Chris Drage gets tactile with new software for the SMART Table
For many children with severe learning difficulties, opportunities to feel immersed in the flow of interaction can be few and far between: the need to develop skills and improve performance has been given more priority in teaching and learning in recent years over simple, creative and playful activities.
In 2005 a project called Reactive Colours, led by Wendy Keay-Bright, reader in inclusive design at Cardiff School of Art and Design, conducted two years of research which led to ReacTickles, software that has proved equally engaging for early learners as for the original research group, children with autistic spectrum conditions. Now it has been taken a stage further and is being made available for the SMART Table.
The original research included teaching staff and children with autistic spectrum conditions aged between four and seven years, in design and evaluation of technology solutions. Reactive Colours aimed to provide a software interface through which individuals with autistic spectrum differences and learning disabilities can be encouraged to use computers, and through which they can develop mouse, keyboard, programming and screen skills.
The project succeeded, and ReacTickles provides an engaging, accessible computer environment for spontaneous imaginative play and learning, in which even the most anxious autistic children can relax and communicate. The 10 activities (the ‘reactickles’) are accessed from a clock-like screen interface design and are structured to provide an easy-to-use, flexible guide to integrating the software into the curriculum in a manner that is rewarding and fun.
ReacTickles can be used with an interactive whiteboard, any desktop or laptop computer, mouse, keyboard, switch, microphone and other adaptive devices. However, I was recently able to try the SMART Table version of the software and, like ducks and water, I instinctively felt that ReacTickles has found its natural medium.
The SMART Table is a multi-touch, multi-user interactive learning centre for primary pupils. Designed to encourage collaboration, discussion and consensus building, the table gives early primary pupils a gathering place to explore digital lessons, play educational games and work together on interactive learning activities. Groups of pupils can simultaneously touch objects on the surface and enjoy a playful kind of learning.
The possibilities for fun and teamwork are limitless on the table – from sliding an elephant across the surface, to following a trail of clues or mapping the human body. The ReacTickles software is just so intuitive and easy to use in this environment. As a more-than-just-mature adult I felt the relaxation and sheer pleasure that comes from interacting with the multicoloured shapes and lines – an experience further enhanced when two or more individuals join in. When I was a young child the nearest thing we had to this was watching angel fish lazily swimming in an aquarium – the BBC’s TV intermission film! It was passive, non-interactive and in black and white...
The experience of using ReacTickles on a SMART Table encourages exploration and it is easy to understand the effect such experiences can have on children on the autistic spectrum. During a morning spent previewing ReacTickles at TAG Learning's Kennington base in London, it was pleasing to note that the response of the SMART Table was fast enough to cope with multiple inputs in all but the most complex of the software activities. Only in one activity in the pre-production versiondid I we manage noticeably stall the processor for a few seconds.
A marriage made in heaven? Quite possibly. The Smart Table (described somewhat disparagingly in its first release as "a Ferrari in a car park") seems at last to be getting software it deserves. If the SMART Table champions anything it is collaborative interaction. ReacTickles champions non-judgemental, free expression where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ cease to exist. Overall impressions? Excellent!!
Ratings (preliminary – out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 4
SMART Table software for early learners and children with autism spectrum conditions, £49 ex VAT
BLi Group, Angel House, Sherston, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0LH
Tel: 01666 843222
Fax: 01474 537 887?http://www.taglearning.com/
More informationChris Drage will be writing full reviews of both the SMART Table and ReacTickles.