"CFF, and open source in general, is where the entire world is going," said Hedrick Ellis, senior project manager for RM Education.

In what educators and vendors are calling a giant step forward in education technology, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) recently announced that all major interactive whiteboard vendors have agreed to make their educational content available in the U.K. in a common file format (CFF).

By making these educational resources more shareable and accessible, many say, BECTA is setting a powerful example for change that could go global. Now, some in the United States and Canada — where such software still is mostly proprietary and incompatible — want to know when these same vendors will adopt the common file format in North America.

In 2007, BECTA—which is leading a national drive in the U.K. to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology in learning—teamed up with the RM Group, one of Europe’s largest suppliers of technology-based curriculum products for education, to address the issue of multiple interactive whiteboard (IWB) solutions each having their own proprietary software.

At the time, most content files developed for any one type of IWB could not be opened with the software on other IWBs, which limited the ability of teachers to share resources across different IWB platforms.

BECTA appointed RM to develop a common industry-wide standard that would benefit educators by allowing the exchange of resources within and between schools.

Now, three years later, BECTA and RM have created not only a file specification for software (.iwb), but also a Viewer application, accompanying supporting documentation, and a code library that software publishers can used to integrate support for the CFF into their own applications.

So far, eInstruction, Hitachi, Luidia, Mimio, PolyVision, Promethean, RM, Sahara Presentation Systems, SMART Technologies, and TeamBoard have committed to adopt the CFF in the U.K.

“We know that this technology is capable of bringing lessons to life, motivating learners to participate with enthusiasm, and helping them to achieve better results,” said Steve Lucey, BECTA’s executive director for strategic technologies, in a statement. “BECTA is working to help the education sector get better value from investment in technology, which is more important than ever in the current economic climate. Sharing resources and ideas is one of the ways to stimulate more effective use of technology and make the most of that investment.”

Lucey said BECTA was spurred to develop the CFF as a result of the advocacy efforts of IWB users in England and internationally.

Interest in the CFF also has come from European education ministries hoping to procure IWB solutions on a national scale.

“Our goal was to make all files interchangeable through a generic file format,” explained Hedrick Ellis, senior project manager for RM Education. “We wanted something any word processor could open.”

Ellis said educators without IWBs can still view IWB resources, thanks to the CFF.