I just got a letter (dated June 14) from the folks at SMART, makers of SMARTboards, etc. I’ve included the full text of the letter below, in case the link doesn’t work. It wasn’t sent to me personally, but rather sent out to licensed users of their products.
As I have mentioned before, I really like SMART hardware, but SMARTboards are expensive and not very portable. I’ve also documented a $50 DIY alternative, based on the Nintendo Wii controller, which has fewer features but can fit in a large pocket. The SMART software is also very good, but there are several alternatives and workarounds that can accomplish many of the same things.
This puts SMART in a difficult position. They have been selling their hardware and giving away their software for “free”. (It’s free the way a drink is free at Taco Bell if you buy a taco.) Unfortunately for SMART, edupunks who have access to an LCD projector can build the equivalent hardware for $50. I’ve been told from other people who have built their own interactive whiteboards that the best possible combination is the “free” SMART software on the more portable DIY hardware, which works with any LCD projector. So, now SMART is trying to clarify that their software is only “free” if you buy or use their hardware.
This seems like a losing battle for SMART. The RIAA’s approach to penalize consumers who copied music did not make sense but offering reasonably priced songs on sites like iTunes did. Hollywood was heading the same direction by threatening uploaders of copyrighted material until a compromise was reached that gives the copyright holder a share of revenue generated by ads next to their videos. Now that is smart.
What is the solution for SMART? Well, they could start by being clearer about the price of software — it isn’t free. They could also be clearer about how to purchase SMART software to use on other hardware (so called “Restricted Products,” below). They seem to be doing this in this letter, but is that it? I understand SMART’s desire to protect the products they have developed, but treating customers and users of SMART products as scofflaws does not engender much good will.
Our college just got a SMARTboard and two other interactive whiteboards made by SMART’s competitors and put them in the same room so that they can be evaluated head-to-head-to-head. I’ve suggested setting up a $50 Wii-based version as well. May the best interactive whiteboard win.
June 14, 2010
To all SMART customers:
SMART Technologies has been investing in SMART Notebook™ collaborative learning software for 15 years. We update and improve our software regularly based on feedback from our users, and we are currently developing version 11. Soon we will release a service pack for version 10 that will be accompanied by a revised licensing agreement, which addresses in more detail the permitted use of SMART Notebook software.
It has come to our attention that misleading or incorrect information about the use of SMART Notebook software is being provided. In advance of the software update, we are writing to confirm the permitted use of SMART Notebook software to help you make informed choices.
When you purchase any of the following eligible “Licensed Product,”
· SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard
· SMART Board interactive display
· SMART Response™ interactive response system
· SMART Podium™ interactive pen display
· SMART Document Camera
a SMART Notebook license is included with the product and you are permitted to use the software on any computer connected to these Licensed Products. SMART Notebook software may also be used on a reasonable number of computers associated with your district or school that are not connected to a pen or touch-enabled devices. This permits teachers to use the software at home to create lessons for use on their Licensed Products in the classroom.
The license agreement does not, however, normally permit the use of SMART Notebook software when a computer is connected to a restricted pen- or touch-enabled device (“Restricted Product”). Restricted Products include, but are not limited to, any touch-enabled or pen-enabled devices that are not on the Licensed Products list above, including the following:
· Interactive whiteboards
· Interactive projector systems
· Display screens
· Screen digitizing devices or slates
To provide options for our customers and enable access to .notebook files by anyone, anywhere, on any device, including Restricted Products, we offer the SMART Notebook Express™ web application, found at express.smarttech.com.
If you have any questions regarding or wish to inquire about use of SMART Notebook software with Restricted Products, please contact SMART at 1.866.518.6791 and follow the voice prompt to press 7 for SMART Notebook license. You can also send us an e-mail at email@example.com with “SMART Notebook license” in the subject line.
Last quarter I received a Smartboard to use for the quarter on a trial basis via the TELR Smart SEED program at Ohio State. I’ve been really impressed with how smoothly the Smartboard works as an interface. Compared to the $50 Wii-based version, the Smartboard requires much less calibration and feels more natural without the LED pen. In short, it’s a really slick product. However, the sheer size of the portable version has been a big barrier to me.
Unfortunately, as you can see / hear in the above video, the model I was given was a bit awkward to move and we were not able to find a good place to store it aside from leaving it in the classroom, which was not secure. I did manage to find a couple of rooms that had permanently mounted Smartboards, which were fantastic, but I wasn’t actually able to regularly use the one I was given.
It would be great to have a Smartboard in every room, but this is a huge initial investment. Before making this committment, we need to decide that this is a worthwhile investment. To make this decision, we should give teachers experience with them. I think this catch-22 can be solved by distributing the $50 Wiimote-based version to decide if it’s worth making the larger committment.
There are lots of articles out there that talk about how interactive whiteboards are transformative, but when you read through the examples of how the technology is used, many of the examples do not fully exploit the technology (i.e. writing can be done on a traditional whiteboard, movies can be projected on a traditional screen).
So, I’m going back to encouraging teachers to build and use $50 interactive whiteboard, but I’m also going to encourage them to use Smartboards, if they are available. (Another alternative would be to combine the Smartboard software with the Wii-mote-based hardware, but the Smarttech requires a separate license to do this.)
I’m compiling uses for interactive whiteboards by tagging them with me Delicious account (see them at http://delicious.com/eslchill/iwb). If you have ideas for innovative uses, please share them. The technology can be transformational, but I’m not sure we’ve found the “killer app” yet.
This site links to several popular classroom games including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Matching, all of which pull questions from an XML file, which means they can be customized for your words and phrases! Instructional videos for doing this are linked from the website.
There are also a few games tailored specifically to the interactive whiteboard-equipped classroom. One of these is a fridge magnet letters game which allows students to drag and drop letters of their choosing. Another, which I think is even more ingenious, is called Rouleaux. It works like a slot machine with three spinning reels (a two-reel version is also available) which randomly selects topics from a given category. The results of each spin can be used to generate ideas for roleplaying, impromtu speeches, and many other activities. Again, the best part is that the game is cutomizable; You can choose different combinations of reels (for example, the “body” reel at left) and even create your own. How great!
I’m thrilled to have found activities that are so customizable. Being able to adapt and change them makes these resources exponentially more valuable.
Peter, our indispensable ESL tech support, recently pointed out Zoom It to me. It’s part of the Microsoft Sys Internals Suite. From what I gather, a couple of software developers named Bryce Cogswell and Mark Russinovich came up with these utilities to do things that the crew in Redmond didn’t think of. Eventually, they formed their own company to promote them which was purchased my Microsoft. To learn more, search for some of these names on Wikipedia. I’m sure there is an interesting and geektastic story behind all of it, but I digress.
Microsoft Sys Internals includes utilities like Zoom It.
For users of Wii-based interactive whiteboards, ZoomIt may be very useful. After a hotkey is pressed, ZoomIt gives you the ability to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around, and write on the screen. It works with all versions of windows and at only 129KB to download, it’s a pretty efficient little piece of software.
I haven’t used this myself, but it seems like it could be pretty useful. If you try it, leave me a comment and tell me what you think
Ivan and I presented the $50 Interactive Whiteboard to a standing-room-only audience of other teachers of English to speakers of other languages at Ohio TESOL this weekend. Not only have I now distributed all five from my original Ohio TESOL grant, but I’ve also got over a dozen people signed up for test drives. Looks like I need to write another grant.
If you’re reading this and you’re a member of Ohio TESOL, let me know if you’re interested in test-driving this technology. We might be able to put one in your hands soon!
An Infrared LED as seen through the camera on a cell phone.
Look at it through your cell phone’s camera. What a great tip! 8 more can be found at Wiimote Project.com. I’m a little bit behind the curve on some of this stuff, but they’ve got great info on building IR pens for Wiimote interactive whiteboards and building them right.
Next week, Ivan and I present our progress at Ohio TESOL. From there, one or both of us will be headed to TESOL and, if accepted, CALICO. If you see us, come say, “Hi!”
I got a chance to use the $50 Interactive Whiteboard in class today and it worked … eventually. I won’t say there weren’t challenges, but most of them were due to the fact that I had just downloaded everything to my Macbook this morning and wasn’t really comfortable with the setup. It seems that the Wiimote’s bluetooth connection needs to be configured from scratch every time. I’ll soon be very good at doing this quickly, I suspect. Once I get the exact steps figured out, I’ll post them
Yesterday, my Field Experience class took a tour of the Ohio Statehouse and I couldn’t resist including a Hot Potatoes matching activity as part of the Jeopardy PowerPoint game that I created to review the information we covered before and during the trip. The two students who tried it took to the IR pen very naturally, as you can see in the pictures. Their teammates enjoyed cheering them on as they completed the activity.
The only problems were a result of my design. Because I was in a rush, I included the pictures without any editing. Even shrunk to 200 pixels, they were pretty big and the column of five extended below the bottom of the screen. Using thin little scrollbars at the side of a window can be a little too delicate for a student picking up the pen for the first time. I’ve since cropped the pictures. Give it a try!
I plan to try a few more ideas and activities to work the bugs out. Stay tuned
I’ve been buying up parts galore for my $50 Interactive Whiteboard grant. Got 5 Wiimotes and am working on 2 pens for each. (I’ve bought up 2 Radio Shacks worth of infrared LEDs!) So far Bob and Ivan have theirs are are working on ways to use them.
Here are some photos of Bob taking his for a test drive. It definitely takes some getting used to. It’s easy to block the camera or change the angle of the pen, which can affect where the infrared light beam shines and, consequently, where the computer reads your mouseclick.
But, it’s lots of fun. Bob left with a big grin and is eager to bring this technology to the classroom. Special thanks again to Peter, ESL Tech Support, for helping to get everything up and running smoothly. Look for more early results soon.
Just got back from a weeklong family vacation and have good news: I have been awarded a $500 grant by Ohio TESOL to create 5 Interactive Whiteboard prototypes (5 cameras, 10 IR pens). So, I’ll have one in my classroom starting this fall (as soon as I get everything uploaded to my MacBook) and so will a couple of colleagues who expressed an interest. That leaves two more, so, if you’re reading this, you’re an ESL (or other language) teacher in Ohio, and you’re interested in trying one out, leave me a comment. I might just send you one.
Here is the video from my demonstration last week. I’ve included examples of interacting with web documents, text documents, hot potatoes activities, Google Maps, games, and more. I even gave Rob his Wiimote back and bought my own. (Thanks for the longterm loan, Rob!) The next step is to put the software on my Macbook so that I can use it in any classroom equipped with a digital projector, which is almost all of the ones I teach in.