Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good.

I've been in the pro-A/V business for a long time now. I've seen the death of the 3-gun CRT projector (yay!), the demise of VHS (hallelujah!) and the advent of DVD (OK, I guess) and the almost amusing battle between Blu-ray and hi-def DVD (long live Sony?). I was also witness to the birth of interactive technology.

The first interactive technology that has become almost as ubiquitous as Kleenex brand facial tissue was the "SmartBoard. The SmartBoard is as trademarked brand name of the one of the original interactive whiteboards made by Smart Technologies. I say ubiquitous because I have for years had clients call on me to provide them with a SmartBoard. What they really wanted was an interactive whiteboard. This technology is still quite prevalent, but it has been joined by fully interactive projectors (no fancy screen/ whiteboard required) and fully interactive flat panel displays that require no screen at all. All of these forms of interactive technology require a computer to actually do the heavy lifting, except in a few cases with the newer interactive LCD displays that have a built in PC thus becoming a stand alone solution.

All of these devices allow the user to directly interact with their presentation whatever that may be. What they won't do is make compelling the presentation itself. Over the years I've seen displays that simply roll PowerPoint slides for what many call the "death by PowerPoint" type presentation. These are far from compelling and oh-so easy to ignore. Definitely a "fail" in the presentation dept. I have seen folks take this approach with the newer interactive displays which allows a user to touch the screen to get the slides to advance faster or as bookmarks to a place within the presentation. Now we can control the speed with which the PowerPoint bores us to death.

This same paradigm carries over into the classroom where the SmartBoard grew up in much the same way that the Apple computer grew up. What I've witnessed here is one of two main scenarios. Either the instructor embraces the technology fully and manipulates their lesson plans and materials to fit best utilize the technology, or they use it as a screen for their un-interactive slides. There is a third type of instructor that uses the SmartBoard as a place to tape up posters since they refuse to use the technology at all. We don't need to discuss those folks.

I have spoken to many educators over the years espousing the the virtues of the interactive whiteboard in the classroom, but I always preempt my comments with the caveat that the technology will not make your presentation any more compelling than it is now. In other words, your old style of teaching will not engage the students anymore than it did before just because touching the board advances your slides for you. It is crucial that the curriculum dictates to the technology, not the other way around. The technology is simply a tool to allow the presenter/ instructor to do more potentially. A forward thinking educator should be able to take their old lesson plan and change it so that it engages the students by enlivening it in much the same way a motion picture can enliven the text of a novel. An educator can immerse their students in the topic by not only interacting with the topic materials, but they can also get the students directly involved at the board.

Recently my company, Norseman Audio Video Systems, worked with the University of Mass. Amherst to design and install an interactive display in the lobby of their Fine Arts Center as a way to better spotlight upcoming events in a way that was not possible with their old printed posters. We provided and installed a 65" touch enabled LCD screen. We then worked closely with the staff to find a solution for the content. Many clients would have been satisfied creating a "moving poster", i.e. another PowerPoint type slide show. These folks understood at the get-go that this would not lead to more ticket sales. They found a presentation software package called Prezi that allows them to build much more compelling pages with interactivity built in. In the future, there is talk about working this system into their ticket purchasing back office to allow patrons an enhanced buying experience. An interactive win, I would say.

So, to wrap up- just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good in and of itself. The presentation source should dictate the technology as a kind of cart-horse thing. If your presentation material is compelling, then people will come and if it is rich content, then they will touch it and be absorbed into your message. So dream big and let the technology help you.

sept 2012

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