By Veronica Penney
“How much time have you spent in a room with a whiteboard?” challenges Broomfield-based mcSquares. If you’ve been in a classroom or meeting room in the past few years, the answer is probably “a lot.”
The traditional whiteboard first appeared in the United States during the 1960s and gained traction in schools and businesses during the 1970s. Whiteboards truly became a staple in classrooms and meeting rooms during the early 1990s, synonymous with activities like lectures and brainstorming sessions.
A downside to the whiteboard in collaborative settings is that the person who is running the meeting also owns the whiteboard, steering the direction of the conversation.
This is where mcSquares comes in. The company designed a collaborative approach to the dry-erase board that is now gaining popularity in classrooms and meeting rooms across Colorado.
Essentially, a mcSquares dry-erase system is composed of individual 11.125-inch squares, featuring a plastic cover that clips over a base. The wall-mounted system functions like a whiteboard that can be distributed to an entire room to collect individual input, then reassembled to show a bigger picture.
Founder Anthony Franco came up with the idea for mcSquares while facilitating meetings for EffectiveUI, a company specializing in user-experience based software development and design.
“At Effective UI, I ran a lot of workshops with Fortune 1000 companies,” explains Franco. “It turns out the folks with the best ideas were the practitioners. They were the ones closest to the problem. They were also the least likely to share their ideas—they were primarily introverts. So I set out to solve what I called an ‘introvert collaboration problem.’”
Franco cut up a whiteboard, passed it out to participants in a meeting, and as Franco remembers, “It was kind of like magic. People had no problem sharing around these dry erase boards.”
Though it can be difficult to measure engagement in a meeting room, an initial study of classroom engagement using mcSquares system delivered promising results. The study tested a group of 109 seventh-graders. The format was simple: a teacher gave students a short quiz, taught a lesson, then had students retake that same quiz. On Day One, students did not use mcSquares; on Day Two, the instructor taught the lesson using mcSquares dry-erase boards.
While eight students improved their test scores from passing to failing on Day One, on Day Two, 27 students scored a passing grade—a 337 percent passing rate increase.
As of now, mcSquares has a simple app that allows users to capture input. To use, the squares must be mounted back on the wall. The app uses a smartphone’s camera to carve up the individual squares out of the wall, so one picture will capture an individual picture of every tile on the wall. Tiles can then be sorted and shared.
Looking ahead, Franco aims to add a more digital component to MC Squares to compete against Smart Boards.
“We’re prototyping mcSquares digital now, and you can kind of connect the dots—it’s a tiled, interactive display,” explains Franco. “We’re not going to lose that dry-erase, though. A mistake that I think interactive displays make is to replace the whiteboard with the screen, and that’s turned out to not be very effective. It’ll be a whiteboard and a screen, not instead of a screen.”
According to Franco, the answer to better collaboration and participation may well be a new use of an old system, instead of new technology. “I’m a tech guy, so it’s kind of funny that I resorted back to a product that is analog,” says Franco. “But really, there’s no learning curve, they’re really easy to use. What I’ve seen in practice is people are willing to risk writing down some ideas because they know they can always erase it if they make a mistake.”
To learn more about the mcSquares dry-erase system, head to mcsquares.com.