A Digital Flip Chart to Rescue Brainstorms From the Place They Go To Die

by Ross Rubin


Consider the irony. With laptops, tablets and smartphones, employees have better tools for collaborating when they are on the go then “collaborative” conference rooms that often feature a voice-only conference phone, a projector that often struggles to display the right resolution, and a whiteboard or flip chart.

The latter two, in particular, are analog stalwarts, leaving us to capture the sparks of inspiration with smartphone cameras. As they say in the infomercials, “There’s gotta be a better way.” Indeed, the flip chart and white board are becoming digital with the help of a company with deep expertise in collaborative writing space.

The 42″ SMART kapp looks the part of a digital flip chart. The device allows up to five people (250 when used with a premium subscription service) to follow along with what is developing on its surface. In addition, participants can generate a PDF that can be e-mailed anywhere.

The SMART kapp is also interesting from a technology architecture perspective. For a $900 device with a futuristic appearance, it is relatively low-tech. All the processing is done through the app and the cloud. Rather than use Wi-Fi, it pairs with a single smartphone or tablet using a Bluetooth app. From there, any other participants are mailed a Web address that lets them folllow along in a standard browser. The link can also be protected with a PIN if using the company’s premium subscription service. Once the meeting is over and the person leaves the room, the link is broken and a new one is established if the next meeting uses the board, so there’s little concern about people digitally eavesdropping on meetings to which they’re not invited. (Not that you wanted any of Dave the receptionist’s birthday cake anyway, right?)

When compared with some of the company’s more sophisticated digital whiteboards that are professionally mounted and can weigh up to 400 lbs., the SMART kapp is only about 30 lbs. and can be easily wheeled where it’s needed. Perhaps best of all, it uses standard dry erase markers. On the other hand, communication is only one-way, so there’s no way for even a local conference participant to add their scribbles to the mix without getting up and grabbing the marker. And unlike a real digital flip chart, multiple pages can’t be displayed simultaneously in the room without a number of large screens to display the PDFs.

All told, the $900 device seems to be a clever, simple option for sharing the fruits of a brainstorming or planning session, one that would be complemented by a capable video chat option for a remote participant. SMART Technologies says that its size is perfect for individual offices and “huddle rooms” but those wanting something that is closer to the size of a traditional conference room whiteboard should anticipate a much larger model hinted at for 2015.

*This post originally appeared on Inc.

Ross!_40604Ross Rubin is founder and principal analyst at Reticle Research, where he analyzes adoption of technology and digital ecosystems across devices, software, cloud services and content. A veteran industry analyst of 18 years, he has pioneered technology research services at four different firms, provided guidance on the rise of the Web, smartphones, tablets and apps, and now serves as a leading strategist on the evolution of wearables and the Internet of Things. Ross is also the founder, publisher, and editor of Backerjack, the first editorial Web site devoted to crowdfunded product innovation. Follow him on Twitter @rossrubin.

The Professional Skills Gap Narrows

by Warren Barkley


2015 is shaping up to be a year of accelerated change in the ways we learn, communicate and collaborate; driven by necessity, changing demographics and new ways to use old technology. As a follow up to my earlier post on Millennials and their influence on the face of corporate IT, I’ll now lay out another emerging, major trend that dovetails with the first, and that will affect us all. This post and my next will look at the “Skills Gap,” and then at something we’ve dubbed “Device-olation.”

The professional thorn in our nation’s side — the fact that many grads enter the workforce without the real-world experience needed to succeed in business — will see a marked improvement as educators incorporate classroom technology and practices that help teach the soft skills needed for workforce preparedness.

In today’s connected world, all our information is readily available through our laptops, PCs, tablets and smartphones. At work, we spend hours in meetings or small groups coming up with better ways of doing things, learning from others and, ultimately, innovating. But when you look at schools today — at least most schools — we’re still educating our children based on a 200-year-old pedagogical system. We walk out of school with a degree in our hand, and yet we have done little to develop the skills that are most important in today’s workplace.

Why is that? In 2010, Dr. Sugata Mitra presented his findings on student-driven learning in a TED talk, and the results are astounding. Children learn much better when they are allowed to explore, share and collaborate than when they are sitting classroom-style and being lectured to. He shared this research four years ago, and yet many students are still being taught the “old-fashioned” way.

The good news is a number of organizations and schools are thinking outside the box, and we’re seeing student-driven and project-based learning gain momentum throughout North America and Europe. I’m fortunate to be personally involved with a number of these organizations, including TAF, which offers a program to address barriers to students of color in STEM fields.

TAF benefits not only the students in the program by teaching them real-world skills like needs identification, coding, and field research – it also benefits those whose lives are enriched by these students’ work. For example, Special Ed students in a nearby Tacoma school use software applications developed by TAF students. The stories are heartwarming — you can see the difference these software applications make in these students’ lives. You can watch a video about one of these students here.

In other schools, like Preston Middle School in Colorado, San Elijo Middle School in California, and Bishop Kearney High School in New York, we’re seeing great traction with collaborative classrooms that are designed with project-based, highly collaborative learning in mind. And it’s working. Kids are some of the biggest advocates of this approach.

Fortunately, there are many thought leaders who agree that this skills gap needs to be addressed, and they’re sharing their vision with others. We recently spoke to Innovative Educator blogger Lisa Nielsen about collaboration. She shared some great insights on how kids not only want to change the world; they are changing the world. And they can only do so when they have access to the tools we use in everyday life, and she also has the real-world examples that prove her theory.

I’m encouraged by the examples mentioned above (and countless other programs in place) that we’re moving the in the right direction. As a former teacher and as the CTO of a leading ed-tech company, I welcome this trend, and I look forward to the positive effects it will have on our children and in the business world as well.

But we’re not there yet. Dan Schawbel states that 50 percent of Generation Z learners are participating in internships before they graduate from high school — it’s not in others. Higher education needs to more fully embrace co-ops for Millennials and the generation on its heels as indicated in this Fortune article.

The good news is that the conversation is happening, and I think we’ll continue to see the skills gap narrow.

*This post originally appeared on WIRED.com

warrenWarren Barkley is the CTO of SMART Technologies with more than 17 years of technology experience and leadership, most recently serving as General Manager in the Microsoft Lync/Skype division. Barkley held several key positions in Microsoft over his tenure and was instrumental in the development of Microsoft Lync as the communication and collaboration software of choice for Fortune 500 companies. At Microsoft he played a central role in establishing WiFi as a worldwide standard, and building world class real time communications technologies used by hundreds of millions of users every day. Barkley holds over 35 worldwide patents in networking, wireless and communications.