How SMART Technologies transformed the classroom
Schools have come a long way since blackboards and notebooks – and one tech company has been instrumental in reshaping education
On a purely cosmetic level, the school classroom has changed little since education became compulsory in the 19th century. Tables and chairs sit neatly to face a whiteboard, with the teacher at the heart of every lesson. However, look closely at a modern-day classroom and you may notice a subtle difference from those of yesterday: technology.
Teachers and students now have digital tools at their disposal that have completely changed the learning possibilities in and out of the classroom. According to a recent survey from BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association), 71% of UK primary and 76% of secondary schools are now making use of tablets in the classroom. Furthermore, by the end of 2016, there were close to 1 million tablets available to students in classrooms across UK schools and academies.
With children becoming more digital savvy, the onus is on teachers to be able to keep up and communicate in a way their students understand. One piece of technology instrumental to this is the interactive whiteboard. The ability to create games, tests and bring students up to collaborate on the board, as well as traditional whiteboard duties, make interactive whiteboards a valuable classroom addition.
A leader in this field is Canada-based SMART Technologies. Founded in 1987 by David Martin and Nancy Knowlton, SMART introduced its first SMART Board interactive display in 1991. Its pioneering touch control allows teachers and students to work with applications and leave annotations using pens or their fingertips. Today, SMART has a range of three boards to fit various educational needs and budgets: the SMART Board 7000 series, 6000 and 2000. But it isn't just the hardware that's important SMART's software powers learning and, in the hands of the right teacher, can unlock the board's true potential.
The SMART Learning Suite combines all the tools and software needed to deliver lessons, assess students, create and execute game-based activities and foster collaboration in the classroom. SMART Notebook, for instance, allows teachers to create multimedia lessons from their work or home computer and run them through the board. SMART lab offers teachers the chance to make custom games for their students, while SMART amp is a collaborative workspace allowing multiple users to create content together.
Of course, cutting edge hardware and software alone isn't going to revolutionise education. A 2015 report from OECD stated that educational technology needs to work in tandem with good teaching in order to improve learning results. When Pinders Primary School in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, needed to upgrade its ICT offering, it teamed up with consultancy Elementary Technology and landed on SMART as a partner. As a school where 80% of students speak English as an additional language (EAL), Pinders sought a solution that could engage children through visuals.
"You need a lot of visuals, a lot of high stimulus to get them locked into reading, writing and maths," said Lorna Kemplay, head teacher of Pinders. "As an EAL school visual aspects are really important, they can't always understand what we're saying but if they can see it, they can understand it." Kemplay also stressed the importance of supporting the hardware with robust software. "If you only invest in the hardware it's a waste of money because you can't use it," she explained. "The reason we invested in SMART, in the hardware and the software, is because it was something they (the teachers) were all familiar with. With the new technology that we've bought into we've got a package that includes continuous professional development, so we get new information and get shown how to use it."
Kemplay added that training for the teachers was an important piece of the puzzle: "That's really essential and that's what we've had from Elementary Technology. Staff were really enthused about what they've been shown, how the iPads could link into the interactive whiteboards, how that means the whole class is going to be engaged at the same time, other than just a couple of children coming up and doing it."
It's a similar success story at Sharlston Community School in West Yorkshire. Head teacher Julie Dunderdale-Smith knew the school required a major technology upgrade, but was concerned about the cost. Like Pinders, Sharlston worked with Elementary Technology to conduct a health check and establish what equipment the school required. The solution came through SMART's ClaaS subscription, which allowed Sharlston to spread the cost over several years while upgrading the entire school at once.
"Elementary Technology gave us several options and one of the options was the SMART ClaaS where we're able to pay annually," said Dunderdale-Smith. "Financially it's meant we can plan ahead and have all of the SMART Boards installed in all of the classrooms.
"That meant that all the classes were having access to the latest technology. More importantly, the teachers were given all the new equipment they need to teach dynamic, engaging lessons. I'm confident that in every classroom the teachers and the children have got what they need."
Dunderdale-Smith added that SMART has made a monumental difference at Sharlston, with the technology leading to greater productivity in lessons. "I think the biggest thing for me is every single child that comes through that door now seems to be engaged with our lessons. Every single subject, every single child will want to be involved," she said. "Teachers have found it much easier to use than they thought they would. Some of the activities you'll see, they'll look really, really impressive but they're not that difficult to make."
SMART's influence spans beyond the UK, too. Around 3 million classroom worldwide are equipped with SMART hardware, while 5 million software downloads are registered annually. Budgets can often be stretched, but SMART's solutions have proved time and again that they're a strong fit for any forward-thinking educator.
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