperability is critical to our relationship with our [original equipment manufacturing] partners. RM is committed to helping teachers teach and students learn. By working with other manufacturers in the educational technology industry, we are removing unnecessary pain points for schools. Educators shouldn't have to worry that lessons they create today will become obsolete if their school changes hardware tomorrow."

Individuals and organizations can review public drafts and provide feedback through the IMS online forums. Those that want to participate in establishing the conformance program can subscribe to the alliance. Membership fees range from $1,000 for a K-12 school district to $7,500 for corporations with over $50 million in annual revenue.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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