Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Multi-touch and Interactive Whiteboards

What is multi-touch?

Basically it's using more than one finger or point of contact on a computer or electronic device's interface to control software programs using gestures (ex: pinching images to shrink them) or allowing more than one person to use a program (ex: 2 students writing with digital ink). You have most likely seen multi-touch in products like the i-phone, Microsoft Surface, the CNN touch screen used in the 2009 elections. Here's what wikipedia has to say:

Multi-touch is a human-computer interaction technique and the hardware devices that implement it. Multi-touch consists of a touch screen or touch tablet (touchpad) that recognizes multiple simultaneous touch points and software to interpret simultaneous touches.

So what?

It's the next generation of human interaction with machines! Microsoft's next operating system, Windows 7 will support multi-touch and the devices that support Windows 7 will be able to take advantage of these new applications & touch features. So if you're using a single touch whiteboard, you won't be able to tap into the true touch potential of Windows 7 and other software titles that will support multi-touch.

Benefits for Educators:

1. New and exciting way to interact with content & software in the classroom.

2. Collaboration have more than one student manipulating and using the computer at once.

3. Use natural & intuitive interfaces to allow special needs users to overcome physical & mental accessibility issues that limits their interaction with software & hardware.

4. Using unique gestures to demonstrate, manipulate, simulate, & model processes.

5. The sheer awesomeness and "cool" points you will earn by making your Venn Diagram activity look like a scene from Minority Report.

Do interactive whiteboards have multi-touch?

, SMART, HITACHI, InterWrite/e-instruction, & Promethean to name a few...

For today's post I'll show SMART and follow up with other brands later.


DVIT Plasma/LCD TV Overlay
Supports 2 points of contact

This is a digitizing frame that is placed on top of a compatible flat screen display and turns it into a giant touch screen or interactive whiteboard.

Feedback: Expensive solution (Overlay + Flat Screen TV), the single touch operation is good, but I've seen the multi-touch response act kind of funky, so it's not the most natural and smooth system. You have to get a "feel" for it as opposed to the other way around, meaning the technology should be compensate and understand your gestures and what you're trying to do as opposed to you touching it just right.

Supports more than 2 points of contact

The SMART Table is a multi-touch table that allows multiple students to play interactive games and participate in e-learning activities. It claims to be, "the first multitouch, multiuser interactive learning center that allows groups of primary students to work simultaneously on its surface. " That's funny, I thought that was the chalkboard. Just kidding.

Feedback: The SMART table is like a fisher price version of Microsoft Surface. I think the idea is there and it's a good concept product, but I can't imagine dropping $7K-$8K on this and only having 4-5 kids working on it. If it was a more scalable & affordable technology that could be built into classroom tables with software publishers actively creating content for it, then they would really have something. We will just have to wait and see...

I think this Surface Parody captures my skepticism on the SMART table:

SMART Board SBD600
New - Interactive Whiteboard
Supports 2 points of contact with certain restrictions.

The SMART Board SBD600 is SMART latest interactive whiteboard that allows 2 students to interact with it. It seems to be using their familiar touch resistive technology, so from my understanding they have achieved dual touch through hardware, firmware, & software tweaks. The writing area is divided into 2 sides and does require some physical pressure when making contact, but pretty cool for SMART lovers looking for dual input.

It seems to have Hitachi's limitation of dividing the screen area in half when 2 users are writing. I'm guessing so the board can register the points of contact more easily. If the two users are too close to each other it might confuse the board, so you can't have 2 students freely writing wherever they want. Because the points of contact needs to be some distance apart this board is NOT likely to support the cool hand gestures such as zooming in and out. However, having 2 students interacting is a plus nonetheless.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Content is King in the IWB game.

In fact it's the focus of SMART's latest ed-compass newsletter boasting a partnership with Cambridge University. SMART will soon be offering a new form of educational content by selling a subscription based search engine called SMART Learning Marketplace aka Global Grid for Learning (GGfL), a learning object repository that will allow teachers to search for content such as images, video, and text to build lessons. It's powered by a tech company called Atomic Assets and funded by Cambridge University. The content is coming from a collection of publishers linked with Cambridge University Press, and SMART is the sole US Distributor.

I took the SMART Learning Marketplace for a test drive, and saw some stuff from UK Learn Online, Bridgeman Education, and Cambridge-Hitachi, a joint company bewtween Hitachi and Cambridge that makes IWB software.

Ninja's Feedback on the SMART Learning Marketplace/GGfL:

So far the SMART Learning Marketplace looks a little lack luster, more of gimmick to "ooh and ahhh" district administrators. To be straight up, it looks like you're paying for a filtered and weaker version of google, just so you can quickly find that graphic of the Louisiana Purchase you so desperately need (if they even have it: see below).

SMART's Marketplace vs. Google Images

keyword "human heart"

SMART's Marketplace
Results = 72 results
Quality (a lot of the content I was NOT looking for)
Cost - Paid Subscription (estimating $100+/ month)
Terms & Conditions. No copyright infringement aka you won't get sued.

Google Images
Results = 3,770,000 results
Quality = (Excellent all sorts of images and diagrams)
Cost = Free
Terms & Conditions. Are you seriously worried about being busted for using an image in your lesson? don't let big brother scare you.

I think we can safely say google took that round. Save your money for professional development folks...

UK Pricing (SMART's pricing might be cheaper, but can be higher since they have to earn a profit)


This is the official GGfL site
This is SMART's Marketplace /GGFL site (same thing, just embedded)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Smart Notebook Viewer: Ninja-tastic!

Got a chance to use the notebook viewer and it works great. I downloaded some Notebook files from the SMART resource center and used their built-in annotation and selection tools to mark up lessons and interact with objects. The interface is basically a Read Only version of SMART's Notebook software, so you can't save your work, but overall a very nice program to have as a short-cut on your desktop.

  1. Ninja TIP for Saving Notebook Viewer work - If you do have a nice lesson and activity that you just viewed, marked up, and want to save your work. Just have your original whiteboard software running such as ActivStudio, Interwrite Workspace, Easiteach, etc... and use their capture feature to take screen shots of all your slides that you can import back into your own proprietary whiteboard formats, then export to a PDF, upload and share. You just can't go back and edit your work.
  2. Promethen and SMART users can convert each other's file formats back and forth (at least with later editions) I'll have to confirm for the latest versions, it's often kept hush-hush since IWB companies use pre-made lessons as a part of their selling strategies, and schools just eat them up.

Promethean also has a viewer application as well, and I'll have more on that soon!