The SMART Table, a 'first impression' hit at the BETT 2009 exhibition, has failed to prove its value in one of its first classroom evaluations.
Teacher Tom Barrett, who was provided with one at his school, Priestsic Primary in Sutton-in-Ashfield, by SMART distributor Steljes, delivered his first verdicts last week: "At the moment the SMART Table is not worth the money... it falls well short of delivering value for money. There is an awful lot you could do with £5,000 that would make a far greater impact on learning in schools." (Update: the pilot, which was due to continue next term, has been cut short.)
Tom Barrett gives comprehensive feedback on his blog and says the negativity comes down to three issues: "poor content; poor creation software and a straight-jacketed approach to multi-touch functionality". He refers to it as a Ferrari in a car park : "unable to get out of first gear and really flex its multi-touch muscle". The conclusions are undoubtedly a disappointment for Steljes and SMART, which have not yet made the SMART Table available for review, but they are also invaluable classroom feedback that ought to lead to a better product.
However, it's not all bad news. SMART's media application is identified as "the one shining ray of light". "I have posted videos of some of my children working with this program in the past," he writes. "It remains the only application that offers teachers and children an open environment to learn, and couples it with a unique interface with media. When you use this application you actually feel like you are using something innovative, multi-touch, gestural driven. As a teacher there is the capacity to use rich content of your choice (video) and then layer on top questions that engage the children in a much deeper way."
And Tom Barrett remains convinced of the worth of multi-touch technologies. This is how he puts it: "Those unfamiliar with my background with multi-touch technology in the classroom, may assume I am giving it a good knock here - but I believe in the medium, it definitely has something to offer the way children interact with media and digital resources, essentially the way they learn. This pilot is helping me and hopefully others understand more fully how that can be realised."
There's obviously a lot for SMART to consider here, and the first priority will be to make it easier for teachers to prepare their own materials. This is at the heart of Tom Barrett's analysis: "The payoff for a teacher creating SMART Table resources is woeful at the moment - and when I say payoff I mean the balance between our own precious preparation time and the time the children are engaged with the learning."