SMART Tables – The New Blackboards

SMARTTable1.jpgWhen I was a little girl, starting school, I would marvel at my teacher’s skills and abilities to use coloured chalk to create intricate artworks on the blackboard.  People, animals and landscapes would all begin to emerge from the blackness.  Can you imagine how devastated I was when she took a wet cloth at the end of the week and washed away all these beautiful pictures?  However, come Monday morning, a colourful new artwork would take its place, assuaging the loss felt at seeing these creations washed away.  Even the invention of the whiteboard and markers never seemed to quite match my expectations.

Now there is something totally new that has caught my attention.  The SMART Table!  This isn’t just the future of enquiry-based learning in the classroom; it’s THE future of interactive knowledge searching and totally adaptable for use in libraries.

A SMART Table is like a giant tablet or iPad which stands on a pedestal.  However, unlike tablet-based technology, it can handle more than one person’s touch at a time.  In fact, it can interpret up to forty separate simultaneous touches at a time, as it uses a multi-touch sensor to differentiate the different touches.  This means that forty people can manipulate images on the table at any one time, depending on the setup.  This multi-touch sensor also recognises assistive-touch probes for those with a motor-skill disability and is wheelchair friendly.  It comes pre-loaded with 1500 different school activities and applications, which can be customised via the toolkit and a wireless internet connection.  The collaborative learning capabilities of this technology are astounding.

So what does this have to do with libraries?

Noosa Council has already introduced them into their Cooroy and Noosaville Libraries.  What’s more, they are not just for kids.  This new technology is being used to deliver interactive workshops to the community.  Writer’s groups are using it to brainstorm writing sessions.  Seniors are using it to take part in brain-health gaming activities.  Jigsaw puzzles can be manipulated without the fear that a piece will be dropped on the floor and a gap will be left in the puzzle.  Community groups can use it to interact with their own specific programs.  What a boon for family tree researchers and local history buffs.  The Council has even provided interactive flood maps and land use plans for residents to inspect.

Imagine how cool it would be to have a group of people working on a 3D project.  They could design something collaboratively and then print it out on the library’s 3D printer.  SMART Tables encourage creativity and interactivity.  They return that element of playing back into technology.  They beg to be touched.  This is the kind of trend we can expect to see in Australian libraries in the very near future.  Gone are the days of just coming to the library to borrow a book.  Libraries are becoming community centres where people come to interact and exchange ideas, engage in hands-on activities and share their expertise with others.

SMARTTable2.jpgSMART Tables vs SMART Boards

SMART Tables are the natural evolution of SMART Boards, which have only been around for about four years, and interactive whiteboards.  The advantage that SMART Tables have over SMART Boards is that they are accessible to everyone.  Not everyone can reach the wall mounted Boards but everyone can access the Tables as they can be set horizontally at any desired height.  SMART Boards, being wall mounted, are useful for teachers but are really designed to be used with a computer.  The SMART Table is the computer.  Up to four headphones can be used at the same time, as well as USB connectivity and access.  Their surfaces are scratch resistant and can cope with liquid spillages.  They can also sustain up to 90 kg of weight so users can lean on the tabletop without fear of damaging the electronics.  Because SMART Boards use projectors to display information on the Boards, they are susceptible to shadowing.  In other words, if you put your hand in front of the projects display, you will not be able to see behind the shadow of your hand.  Whereas, SMART Tables display from within, so you can’t block the display when pointing to something on the screen.

The Future

It’s easy to envision the use of SMART Tables by family or local history groups.  Photos can be downloaded wirelessly from portable devices and easily manipulated for display purposes or arranged prior to printing. Touching a photo might reveal more print information for the user without interfering with another’s view of their part of the table.  Picture story books could be created by small children.  After all, small children are not afraid of technology and tend to embrace new smart devices, as if they were toys.  SMART Tables promote teamwork, sharing and social interaction, giving all users equal opportunities to manipulate the display.

Yes, you can still see chalk art on footpaths and some of it is quite exquisite but I love technology and the applications are limitless.  As these types of technology become more affordable, we can expect an explosion in the cheap availability of interactive devices.  Microsoft has already countered with their Surface Table so you can expect a flood of such devices onto the market in the next twelve months.  Now, I wonder what my Kindy teacher would think of all this?

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