Monday, May 21, 2012

First Drive: SMART Notebook 11

First drives are always so much fun.  Do you remember the first car you ever test drove?  Mine was a big boat of a car, but it ended up getting me from Point A to Point B.

If only SMART Notebook could be as much fun as test driving cars!  Sometimes it seems like a terrible x-girlfriend that you cannot get rid of.  Our school, like many, purchased a number of these boards over the years and we have had mixed results.  Some of our teachers love them, use the Lesson Activity Toolkit, and all the features.  Then on the other side of the spectrum others use it strictly as a glorified overhead projector.  I can't help walking by, shaking my head, and wondering why we spent the extra few thousand dollars for the interactivity.  Regardless, now we have the boards and the training is ongoing.  Like any other piece of technology it requires users to become familiar with the features and how they can actually integrate it within their classrooms.

Speaking of, shameless plug, if you know anyone in the Duluth, MN area that wants to sharpen their skills check out this SMART Board course I am co-teaching this summer.  We extensively cover integrating the software into our classrooms heavily in this course.  It's all about you, your classroom, and a SMART Board.

Throughout the years I have not had a great experience with SMART and their software for Macs.  It has gotten better, but there was an incident earlier this year when the software got updated and the board drivers did not.  This caused major issues and most of the staff had to be manually reverted back to the old version of the software (not a fun time in the IT department).  Some times the software works great, but at other times it seems to crash.  If there was ever a reason to buy a PC emulator it might be for this software to run properly.

Well, as technology continues to change so does SMART Technology and their software.  I downloaded this new version of the software the day after it was released and had mixed results.  Here is a quick video showing some of the new features in Notebook 11:

After spending a few more days testing out the software I have noticed a few things:

1.) The software overall seems a bit slower to react.  It is slower to load, close, and overall pull up things.  It does appear a bit larger on my HD, but still it should be easier and not harder to complete work.  And yes, it still pulls up a blank presentation every time you open it up.  One more thing to fix!

2.) The adaptable toolbar is a nice addition.  It is a common complaint when I am teaching the software that there are so many buttons.  The new interface makes that a lot easier to navigate and get to the important items when you need them.  The intelligence also makes a whole lot more sense in this app compared to the MS Office suite, which is a bit convoluted at times.

3.) It has not crashed yet.  Seriously.  I am not kidding!  I am a constant Command-S user in this program, but now I feel a little safer.  I will keep you updated on this one, because I am not convinced yet.  I did have one problem closing out of the program when I was done that required a Force Quit.  Regardless, it appears to be a bit more stable over previous versions.

4.) There also appear to be a number of new features that I have not tried out yet (the browser in the slide, the activity builder, etc.), but the one that I have used heavily is the new Ink Layer.  They have completely redesigned it from the ground up.  What we are used to with one Ink Layer over the top of everything has now been changed into an individual Ink Layer over each individual window – now called Ink Aware.  The interface is a bit hard to get used to and the controls are also complicated to understand.  In addition, the floating toolbar is essentially rendered useless in this new version of Notebook.  In my limited test drive I found this to be the one overwhelming reason of why NOT to update at this time.  Check out SMART's website and the links below for more discussion on this topic.  Essentially they took the layer out and tried to make it a smart and aware layer.  The verdict is still out on this one!

I will continue to experiment and try new things out.  However, if you are interested in updating your Notebook to the new version check this URL out.  If you want a quick overview of the new features from SMART check out this URL. This is also a great resource for an outside look at the new update from TeacherTechnology.

Have you tried out the new Notebook 11 yet?  
What things have you noticed?
Do you have an opinion on the Ink Layer vs. Ink Aware?