Early Doors

Kids have only been back in school for three days, but things seem to be going ok with the Great Smartboard Experiment.

Here are some things I’ve noticed:

  • There have been no complaints from teachers (well to me anyway…!) about the lack of Smart Notebook. There was a lot of  murmuring before the change about how it would be such a disaster etc., but now we’ve begun, it seems that teachers have found that using Explain Everything and a mirrored iPad isn’t so bad after all.
  • Some of the die-hard naysayers of Explain Everything have even told me that they love it!  Things like the laser pointer are really handy.
  • Nearly all teachers are giving Explain Everything a go.  I noticed that one teacher was using their own MacBook and Notebook on the first day, but it turned out that they had just forgotten to bring in their iPad that day…
  • Continuing staff training is still needed, such as with getting the hand of AirPlay mirroring or making use of how Explain Everything stops the iPad display from going to sleep.
  • Sometimes just using the Mac and PowerPoint or Safari and YouTube does the job fine.

I probably should do some more in-depth enquiries into what’s working for teachers, and what could work even better.  In many ways this is quite a seismic change to classroom practice and I think it will need continuing vision-casting and support.

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Thoughts on Notebook

As I’ve mentioned before, from September we are getting rid of SMART Notebook in our school and unplugging all the the SMARTboards. This is not a move without controversy and so there is a certain amount of vision-casting that will need to be done with staff to explain why this happening.  To help me get my thinking straightened out with it all, I thought I would do a preemptive response to possible/probably questions about it all.

I don’t see what’s wrong with Notebook

In our school, about a quarter of the installed boards are so old that they are no longer supported by SMART and so don’t work.  Another quarter are non-SMART interactive LCD displays that can’t be touch enabled and still use Notebook (due to licensing issues). Of the other half of boards that are reasonably new and should (in theory) work, a good proportion of them suffer from some damage to the surface which means they are pretty unusable on a day-to-day basis.

So the options are:

  1. Carry on as we are, with a few pioneers using Explain Everything on a mirrored iPad to give true interactivity, with everyone else using Notebook as a glorified slide deck
  2. Replace all of the boards with new SMARTboards
  3. Ditch SMART Notebook and unplug SMARTboards and move over to mirroring iPads using Explain Everything
Option Pros Cons
1 Teachers already know what they’re doing. Previous years’ resources can be reused. No or limited interactivity. Costs involved with updating Notebook software (which will inevitably need to be done following OSX upgrades) – an unknown, but could potentially be £kkk.
2 Teachers already know what they’re doing. Interactivity is restored. Very expensive and means budget cannot be spent on other stuff, like more class sets of iPads.
3 Reliable interactive surface is the iPad. Can make use of all the power of the iPad in the classroom, through camera, microphone etc. Taking the school forward rather than sticking with a fading and disrupted technology that is the SMARTboard. Teachers have to learn a new tool. Previous years’ resources cannot easily be reused. Potential opposition from staff!

Ok, so I can see that we need to make a change. But can’t we just keep Notebook anyway?

What is interesting is that we’ve had a year of this situation, and only a few teachers have taken up using an iPad instead of Notebook on the Mac.  Teachers are busy people who have got plenty of other things to think about, and I guess tweaking your pedagogy to incorporate new technology isn’t high on the list of priorities.  But if we don’t make a move, we may suddenly hit a brick wall in the future.  Say, for example, Notebook 11 doesn’t work on OSX Yosemite come Autumn.  Do we hold back our Macs to keep Notebook working?  Or pay lots of money for licensing the newer Notebook?

What’s so great about using a mirrored iPad and Explain Everything?

  • Cameras = visualiser anywhere in the classroom
  • You can teach from any point in the classroom – no wires!
  • You can teach facing your class
  • No need to align your interactive display on a daily/hourly basis ;-D
  • Cool screen recording stuff
  • Multi-touch interaction of onscreen elements
  • Using a user interface that is designed for touch

How can I write?

Classrooms have all got some other form of whiteboard/flipchart if you want to do some proper modelled writing.  But for scribing stuff, we’re investing in some proper capacitive styluses for teachers to use.

How can I share files across my year group?

We have a webDAV server that is accessible in and outside of school using the normal secure logins.  This allows you to open Explain Everything files from the shared drive and export them back there again.

What if I desperately need to open a Notebook file from previous years?

SMART have an online version of Notebook at http://express.smarttech.com where you can open files from your computer.

SMART Notebook 11

Well, SMART Notebook 11 is here. And it’s not bad. It feels a lot more up-to-date, particularly on the Mac version, and includes interesting features like the ability to embed a live web page onto a page. Stability is also good, as is compatibility with Lion. It seems like a good, solid update and we’ll be rolling it out across the school when we reimage during the holidays.

However, not the same thing can be said for ‘Smart Ink’, a bit of software that installs with the Board Tools, which are the drivers needed for running any attached Smartboards. Smart Ink puts a little horrible green button onto every and any window, allowing you to write all over the window and then move the window around, keeping all the writing attached. Not a bad idea I suppose, but it does add a whole level of ugliness to the OSX interface, which isn’t good. The fact that the green button wobbles around the screen in a very Windowsy way whenever a window is moved doesn’t help either. Hmmm.

But in SMART’s defence, I was impressed that every ageing Smartboard we attached to our new Mac minis did seem to work fine. That sort of backwards-compatibilty is very un-Apple, but saves us a load of money!

SMART Notebook 11

Whilst I am not the greatest fan of Smartboards, they certainly do have good customer service! After sending an email to them in Canada, asking of OSX 10.7 Lion would ever really be supported, they emailed me back to inform me of a soon-to-arrive Notebook 11 software. Amongst its other features, it has full Lion support (yay!). Hopefully they will still support 500 series Smartboards too, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

Lion and interactive whiteboards

Today I made the happy discovery that even our aged 580 series Smartboards work with Lion. Yay! Our school has been gradually buying Smartboards over the last decade, which means some classrooms have some very antique models (with serial to USB cables and the old-style round erasers.  I once rang Smart’s UK technical support about one of these boards and they were in complete shock that they still worked at all…). I was not looking forward to paying thousands to replace them when we either bought new Lion Macs or upgraded from Snow Leopard.

Smart still claim that OSX 10.7 isn’t officially supported by their Notebook software, but they have released a patch that fixes things up well enough.