SmartTables: the Borders College experience

SmartTables are relatively new on the technology enhanced learning scene but are rapidly becoming popular within Primary Schools. To date the majority of use has been focused on pre- school and primary school aged children, with content being developed to support their learning needs. Until now there has been no attempt to introduce SmartTables in Colleges, despite increasing interest from industry who are keen to use the tables within business environments. Borders College saw the potential for SmartTables to be used within an FE environment and piloted the table in order to investigate its use and effectiveness across the College.

About the college

Borders College prides itself on student success and in order to facilitate increased success across the student body they have established a dedicated e-learning team within the College to support technology enhanced teaching and learning.

The challenge

Borders College implemented SmartBoards in all classrooms in 2011 and since then have continued to encourage the use of SmartNotebook content development for use on the boards. As with all institutions, the College constantly strives to introduce new methods for engaging learners and improving the learner experience. The SmartTable offered another method of engagment as it has potential to support the learner through all areas of the College, from initial marketing to campus maps, student support services, library resources and within the curriculum. The SmartTable is an interactive, collaborative tool similar to a tablet, but the size of a coffee table. The table comes with pre-installed content but also allows tutors to create their own using the Table toolkit software.

The activity

The College took delivery of one SmartTable in February 2014. The aim of the pilot was to consider the potential value of a SmartTable in all aspects of College life to support the learner. This included:

  1. Use of the SmartTable for marketing and information purposes
  2. Use of the SmartTable as part of Student Advice and Support services
  3. Use of the SmartTable across the curriculum. The table was used with Care students, Computing,Business and Landbased students
  4. Use of the SmartTable with Access students
  5. Use of the SmartTable to support students in the campus library

In theory this meant that the table could be used at all stages of the student journey; from initial visits to reception, to learning in a classroom environment to supporting them in using the library and even to student advice services relating to finance and travel etc.

Using the SmartTable toolkit software, the e-learning team developed bespoke content for each of the pilot areas.

SmartTable in use in receptionUse of the SmartTable in College Reception

In reception, the table was placed near visitor seating with content ranging from recent news articles to today’s restaurant menu and price list for the College hair and beauty salon. The aim here was to engage visitors in the life of the College while waiting to attend an event and to showcase the work of the students.

Use of the SmartTable in Student Advice Centre

Outside Student Advice, the table had two purposes;

  1. To raise awareness of the table and increase access and use of the table by the students through the use of a simple music making game
  2. To provide access to content such as bus timetables, services offered, staff contact details and so on. This was aimed to help during busy times at the advice centre.

SmartTable use in the Library

In the library staff were keen to consider a more collaborative approach to learning through internet based materials (as the table was configured to the College wifi system). The table also provided the potential to use drag and drop options for fashion students to create bespoke garments and to facilitate discussion around image collections using the Scrapbook tool. Other ideas from the libarary included the development of Interactive Library maps (a catalogue search followed by a graphic that helps people locate the stock they need).

SmartTable use across the curriculumSmartTable for collaboration

Across the curriculum the use of the table was more widespread and included the use of existing Smartboard materials as well as the creation of bespoke content for use in the classroom. Examples include:

  • Childcare and early education students who were introduced to the table as a possible tool they may encounter in their working lives. Students were left to familiarize themselves with the table and consider how they could potentially use it with preschool and primary age children.
  • Business students were encouraged to use the table as a collaborative method of chairing a meeting and reaching agreement on decisions such as logo and web designs for a project and managing project plans and budgets. This particular session also included hints and tips for successful meetings which the students could refer to within the content of the table.
  • Digital media students were encouraged to use the table as a digital moodboard where they could share ideas and concepts for web designs with their peers and lecturers.
  • Various examples were also used to demonstrate the potential of the tool to landbased and construction/engineering staff through the creation of drag and drop image based activities.

SmartTable used by access studentsIn the Access department students used many of the inbuilt offerings of the table to focus on communication and numeracy skills, as well as taking advantage of the opportunity to download topic specific content relating to time and money. In their use of the table the Access department also found a need to access Internet based resources so the wifi functionality on the table was activated and further pilots carried out.



 Barriers to use

Barriers encountered when using the SmartTable included:

  • An initial reluctance to engage with the table by both with staff and students
  • The SmartTable had a short power cable
  • There was a need to learn new software
  • Problems gaining access to the table for wheelchair users
  • Issues with wifi connection and the need for training

Some of these barriers were reported back to Steljes (the table manufacturer) as additional functionality or changes which could be made to future releases of the table such as making the table height adjustable and adding a longer power cable. Training is available from the manufacturer both face to face and online and additional support was provided by the e-learning team. Each classroom based session started with a short demo of the table and then time was available to continue experimenting. Once these initial barriers were overcome the biggest debate was over the cost of the table and whether or not it provided value for money. This was particular discussion around the tradeoff between purchasing one smartTable or 10 iPads.

The outcomes

The overall feedback on the SmartTable was extremely positive. Even those who were initially reluctant about its potential were converted after seeing the table ‘in action’ and watching the students’ reaction to the tool.

Some of the feedback from staff included:

“I used the smart table with my Skills for Independence students yesterday. It was great!”

“Really good for group work – got a group of 4 working cooperatively. And then a group of 3. “

“Excellent resource!”

“I have used the SMART table a few times now, and I think it is  fabulous ! Other than these issues (relating to the height of the table and wheelchair access), some only affecting a small number of students, the table has been a hit!  Students of all ages have shown interest, and, with some good activities sourced, and the ability to browse the internet and stuff on it , it could be a phenomenal classroom tool.”

“In my opinion I do think that some students will engage better in class by using the Smart Table.  I want one!!”

“…watching it was very interesting.  Very quickly, we went from all standing around watching…to everyone wanting to touch it and play with it.  All…were engaged and excited by it and started thinking about its potential uses.  That proved to me that it was a very engaging bit of technology with a lot of potential”

The smartTable offers potential to encourage greater collaboration and active student engagement in tasks which has previously not been seen in other tools. Although the table was only on loan a business case will be made to purchase a table for use across the College. Having the benefit of trialing the table in so many different areas of the College suggests that cost could be shared across all curricular and support departments. This case study will be shared with Smart as a means of encouraging other Colleges’ to consider the application of SmartTables in their institutions and specific resources created for this pilot will be freely available to the education community.

Learner perceptions

Student feedback included:

“I really enjoyed the SmartTable experience. I think it would be very useful to have such a thing in the classroom. We could use it in many tasks in our course and this would encourage everyone in the class to participate”

“I was impressed with the new device. In my opinion it would be very useful to have it in a classroom. We could work in small groups on tasks. I hope we will get another chance to use the SmartTable soon”.

“I found the table computer a very interesting modern piece of technology and to bring it into a classroom or a work department would really benefit people for things such as group work or meetings. It is also very educational”.

“…I think it will be a great success as an educational tool for adults as well as children”.

Lessons learned

More time spent planning for the arrival of the table and experimenting with the development software in advance of its delivery would have been useful. Also a timetable for all staff to ‘visit’ and ‘play’ with the table would have made it easier to ensure all staff had the opportunity to view the table and consider its potential within their own learning and teaching (or other) areas.

Ensuring subject specific content was available to staff was extremely important, as otherwise they were starting from the Primary school focused demo. This demo which highlights the gamification of learning for primary school children is useful in attracting interest but can also have a negative affect as some staff struggle to see alternative applications beyond what they are faced with.

Structured demonstrations and introductory workshops aimed at looking at the tools required to develop specific content would also be necessary to make the table a worthwhile investment, although the time taken to master the user friendly toolkit was minimal. With minimum effort engaging and exciting results can easily be achieved.

Useful links

The article was originally published on the Jisc-RSC Scotland Showcase at It is reproduced here with permission from the author and Jisc.

Suzanne Scott
E-learning Manager, Borders College

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