By the end of next week we will have installed a SMART Table in my classroom. We are part of a small scale (3 school) seedling pilot here in England. As you can imagine, I am excited to further explore what such a device might offer within the primary classroom, and to do so over a longer period.
In my experience there was a muted reaction to the SMART Table (and other interactive multi-touch technologies) at the recent BETT show in London. Clearly the first reactions are hugely positive, I remember using the Philips Entertaible for the first time back in July 2006 – big iPhones! However there were very important, lingering questions that soon simmered to the surface when I talked with Christian Lortz, the product manager for the SMART Table.
My approach to the IWB has been the same since we began using them in 2002, it is not about the device but about the application – it is what you do with it that counts. The IWB is a big control device for your computer. The SMART Table is much the same with the added feature of multiple users. When you work with 9 and 10 year olds you realise that such novelty very quickly wears thin.
These are some fo the ideas and questions I have in mind in the run up to working with the SMART Table.
I am looking forward to exploring the types of software that can be written that takes full advantage of multiple users. At the moment the brief applications offer little in depth learning activities. With my own year group I suppose I want children to be able to engage with an activity independently or collaboratively for between 15-20 minutes. Not all the time of course, but in my experience children will work through things quicker then anticipated.
I hope our work with the SMART Table will help define software and applications of greater learning depth then what I have seen in the past. Beyond the initial novelty, leading to richer enhanced learning opportunities.
How do you track what individuals contribute to an activity? This is an important question for the adolescent multi-touch table. As a child approaches the table, I want their individual contribution to be tracked and monitored as an activity progresses. Who contributes most when working in a group? Who sits back?
Enhance or dilute?
The jury is out. A ready device is on it’s way to my classroom and I hope that in time the learning activities that can be provided for my class will enhance what we already do. Let’s hope that path is swift and the quality of what already is taking place in my classroom is not diluted by the novelty of multi-touch.
Can you stack them?
This was a question I put to the team at Durham University about the design of a suitable multi-touch table for the primary classroom. Mostly serious, I was keen to point out that I want furniture to be flexible so that I can clear room for a drama session or party. A stackable table-top device would be ideal. I am interested to see how the SMART Table integrates into our busy room and what the children make of it’s design. Will they be too big to sit around it comfortably?
We have explored the way that children can collaborate using Google Docs and their own laptop. This also includes the difficulties they often face. So I am keen to see how well they work in a more open, physical digital space. Will the manual style of collaboration change the way they work compared to working as a team in a Google Doc? Again I hope that software is developed that provides more in depth collaboration opportunities, perhaps over a longer period of time.
Of course I will be taking the opportunity to write about our experiences with the SMART Table in blog posts and via my Twitter and Flickr feed. I may even push the boat out and start a new Twitter account for our kids to document what they think.
I have been following the progression of multi-touch technology in primary education for about 4 years now and have been fortunate enough to see and use devices such as the Philips Entertaible in our school, and the early stages of the Durham University Synergy Net project. Looking back on some of the posts that I have written on the subject, there is a refrain about how long it will be before we see these devices in our classrooms.
Well they are here, ready to go. But once again the key thing is to quickly get beyond the novelty and develop applications that go beyond what can be conventionally done and seek out true learning enhancement.
What key issues do you think need to be addressed in regard to a multi-touch device? Does the SMART Table really have the potential to further enhance what we do in the primary classroom? If you have used one, what were your first impressions and what applications do you think have a future with such a device?
If you would like to contribute further to the concept of multi-touch desk development then please consider joining my Classroom 2.0 group.