A wish a day 13: KDE-based Digital Whiteboard

Interactive whiteboards, also known as “digital whiteboards”, seem to be the latest trend in education. At least from the teacher’s point of view.

Given that all my immediate family are teachers, and I have taught my mom how to use the digital whiteboard at her school, I feel like I can talk a bit about them.

A digital whiteboard is essentially a big touchscreen (100” or more). Usually the image is projected with a beamer and they use infrared, ultrasound, or some other cheap system to touch-enable the board.

From a hardware point of view, it is quite simple. You can even use a WiiMote to convert any surface into a digital whiteboard thanks to Uwe Schmidt’s WiiMode Whiteboard software.

The interesting part of digital whiteboards, at least for me, is software.

I have tried myself three software packages (TeamBoard, SMART Notebook and Promethean ActivInspire) but there are many more: DabbleBoard, NotateIt, Luidia eBeam, BoardWorks, etc

All of those can be used for education. Some of them are generic enough to be fit for business meetings (DabbleBoard, NotateIt, TeamBoard), while others are highly specialized (Interact, focused on music-teaching).

I consider ActivInspire very good, with SMART as a distant second.

Now, let’s cut the crap. Why am I talking about digital whiteboards and commercial software in Planet KDE?

For starters, because there is no open source alternative. The only open source package I have found is Open Whiteboard and it has not been updated in four years.

Then there is the Linux issue. SMART works on Linux but that’s about it. And it’s not even the full package, some features are missing.

And of course, in KDE we happen to have the wonderful KDE Edu project!

Back in December I thought about this: would it be possible to develop a digital whiteboard software based on KDE? That’s actually why I started working on KSnapshot: screen capturing was one of the missing features in SMART.

The answer to the question is “of course”. However interested I am, currently my spare time is all taken by another project I am working on. I do have a clear picture of what needs to be done, though, and I’d love to mentor if someone is interested in taking over:

  1. Dissect ActivInspire, SMART, TeamBoard, eBeam, etc. They all have nice features and huge failures. Give me one day and I’d hand you a long list.
  2. Start small: use KParts and DBUS and take advantage of KolourPaint, KSnapshot, Flake, etc
  3. The first application would be a simple single-page, vector graphics, Paint-like program: draw lines, figures, insert text boxes (with formatting), pictures, hyperlinks, etc. Add snapshotting (via a call to kbackgroundsnapshot).
  4. Then, extend that application to allow multipage “notebooks”, some screen effects (like Calligra Stage‘s), template pages (useful for exercise sheets, “blank” pages which include date, time and letterhead), hiding the solutions, record and reply, etc
  5. Going a bit further, we could have a special “personality” of Plasma Active for education. Let’s give some actual use to those iPads kids are receiving. Anyone involved in an educational Linux distribution knows the kind of customization I am talking about.
  6. And of course let’s not forget about “apps”: let’s develop a framework for “educapplets”. Educapplets is the name I give to small edutainment games, applications (Mathematical, Geography, etc). Kind of what you can do these days with JClic, but based on Javascript + KDE Edu QML components + something like Windows Runtime but for KDE. (This is big enough to be split in two projects apart from the whiteboard project: one for the KDE RT, another for the educapplet framework).
  7. Your ideas?

I think this project could be developed as a collaboration between KDE Edu and “KDE Business” (a hypothetical extension of KDE PIM). Being unique (open source, multiplatform, powerful), it would have a lot of potential to carve in those markets.

On the other hand, this is actually an application, something built outside KDE SC, which means it might fit better as one of the projects in that hypothetical Apache-like KDE eV I talked about a few weeks ago.

Oh, by the way: some schools seem to be adopting whiteboards for children of all ages. I am strongly against it. In my humble opinion, and that’s what my experience says, computers should only be involved in the classroom after the students have mastered how to do things manually. Disagree? OK: what would you say if when you were a student, you would have been told to use a typewriter and a solar calculator instead of a notebook and a pencil? Ridiculous, isn’t it? My point, exactly.

Volunteers, please comment and/or contact me.

6 thoughts on “A wish a day 13: KDE-based Digital Whiteboard

  1. baltolkien

    Great!
    My school finally have one PDI and I’m very interesed to make it work with Open Software.
    I’ts a Promethean Wihiteboard, the ActiveAspire’s Software is good but it’s close.
    I can be a beta tester and help the project. I will help!
    Baltasar

    Reply
  2. Christopher Covington

    I’ve had some experience with the existing software in related fields.

    There are several pen-enabled tablet notetaking programs. Xournal, Jarnal, and the annotation features of Okular are all usable. I’ve had some overview information about them on the follow wiki article for some time:
    https://uniluug.org/wiki/Annotation

    Moving more closely to your teacher-oriented use case, there is Classroom Presenter and its derivative, Ubiquitious Present, open source and freeware (I believe) competitors to the proprietary DyKnow.

    The most interesting project to me, however, is BigBlueButton. It plugs together Asterisk, flash webcam recording, and a number of other components in an attempt to provide the ultimate, web-based remote learning experience.

    Having attended a university where the administrators had bet heavily on pen-enabled tablets for education (making them the computer requirement), I would love to see more open source development in the general field. Happy hacking!

    Reply
  3. Marc Mauri Alloza

    Nice idea! I think we should use a Plasma KPart for doing the Whiteboard, with qml we can draw anything in it and even create and run educapplets on it. Maybe I can help you, but i don’t have a lot of avaliable time. I think too that plasma and plasma active has ti be custmoized for educational purposes.

    Reply
  4. markit

    I’ve an ActiveBoard in the school or my children. Unfortunatly, the driver is free software (because is a kernel module that has to be compiled, and is only for some versions of Ubuntu), but the necessary calibration sw is not.
    In any case, since im a Foss activist, I pushed the school to buy PC without OS and I’ve installed Kubuntu 11.04.
    For it’s usage, in addition to Kdedu, I also use specific sw like:
    http://code.google.com/p/ardesia/
    and
    http://open-sankore.org/
    (here for something in english:
    http://dev.open-sankore.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main/
    )
    If you do something, please don’t reinvent the wheel, collaborate with those 2 projects and create something missing.

    Reply

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