A SMART Approach

Insights from the Director of Program Management at the global whiteboard company.

David Lapides of SMART Technologies - EducationDavid Lapides, a former educator (pictured), joined SMART Technologies in 2004. He is SMART’s Director,  Program Management – Education and is responsible for SMART’s global vision and product strategy within the education segment. Prior to joining the company, David was Vice President – Operations for ExploreLearning Inc., makers of the widely used online simulations for math and science known as Gizmos. He was Director of Product Development for Texas-based ActiveInk Corporation, providers of online curriculum and professional development materials. He was also an instructor and researcher in the prestigious Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was also Assistant Director for Lower-Division Writing. David is a native of Memphis, Tennessee and a graduate of Amherst College and the University of Texas at Austin. Here, we go behind the scenes with David to dig up some data on what’s happening, what’s new and in which direction the nearly billion-dollar global company that is SMART Technologies is moving — specifically in regards to education.

Victor: SMART recently made a couple of interesting announcements: first came news of a new software suite called ‘SMART amp’. And then that software was linked with Google. Can you provide a bit of background and strategy on those two announcements and why they came now?

SMART ampDavid: At SMART we’ve been serving education customers for more than 25 years. And for most of that time we’ve been known as a hardware company – the leading provider of interactive displays in the world. That remains true today. But what is often overlooked is that we for many years have also offered the world’s most popular collaborative learning software – Notebook. It’s been the ‘glue’ that’s allowed our interactive whiteboards and other hardware like response systems and document cameras to work seamlessly together to make teaching more effective and students more engaged in their lessons.

The ‘learning hardware’ of today is changing rapidly. A few years ago it might have meant an interactive display at the front of the classroom. But now it not only includes those displays, clickers and document cameras, it also includes PCs, tablets like the iPad and smartphones. Many students are bringing their own devices to class (BYOD). And students want to use those personal devices to learn anytime, anywhere – not just in the classroom. So we wanted to come up with a solution that would address that issue and that’s where SMART amp software comes in.

It’s a web-based software suite, rich in collaborative learning resources, designed specifically for mobile devices, and integrated with some of the widely-used Google cloud services.  We’re confident that when SMART amp software launches commercially in April of 2014 it will provide teachers the flexibility to engage students in all types of learning – from whole-class instruction to collaborative group work to individual student projects and presentations. The browser-based software also helps teachers ensure that students have a consistent collaborative learning experience no matter what SMART Board® system, PC, laptop, tablets or mobile device are available to them.

Victor: Why now with Google? What prompted the partnership?

SMART amp diagramDavid: Google is very much committed to education through Google Apps and Google Apps for Education.  A recent study by White Stratus showed that 58 percent of the education sector uses at least one product from Google Apps, and Google Apps for Education is used by 30 million students, faculty and staff worldwide. As for SMART, more than 2.4 million of our interactive displays are used by over 50 million students and their teachers – so working with Google is a great fit for us and our customers.

Teachers and students log in to SMART amp software through their Google ID from any web browser. SMART amp software is integrated with Google Drive, allowing educators to share lesson materials with their class and students to share content with each other.

Victor: This partnership seems to mark a shift in focus for SMART – what does this say about your philosophy going forward? Why the shift?

SMART mobile learningDavid: At SMART we’ve realized for a long time that collaboration is a critical skill for student development. Now it’s clear to us that schools are ready for a whole new kind of technology-supported collaboration — something that requires lots of different kinds of technology and a ‘glue’ like SMART amp software to allow those technologies to work together.

With more and more students and school districts adopting mobile device strategies, we want to make sure they get the most out of these devices. We don’t want to see kids with their head down, buried in their device not connecting with others – that means it’s a lousy collaboration tool. But it can be a valuable tool with a software suite like SMART amp. To make it even better, we have plans to join with scores of partners that will create even more content for teachers and students to use.

Victor: I recall a recent media release about your SMART Notebook and something new called Notebook Advantage and that it’s going to be a subscription product. Does that mean the days of Notebook being ‘free’ have come to an end?

David: Yes – sort of. The analogy we sometimes use to explain that shift is that for years, SMART has been like a shaving company. We sold you the razor and supplied the blades free of charge for the life of the razor. That’s going to change. We’ll still provide the razor (or in this case an interactive display) and for one year you’ll get all the support and services you need to ensure you get the most from your product. After that one year, you’ll have the option of subscribing to Notebook Advantage to ensure you receive all the most up-to-date plug-ins, service and support you’ll need.  We’re doing this so we can deliver better performance for Notebook users with more functionality and on more operating systems.

Victor: You also put out an announcement with Epson – one of your competitors when it comes to interactive projectors. What’s the explanation behind that strategy?

David: Essentially, SMART has reached a point where we want our software and content to be ‘operating system and hardware agnostic’ ; no matter what type of interactive hardware you’re using, we want you to be able to use SMART Notebook, SMART amp software, and have access to SMART Exchange, our online community that currently offers about 65,000 digital resources. The agreement with Epson means they can offer SMART Notebook software with their line of interactive projectors.

We are also now offering site licenses for Notebook. There are many school districts that use several brands of interactive whiteboards and the software that goes with them. We want to make it easier for districts to standardize on one software platform like Notebook. That can allow districts to save time and money on training and professional development.

Victor: A general question: What’s your take on education these days?

SMART personalized learningDavid: That’s a really big question. We think there are a lot of exciting things going on in education today, all over the world.  But there are some really hard challenges and an awful lot of complexity. Our focus at SMART is, and always has been, making it easy for teachers to create engaging and meaningful learning environments with their students through the effective use of technology. That’s what we’re good at, and we think there’s a place for that in every education jurisdiction in which we do business.

Victor: Alright let’s have some fun: what are your thoughts on the future of education?

David: The next 10 years or so will be especially interesting.  We are approaching the point in history where the majority of classroom teachers will have grown up with technology being an important part of their lives — so called ‘digital natives’.  We think about this a lot when we design our education products.

Victor:  As we move into a new year, what are your thoughts on a few trends to watch out for? What’s on your own shortlist? Why those?

SMART products for educationDavid: Cloud-based collaboration and the next generation of touch-sensitive displays, of course!  But also, the maker movement is especially interesting as more and more people embrace the potential of technology.

Victor: Any advice you have, words of wisdom for educators these days?

David: I think my primary advice would be to try and stay as flexible as possible when it comes to adopting education technology. That way educators will enjoy using that technology with their students a whole lot more!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.blog

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