Well, today I finally got my hands on the school’s latest bit of kit – the Smart Table. One of 3 in the UK pilot scheme, and the only one in Scotland, it’s an exciting project to be involved in. Having been out of class since lunch, I was going quietly demented as the Table was locked away in a meeting room which had a meeting going on in it! Fortunately, the room was vacated pretty swiftly afterwards and I was taken in by one of the IT support staff to help get the table up and running before Anne Forrest from Steljes arrived.
Bump in Road #1 – turning it on
Having read about Tom Barrett’s problems with power cables and keys, I was relieved to see that our Table was plugged in, had its keys and had previously been booted up. My relief did not last long, however, as despite promising signs and noises, the screen on the Table did not start to display. The computer was obviously working, and the touches were being registered – we could hear the sound effects of our interactions with the Table even though we couldn’t see them – but nothing could be seen on the Table surface. We tried all we could think of to no avail. Salvation came in the form of a small remote control stuck magnetically to the inside of the cabinet which is for ’emergency’ use. Not quite sure what they had in mind, but it sorted us out and the Table was up and running in all its glory.
My very first impression was that the Table is a durable bit of kit. Designed to be portable, and small enough to fit through regular doorways, it has clearly been designed with a working school in mind and is solid. I don’t know if I would fancy moving it too far on my own; in fact I think our full-size rear-projected Smart Boards are easier to move than the Table (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). The other thing that struck me was that the Table is just screaming out for you to touch it. It’s so inviting and appealing – you just can’t help yourself. So that’s what we did, and got down to test driving some of the activities included with the Table. These are built round the current standard applications:
- Multiple Choice: Students answer questions by dragging their answer to a central image
- HotSpots: Students identify parts of a diagram by dragging labels to the correct spot
- Paint: Students select colors and effects and then paint with their fingers
- Media: Students drag or resize photos and videos
- Addition: Students work together to solve math problems
- Puzzle: Students work together to solve a tangram or jigsaw puzzle
Whilst the appeal of some of the applications is obvious – when Anne Forrest arrived, we never even saw her, so busy were we working out simple addition and subtraction using our fingers to supply the answer to the table – without additional content the Table is going to be of limited appeal for our pupils. The supplied Smart Table Toolkit allows you to customize these applications, meaning you can create your own versions of the 6 activities. Having downloaded some additional activities from this page on the Smart website we set about trying to add this content to the default packages. Being our first time, this took us a wee bit of time to work out. The activities are ‘synchronised’ to the table one at a time, and when you exit synchronisation mode and open up the Table Activities, whichever activity has been most recently synchronised is the one that boots up. Once we had established this, things got a bit easier, and when we worked out that once an activity has been synchronised to the Table once it is kept in the Activity Archive things got even easier still.
Bump in Road #2 – Gizmo never liked bright light…
As with the Mogwai, our table has a serious aversion to bright light. Having established this yesterday, we had been working in a dim room with the table, which obviously has implications for classroom use. Feeling slightly gallus after our content success and spurred on by Anne we opened the blinds. At first things continued apace as we introduced one of our students to the Table but then disaster struck – the sun came out! Even though the table wasn’t in direct sunlight the brightness seriously impaired the Table’s ability to track touches. With the blinds half drawn again, the problem was resolved.
So that was that, for today anyway.
As a pilot project we are being encouraged to give feedback about our experiences to improve the user-friendliness of the Table. Whilst I was thinking some sort of document sharing (perhaps Google Docs?) might allow the 3 pilot schools to contribute to one document (and perhaps offer solutions to each others problems), for the instant feedback from anyone who uses the table, it’s probably going to be paper and pen (or possibly a digital voice recorder?) beside the Table itself. We were also hopeful that given the current shortage of resources (it is a pilot scheme after all) we might find some space to share ‘beta’ resources amongst the pilot schools before subjecting them to the glare of public scrutiny. Another hope is that the Table SDK (Software Development Kit) – which has been designed to allow the integration of C++, C#. Visual Basic and Java with the Smart Table’s DViT platform – may give us the facility to ‘port’ some of the fabulous opensource applications written in these languages onto the Table. Tech-wise it’s beyond me, but I might know a man who is up to the job!!!
Our initial thoughts regarding the Activity Toolkit mirrored those of Tom Barrett; that it needs a preview feature to enable the teacher/designer of the activity to give it some kind of a test run without having to get it up and running on the table. This is because you may have the toolkit on a lot of computers, but you’re only going to have one table which you might not be able to access there and then. Additionally, the process of plugging in, synchronising, running the activity, plugging back in to enter teacher mode and then resynchronsing to the default apps could be streamlined (or we might just have been too dumb to work out the shortcuts).
I have been given the afternoon on Thursday to work with some of my pupils on the Table, and am going to try and create a set of activities to tie into our PE SQA work before then. I’m pretty sure I won’t be tearing it up like Judi Dench in “Quantum of Solace”, but I’ll let you know how I get on anyway, and will try and see if I can get some photos/video up somewhere.
Finally, on a slightly different note, I found this very, very interesting piece of information on the Smart Development Network site
The SMART Board SDK also provides multitouch capability, which enables your application to receive several touch events simultaneously. Multitouch works only with interactive products that feature DViT (Digital Vision Touch) technology, such as Rear Projection SMART Board interactive whiteboards and the Sympodium interactive pen display (model DT770).
So the possibility would seem to exist of multitouch capability for some current Smart Board users in the very near future. Exciting thought.