Did Microsoft just kill the Smartboard?

I’m weeding my way through the mountain of CES news and one in particular caught my eye from Microsoft yesterday.Coming off their record sales numbers (18 million sold), Microsoft is releasing a version of the Kinect for Windows. Kinect for those of you who don’t know is a camera/microphone peripheral that lets your machine track your body movements and voice.

While the debate is still raging over whether or not motion controlled gaming is worthwhile (I like it but I’m a nerd), but there are some seriously cool implications with having it in a classroom environment. More importantly this may be the death knell for the Smartboard

Right now “motion control” teaching is limited to using Smartboards where I work. Now Smartboards had a niche in education for a long time, but it’s based on 1990’s technology. You have a board and some “markers” (they’re basically pointers). The board is essentially a giant resistive touch screen that when connected to a computer becomes a touch pad. The “markers” will dray colored lines on the board. And you can use accompanying software to save and further edit (there’s more you can do but it would take a lifetime for me to explain it all).

The problem with Smartboards is they are expensive (for a traditional one, you’re talking a couple grand to install), their technology is woefully outdated. The newest models finally support multi touch where the majority of the ones I work with are single touch only. Trying to convince faculty to switch from PowerPoint to the Smartboard software is incredibly challenging to say the least. There are models of Smartboards that are called Sympodiums where instead of a screen you use a monitor and a pen, but again old technology that doesn’t do much more than draw on a screen. Yes you could have students walk up one at a time to use it, but wouldn’t it be better to have the student just stand up to manipulate items on the screen?

Kinect in a classroom adds voice controls, multiple people using it, video conferencing and all for the price of $250 (there is an apparent educational discount, but I can’t seem to find any confirmation of it) Instead of just drawing circles and attention you can manipulate the information on the screen in a variety of ways. And with the list of amazing homebrew apps I’ve been seeing on the internet, this is going to be awesome.

Personally I can’t wait to see the rise of the Natural UI.

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