Embrace the New with HuddleVu: Innovative Screen Sharing and Collaboration Table Solutions from SMARTdesks

From business to education, collaboration and leadership are the cornerstones of today’s workplace. Technology, the ultimate tool for consensus building and problem solving, has shaped how we communicate ideas and develop solutions at a faster rate than ever before. From network building to our instant access to information, the culture of sharing defines how we think, work, and play.
SMARTdesks recognizes that sharing technology in the office and university increases productivity and success across an array of collaborative work environments. Our BoostTM Collaborative Conference Table presents the all-in-one solution. The BoostTM comes outfitted with a FlipIT Lift monitor display easily visible from all sides of the table, and that neatly hides away when no longer needed. In addition, the easy-to-install HuddleVuTM HDMI video switcher enables up to four users to plug their computers in and seamlessly toggle the main display to show their individual screen at the touch of a button. For small meeting rooms and open-plan spaces alike, the BoostTM and HuddleVuTM make an elegant pair, bringing collaboration to your fingertips. With a simple installation and no software or programming required, sharing your screen has never been so easy.

Workplace Collaboration: Why You Need It and How to Achieve It

Collaboration in the workplace not only allows companies to provide their consumers with the best solutions, but it helps employees stay on task and stay motivated. When looking to start a new business or revamp an existing business, executives should consider adopting a collaborative model. As this article from TechRadar aptly expresses, the prevalence of social media, mobile technology, and an international information-based economy have developed, so too has a greater need for collaboration in the global marketplace.
Why you need it…

  1. Increased Innovation

Through collaboration, employees bring together expertise and experience to develop the best solutions  for customers. Working on a team employees utilize their own unique strengths and abilities that go beyond their job descriptions and allows for greater creative input. According to this Crain’s New York Business article, open offices even spur employees to set more ambitious goals in the workplace.

  1. Better Rapport

While a job may be a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. commitment, to truly encourage commitment and success within a company, the members of each team need to know each other. The standard cube-style office approach encourages employees to be closed off from one another. By encouraging a collaborative workspace, it allows employees to get to know each other on a deeper level. Employees can open up and feel at-ease when expressing new business ideas. Google is following (or perhaps even setting!) this trend with their new GoogleDocs features, and increased storage in the cloud, which allows collaborators to share and edit their work together even when they are a world apart from one another.
How to achieve it…

SmartDesks is currently running a limited time sweepstakes to win a set of 6 igroup tables to help businesses promote collaboration.
The iGroup is known as the “origami of interaction” because the tables are flexible in formation – you can create hexagon, pinwheel, star, wave, and abstract shapes among many other options. The iGroup is ideal for both the workplace and educational institutions.

  • The value of this prize is $5,000!
  • Entries will be accepted until 7/30/14, 12pm EST.
  • One entry per person, please.
  • The winner will be notified via email on 7/31/14.
  • If winner does not respond via email within 48 hours, a new winner will be notified. (Watch your email & check junk mail.)

For more information: Visit the official sweepstakes page.

The Common Core State Standards, widespread standardized testing, and the American education industry

Standardized testing is historically a hot-button topic in the American public education system.  From the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and Race to the Top in 2009, to the more recent controversy surrounding the release of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, questions abound as to whether standardized testing can provide an accurate metric for academic success, in terms of both teacher and student performance.
According to the Common Core website, the standards “provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning.” The ultimate goal of the standards is to produce college and career readiness from a young age — beginning in the elementary years. 
But concerns remain about how exactly to prepare students for college, especially across a diverse array of school districts and student bodies. Some who oppose the Common Core cite the limiting influence of “teaching to the test,” which according to this editorial could create a standardized test meritocracy, defining students by ratings and rankings rather than their individual intellectual and creative strengths (which are not well measured by multiple choice tests). In addition, the Common Core standards were written by 27 members of the organization Student Achievement Partners. Many of these writers are involved in the pre-existing standardized testing industry and maintain interests in its economic growth. 
On the other hand, proponents of the program argue that because the standards merely indicate what students should be capable of as they progress through the grade levels. Individual curricula are still left to the discretion of their teachers and schools. As such, they claim that teaching a standardized skill set within the flexible framework of the Common Core will, on the whole, boost students’ academic performance.
SMARTdesks and the Common Core  
SMARTdesks is a firm believer the project-based learning and collaborative work allows students to grow in ways that exclusively “teaching to the test” does not offer. Standards have the capacity to enrich education, but they also must constantly adjust to account for students and their individual learning needs. Just as rows of desks are a dated classroom layout, uniform standards can curb the opportunity to foster creativity and entrepreneurship from an early age.
This Washington Post article offers a pertinent critique of the standards and their dependence on standardized testing as a measure of success, calling this method the “test-and-punish” approach as opposed to a “support-and-improve” model. Involved diagnostic entities working to improve education – such as the California Collaborative mentioned in the article – can identify strengths and weaknesses of schools in a way that the ranking inherent in standardized testing cannot. This approach emphasizes constructive feedback rather than punitive sanctions, and enables educators to better design curricula without the looming threat of losing their jobs based on their students’ standardized test scores. 
In general, how much do Americans really know about the Common Core?
A UConn poll from earlier this month showed that the more Americans know about the initiative, the less likely they will be to support it.
Some Statistics:

  • 39% of Americans have heard of the much-debated initiative in 44  states; 95% have heard of No Child Left Behind;
  • 33% believe adopting Common Core standards will increase the quality of education in their communities, 27% say it will have no effect, 30% believe it will damage education;
  • 29% believe the Common Core will increase the number of students who attend college;
  • 33% say the initiative will mean that more of those Americans who graduate college will be ready for a career;
  • 53% of liberals favor the policy, compared to 24% of conservatives who responded to the poll.

And…38% believe Common Core is a good policy, in contrast to the 44% who believe the opposite.
This reticence perhaps stems from the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which some consider a fundamentally flawed program due to its dependence on test scores. The cost has been hefty as well; pre-NCLB annual state spending on standardized tests totaled $423 million, a figure which rose to $1.1 billion in 2008, according to this Huff Post blog entry.
For the Common Core’s response to criticism click here for the program’s elucidation of “myths vs. facts” regarding its standards.
In your opinion…Do you think the Common Core will help or harm students and teachers in the long run? What does college-and-career readiness mean to you?

New SMARTdesks Classrooms at Union County College

Early this year SMARTdesks revamped four classrooms at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey. The project was a collaborative effort between the Design Team at SMARTdesks, the Union County IT department, and other college administrators. SMARTdesks generated layouts for the rooms within a week of receiving floor plans, and through GoTo meetings and live presentations jointly developed a vision for the classrooms.
SMARTdesks’ challenge was to turn this type of old-fashioned classroom, previously furnished with fixed desk chairs, into an ADA compliant, collaborative classroom with multi-use FlipIT desks. (The blocks in front of the white board are the new floor, pre-measured and ready for installation).
The Starting Point . . . 
The Final Product . . .
In four days, SMARTdesks finished the makeover. To begin, installers covered linoleum floors and old carpets with the Floor + Furniture Integrated Technology (FFIT) carpet flooring, which distributed power to 15 duplex outlets and each of the moveable computer workstations. The FFIT can be rearranged according to the desk layouts.
A new power system . . .

FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.
FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.

This new floor was designed with fire code regulations and ADA compliance in mind. A ramp leads into the classroom for wheelchair accessibility.
ADA Compliance . . . 
The furniture itself had to accommodate a minimum of 24 students, and is built on locking casters that enable mobility. They can be arranged back-to-back (shown here), around the perimeter of the room, or in rows, depending on the professor’s needs.
Top of the line desks . . . 
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.

These desks feature the FlipIt, which allows for both computer and traditional pen and paper desktop uses. They will be used for library and classroom  work, conducted in teams or independently. As Michele McHenry, director of design at SMARTdesks said, “This answers the need for adaptive teaching and learning styles.”
In your opinion…What does your ideal classroom look like?

An Educator’s Insights on K-12 Collaborative Learning

Collaboration is trending these days, especially in the education industry. In K-12 and higher ed, some educators strive to foster group interactions in class; others prefer a traditional lecture approach. This week, we spoke with middle and high school teacher Mosie Choudhry for her professional, empirical opinion on the subject. Read on to find out how she balances her pedagogy as both “sage on the stage” and collaborative learning facilitator.

SMARTdesks: How do you see classroom dynamics shift when you ask your students to work collaboratively?

MC: It depends a lot on the group and the work. With older students, I find that individuals fall into their “roles” unless I intervene. For example, there’s usually a “can-do” kid who will push the group to be productive and stay on task. This will free other members to under function. Or there will be bickering among two+ “Type A” types. But if I carefully choreograph the groupings AND offer specific roles with job descriptions, it can be very rewarding.
For example, with illuminated poetry [(in which students superimpose poetry onto video and images to reveal their interpretation of the text)], I found that the outcomes were much improved by assigning a content director, an art director, a researcher, and an editor.
SMARTdesks: What kinds of work do you find most conducive to group work?
MC: Projects. My first mentor, back in 2000, used to call group work: “group work, AKA the blind leading the blind.” When the aim is to deliver content, I still prefer the sage on the stage.
But I’m a big proponent of project-based learning.
SMARTdesks: So, in project-based learning, should the goal be defined by the teacher?
MC: For younger students, yes. I’m not 100% comfortable with student-directed learning, but that’s because I’m a control freak. I like to bring my experience in effective management to bear.
SMARTdesks: Is collaborative learning a tremendously different process in middle school than it is in high school?
MC: I don’t have a statistically significant sample to draw from at this point, but I would say that the biggest difference is that in middle school, social concerns press heavily on the kids’ minds to the point where it can be a hindrance to productive group work. I find that pairs work really well. For example, I’ll pair kids to create a research query or review the previous night’s reading. I’ve grouped students for more extensive projects, but it takes a lot of work. The cost/benefit ratio has to be carefully analyzed.
SMARTdesks: Then are you more a proponent of letting the students sort themselves into teams, or because of that cost/benefit ratio, do you think it’s more effective to do that yourself?
MC: I always do it myself. Control freak.
I have never once seen students make wise choices. They want too much to work with their friends.
And by work I mean play. And by friends I mean people who may have similar strengths and deficits so might not be the best people to learn from. Google Docs has elevated my ability to do group work. I can intervene by dropping in on a doc and keep kids on task.  It allows me to allow students to move physically out of the classroom and still manage their work. Kids know there’s a record of their work, too, which takes things up a notch. It’s so rewarding to be in an environment in which kids have grown up on Gdocs. It means they’ve grown up on collaboration. They don’t mind in the least that writing is a very public activity. It brings up the quality.
SMARTdesks: Has specific furniture and technology ever helped or hindered your efforts? How? 
MC: Heavy, clunky furniture is bad. It’s outdated.
Most classroom furniture I’ve encountered is designed for pen and paper. I like lightweight desks that work well with laptops. Since students work comfortably with laptops in their laps, they don’t always need a big heavy desk with an affixed chair.
SMARTdesks: Do you have any tips for teachers looking to diversify the sage on the stage, and get into collaborative classroom methods?
MC: Yes: script the collaboration as much as possible, at least the first time. Prescribe roles with job descriptions. Use Google Docs to enforce accountability. [For some tips, click here.]
SMARTdesks: What would be your vision for optimal collaboration to traditional learning ratio in middle school environments in particular?
MC: It would depend on the material. For social studies, which is really content-driven, the sage on the stage happens about 60-80% of the time. This can take the form of an interactive lecture, but you can’t expect the kids to generate content. For English, I use a lot of group work: reading groups, project groups, and in providing writing feedback. I also did a cool project in social studies in which students in groups of 3-4 studied objects at the Met and presented research onsite at the museum. Again, the roles were heavily micromanaged by me, but the students had a lot of room to overachieve.