Sep 27 2008
Last Wednesday evening I attended my first TeachMeet event held in the Forth Room at the SECC. Typically I was first out of the hat to do a seven minute talk and kick the evening off – I was very nervous and my careful plans seemed to evaporate as I walked up to the stage. This post is what I would have liked to have said – but I think people got the general idea. It is the story of how a simple email led to a series of events that saw a prototype multi-touch interactive device used in our school.
In 2006 I was exploring the possibility of a second interactive device in our reception classes. I wanted to look at the alternatives to IWBs and came across a whole heap of plasma displays etc. I also happened to stumble upon a few articles from Philips about a research product called the Entertaible. The device was shown as having electronic board gaming at it’s heart but i saw much more than that – I saw it in a classroom with children working together on it.
“ The intuitive nature of Entertaible means multiple users can interact with digital data and programs in a simple yet physical, ‘hands-on’ manner. ” Gerard Hollemans, Philips Research
The original Philips press release seems to have been removed from their site but at the foot of it was an email address for the team in charge. I sent them a message basically asking if they had considered the use of the device in the classroom and that I had some ideas for it. Now when you throw a little stone like that at a big organisation like Philips you do not expect it to make a dent or even a mark. But sure enough they replied and we arranged to have, what turned out to be, a series of telephone conversations about the prospects of the device in education. I was staggered really and amazed at how open they were to my ideas.
After being in touch for a short while, Gerard and Maurice from the Philips team invited me to Eindhoven to see the interactive device in action. I asked my headteacher who was hugely supportive of the idea and incredibly in the summer of 2006 I visited the research labs of Philips on their High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. In the meeting I was shown the table and the amazing functionality it had. The Entertaible is a project from the Philips Incubator, the name given to their research department – where new ideas are brought into this world.
After exploring the device first hand I talked with the team about the use of the IWB in our school and the potential that a multi-touch device could have in the classroom. It was wonderful to see the birth place to these sorts of technologies and great credit must go to my headteacher who didn’t even flinch when I asked about the trip and even covered the costs of travel so I could go. It could so easily have been the end of the story – a few emails and phone calls and that’s all – but through his vision it was only the start.
The visit only heightened my interest and curiosity in terms of what the device could do in a classroom. We stayed in touch for a few months afterwards but it wasn’t until November/December 2006 that I got to use the device again in London at a workshop for the Philips team as they explored various markets. I attended the education day and represented the primary sector – it was great to talk about some of my ideas for the table whilst sat at it and meet with further members of the Philips research team.
My headteacher had always said that if you do not speculate sometimes nothing will happen – he was so correct as in late 2006 we were asked if we would like to host the first worldwide school trial of the Philips Entertaible. If you do not knock on the door nobody will ever open it.
Gerard from Philips then asked me to help develop a series of applications that could be produced in the short time he had. I spent a day with a colleague from school who is an AST Reception teacher, in putting the planning together for a range of applications. It was fantastic to be in at the deep end, rethinking traditional activities in light of the collaborative and multi-touch capacity of the device. We had decided that the table would be best trialled in the early years and plans were set out to have it in one of our reception classes for a week.
In February 2007 the only table in the world of its sort arrived at school along with members of the Philips team – the applications were finally in the hands of the most important people, the children. Throughout the course of the week children in the reception class used the device as part of their normal day. In my opinion the table seemed well suited to the classroom environment and the children natural went to it with curiosity and intrigue. The reception teacher and her class had a great week exploring the new technology and worked on counting, position and letter shape activities.
The letter shape activity allowed 4 children to work on the screen at the same time, each on their own quarter. They would touch the screen to activate it and a large letter would be shown with a glowing circle indicating where to begin tracing its shape. When it detects an object or fingertip on that point the glowing circle begins tracing the shape of the letter. If the children are able to accurately trace and follow the guide it will complete the letter and a round of applause will sound from the speakers. However if they stray from the path shown then the whole letter will flash and the glowing circle will return to begin again. You can see it in action in these two videos.
If you are having trouble seeing the videos from Flickr you can see the full set of images and film here.
Children from every class in the school came and used the table throughout the week. The table had variable height so we raised it for the older children and they stood around it when they were working together. The week’s trial was a wonderful experience for all the children and teachers involved.
It was more than a year ago that we had the device in school and about two years from when I first discovered the device online and yet truly open multi-touch technology is yet to be seen in classrooms on any major scale. I know it will not be long and from this experience I realise how much time it takes to develop such a product. Durham University have also been working on the interactive desk idea and since my first contact with Philips Microsoft have developed the Surface, so momentum is growing.
I feel privileged that we had the opportunity to play our part, to represent education in the way that we did, putting new technology in the hands of our learners and hopefully help foster a new age of classroom based interactive devices.
All it took was one email, one knock on the door – I hope it encourages you to do the same.