Promethean ActivTable review
A fantastic, hyper-sized tablet for collaborative learning, but there remain a few niggles to be ironed out
Imagine a gigantic tablet computer, big enough for several people to use at the same time, then put four legs on it, and you’ve conjured up the ActivTable. Alternatively, consider it a horizontal interactive whiteboard designed to work with touch and gesture. Now take in that this device is a specialist PC running Windows 7 Embedded and the Windows 7 Touch Pack, and you’ll begin to get an idea of what the ActivTable can do.
It’s been designed specifically with schools in mind, so it’s tough, and has been drop-tested to 55kg, though anyone able to lift that should probably have competed in the Olympics. It’s also been subjected to 200lb of weight, and can withstand water spills. While it comes on wheels, it requires two adults to move it, so nobody is going to be giving each other rides around the room.
The 46in screen, with the standard 16:9 ratio, can accommodate up to six people interacting with it at the same time. However, if one or more of the children are in wheelchairs, that number is reduced. The ActivTable has been designed to meet wheelchair standards for children aged four to 11. And although six people can use it, there are only four headphone sockets, so you’ll have to use a headphone splitter to plug more headphones in. You will also need the headphones if you want to avoid the noise that could arise from six youngsters all watching a video at the same time.
Before looking at some of the activities that come with the ActivTable, there are several features we need to focus on. The first is that the table has been designed to support collaboration between the children working on it. This has been achieved in two ways. One is that, in order to begin an activity, or to end it, each of the users has to press a button agreeing to do so. It’s a small thing, and in theory one that can be easily circumvented through peer pressure, but it does reinforce the idea that learning is a joint activity and that everyone’s opinion is important.
The other is that several of the activities we looked at comprise different component parts, or roles. For example, the Newspaper Maker application requires a writer, a picture editor, a designer and a researcher, all working towards the same goal.
The table has also been designed to enable children to work independently from each other. This seems, at first glance, to contradict the collaborative angle, but of course it doesn’t. To take the Newspaper Maker example, one child could be looking for pictures on the web while another is doing research, even though they’re both engaged in the same activity. This is a marked difference from a situation where all users have to focus on the same thing at the same time.