Making Sense of Touch Screens

In November I found a new position working at Prowise. Prowise is a manufacturer of interactive touch screens and my job is to help spread the word about just how good Prowise Touch Screens are and the possibilities they create.

When I joined Prowise in many ways I felt like I was coming home; a strange emotion for someone starting at a company but I’d spent so long in the IWB industry that I realised that this is where I do my best work and am happiest. I’d first got up close and personal to an IWB when I won a research contract to evaluate the Whiteboard rollout at St Thomas Aquins School in Edinburgh. A few years later I was tempted into a commercial role and left the hallowed halls of academia.  Joining Prowise and starting at a company that innovates ruthlessly and won’t take second-best in any circumstance is very exhilarating – and just a bit scary.

One of the tasks I set myself over the break, was some in-depth research on the touch screen market, and all the other companies who make touch screens and market them to education.  I’m stupidly nosey which means I love to know what products and services the competition are offering.

This research took quite a chunk of the Christmas break, and I approached it by visiting the websites of all of the main players in the market and really spending time getting to know their solutions and what they thought was good about their kit.  I also spent some time pretending to be a teacher, member of SLT or IT Manager who was trying to make sense of the touch screen market.

  1. Would the websites help me make decision?
  2. Would I be faced with endless technical jargon and other rubbish?
  3. Would I know what to buy and why to buy it?

I knew what I would find before I even started the task; and the results surprised me not one bit.

So here are my conclusions:

1: The market is complicated and opaque.  Making sense of each company’s offering is difficult.  It is easy to get bamboozled by technical jargon, and if that isn’t bad enough, you have to also wade through endless marketing guff distilled into trite phrases such as: ‘breaking down the barriers to communication‘; ‘setting the classroom free‘; ‘touching your better self‘ and so on.  (These are all invented examples of course, but you get the idea!)

2: Most manufacturers have too many product lines which confuses people even more.  Choice is having meaningful decisions to make, rather than being faced with a huge list of “blah, blah blah”.  Often touch screens are divided into ‘corporate’ and ‘education’ models.  Too many times this is the identical touch screen, just bundled with different software. Often you pay more for the corporate model which means you are shelling out hard-earned cash for some second rate software which in other circumstances the manufacturer couldn’t give away for free. I’m no business guru, but my feeling is that post-2008 companies are equally as careful with how they spend their money as schools, so why rip them off? Some manufacturer’s models differ by just a single number e.g. EF-455B and EF455B2 but are quite different (HD versus 4K for instance).

3: Software is a huge problem.  Software is needed to get the most out of any touch screen solution, I knew that even as a young and foolish researcher in a windswept Edinburgh in 2003, but so many manufacturers do not let you trial their software, so you have to wait until you are a customer or get a demo. This is not good; if the software is as good as you think it is, then let people try it out for themselves. If you are going to charge extra for software then this is a perfectly logical business model, but you need to let people browsing your website know this sooner rather than later. They will be putting together a budget for the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for this stuff!!

4:  People will easily get confused about whether the boards come with a mainboard or not. The trend is for manufacturers to add a basic Android computer or similar mini-PC-thingy to a screen so that you can switch it on and get access to features such as whiteboarding or even browsing without the need to connect a PC. Whether the screen had a mainboard or not and what it could do was clear on only a handful of manufacturer’s websites.  This is not a minor thing, being able to use the screen without a PC could be crucial for what you need the screen for.

I ended up with a 35 page document of my findings.  But the 4 points above are a fair distillation of what I found.  Maybe I approached the exercise in too cynical a frame of mind? Perhaps I’m just an old ed-tech lag hankering after days of simplicity which are long gone?

And Prowise? Where does Prowise fit into this….

Let’s look back at the 4 points:

1: Complex and Opaque
Prowise put the most important information on a single web page so you can compare the boards easily.  If you want more technical information to feed your inner geek we can give that to you until your eyes roll back in your head, but when you are looking for the salient points you get them. Simple

2: Complex Product Lines
Prowise have just 2 product lines, EntryLine and Proline+
The product line names explain what the products are. All screens are 4k. EntryLine screen sizes are:  65, 75, 86, Proline+  are: 65 and 75. Simple.

3: Inacccessible software
Prowise boards come with Prowise Presenter software.  This is cloud-based whiteboarding software and we offer a free account to everyone, whether the school has a Prowise Screen or not.  You can click the button at the top right of the Prowise.com site to create your free account. This is full access to all features of Presenter, nothing locked or disabled.  So you can try our software out to see if it works for you on any screen. Simple.

4. Mainboard or not?
Prowise boards (EntryLine and Proline+) come with Prowise Central pre-loaded, this is a mainboard running Android. This means you can start the screen with no PC and get whiteboarding.  Want to save your stuff?  Save it to the mainboard memory or take a snapshot of a QR code with your phone and it transfer there immediately.  Need to check something out online? A browser is included.  Want to change source because you finally decided to plug your laptop in? Just select the source from the OnScreen menu and off you go.  Launch Prowise Central by placing your 5 fingers on the screen. Do what you need to do, then dismiss it. Simple.

It. Is. That. Simple.

If want to see what Prowise can do for your school then we’ll come and do a demo for you.
Just don’t expect us to ‘touch your better self’ 😉

 

 

 

The different genres of CPD

The way that teachers ‘do’ professional development has probably changed more over the last 5 years than in the last 100.  The notion of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is key to allowing teachers to evolve their practice within the classroom and develop new strategies to support their learners.  Teaching was once seen as a profession you trained for, but once you trained your skills did not need updating; the training college had equipped you with everything you needed to succeed. This notion has long disappeared and been replaced with the idea that teachers need to constantly adapt and evolve their practices in order to deliver the best for their learners.

The willingness and ability to engage in CPD is therefore not a by-product of a teacher’s professional identity, but a core component.

CPD has changed, so let’s look at the genres of CPD, and for a bit of fun, add a backstory comparing these with popular music fashions. So what options for you as a teacher for CPD in this new landscape?

LOCAL AUTHORITY DISCO

You used to get training and PD from your local authority. This was like going to a disco.

The music was accessible and easy to sing along to, without being too challenging. The atmosphere was friendly and everybody knew the words to the popuar songs.  The clothes were a bit naff but nobody minded. As Sister Sledge would have sung ‘V A K are family!’ But the discos are mostly closed down now owing to cuts at local authority level or your school becoming an academy.  But devotees of this genre may be able to console themselves at Gove’s newly invented ‘teaching school disco’ where you can bop along to the latest easy-listening tunes direct from the chalk face and with direct practical application,

THE UNIVERSITY PROG ROCK BAND

Of course you can go and do a course (an MA or MEd) at a university. The university is like a prog rock band. Musicality and intellectualism feature high on the list, as does hard work and dedication to producing an immaculate end result.

You have to be able to play your instruments and getting into this genre takes time and dedication. You have to learn lots of new terms as well and the personnel in the bands are really important (Emerson et. al 1973).  You may get impatient about whether all this careful theory and reviewing of ‘the literature’ is going to actually give you any real ideas to try in your classroom, but questioning this is bad form, a bit like asking why there is a 22 minute mandolin solo on the second LP of the triple album ‘the canticles of Nebandesser the 3rd’.

TWITTER – PUNK

If you find the university route just too tortuous, then you can always try punk. You don’t have to shave your head or spit on people though. Simply open a twitter account, follow some fellow teachers and plunge right in, there are no entry requirements. Like PUNK nobody will question your technical ability, the emphasis will be all on end result, and getting immediate results.  And it all happens quickly too, just like punk songs were short and sharp, the development you get from twitter is short and to the point. Nobody has to give you permission to get started with CPD on twitter, you don’t need to check with your HOD or head teacher, getting set up is easy and once started you can start strumming along with the best of them. Many of the tunes may sound the same, even get repetitive, but you’ll be in charge.

TEACHMEET –  THE RAVE
Finally you could go to a teachmeet.  This is a great opportunity to meet other teachers. Beware as you will certainly be offered free ‘Es’ at one of these events (free E-learning tools that is).

The atmosphere will be one of mutual respect, even love and teachers will be sharing their best tips for success and you won’t want the party to end.  Just like the illegal raves which were the inspiration for TeachMeets, you have to be ‘in the know’ to find out where they are. Secret instructions will appear on a web page about when and where the next event is.  Be careful when you make your way to these events, you may find representatives of Gove or Wilshaw following in their cars and trying to find out where the meeting is and breaking it up before anyone has any real fun.

So there you go, a quick whizz round the genres of CPD. Choose yours carefully…

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Massive thanks for @drrebekkakill for her ideas about social networks and music genres, her work on this is available here (http://bit.ly/OM1UiF). Without her originality of thought and imagination this post would not have happened.

This blog originated as a teachmeet presentation to a largely bemused audience at the IFIP conference July 2012 at Manchester Metropolitan University.

If you read any of this and got offended ( because perhaps you work/used to work in an LA or university), then apologies, but you did understand I was joking I hope. (Although I do know of one LA at least that regularly used to teach VAK (visual, audio and Kineasethiwhatever learning styles to teachers).