Merry Christmas!

Thank you so very much for helping us have a fantastic year. On behalf of the entire SMARTdesks family, have a happy holiday!

Merry Christmas from SMARTdesks

Happy Thanksgiving!

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As this November draws to a close, we want to express our immensely gratitude for your support and confidence in us.  
On behalf of the entire SMARTdesks family, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  

Open Source College Textbooks Going Mainstream?

Are open source textbooks becoming more widely accepted?
One frequent headache for the average college student is dealing with textbooks. They’re expensive, used copies in decent condition can be hard to find, and textbook companies frequently come out with “new” editions that are minimally revised versions of the previous edition.
But an initiative out of Houston-based Rice University could help change that. OpenStax is on a mission to provide openly licensed college textbooks, many of which allow for open contributions from academics. After launching their first textbook in 2012, they have expanded to more than 20 different books. In August, they formed an international partnership with the UK Open Textbooks project to help make its model available to students across the world.
But providing free textbooks is only part of the organization’s mission. Another major facet involves application of technology through online tools that help students practice and deliver personalized questions to help students fill in the gaps. And the best part for financially strapped students? All of this is free or available at a nominal cost, as low as $10 per course.
Of course, there will likely be concerns over content quality; schools won’t be interested in adopting this if it puts their accreditation at risk, regardless of how cheap it may be. But given that this is based at Rice University – one of the premier schools in the nation – OpenStax seems to carry some level of credibility. Moreover, this new approach should be compatible with colleges seeking to implement active learning techniques. With the right kind of active learning furniture in place, it could be a tremendous boost for any number of colleges and universities, particularly those serving low-income communities.
So the internet, having already disrupted numerous other industries, has now trained its sights on textbook publishers. Starving students across the world are likely thrilled.
(Source: Campus Technology)

Secrets to More Productive Meetings

It’s Friday at 3pm. The clock is ticking, employees are fidgeting, and everyone is glancing at the clock. Voices drone and no one’s listening…
Every businessperson knows the importance of meetings, but most companies don’t take advantage of the time they have with their employees. Long meetings with little productivity result in wasted money and time for the business. Here are three tips to help you maximize your time in the office.

  1. Keep your meeting to 15 minutes, max.

Have you ever been in a 2 hour meeting? Regardless of the topic — which may be crucial to a project’s success — the mere duration can drain your energy. The human brain is not designed to process information continuously for that long of a time span.
Carmine Gallo, a professional coach and personal trainer, recently released an article on “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute rule.” TED Talks, a popular webinar series, limit their speakers to a mere 18 minutes.
TED Talk curator Chris Anderson offers his reasoning behind the rule: “By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say.”
Did you know?

  • Most business people spend approximately 25 percent of their working hours in meeting.
  • Studies show 20 minutes is the average attention span before people lose focus.
  • Middle managers spend at least two days out of every week in meetings.

Don’t think you can hold a meeting for 15 minutes and get everything done? It takes planning and efficiency. These famous speeches of history only took about 15 – 20 minutes.

  1. Planning

To get your point across in a shortened amount of time, you must hyper-plan every moment of your meeting. If not, you company could lose money for the time that could be spent elsewhere.
For example, let’s say you have a meeting of 10 people and the meeting lasts over an hour. With 10 people in the room, that meeting is equivalent to over 10 hours of time utilized by the company. A 15 minute meeting, on the other hand, takes just over 2 hours total.
The first step to planning is to make sure you actually require a meeting. Keep the end goal in mind. Does the meeting require action items? You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or distributing the news in an email newsletter. Typically, reoccurring meetings are superfluous.
Globalization – If you are planning meetings that require meeting with people in different locations, consider using a conference table with smart technology to bring everyone together virtually. This eliminates travel costs and enables worldwide communication.

  1. Scheduling for Success

Never plan meetings for Monday or Friday. These two days are the most common for employees to take long weekends and and be the least focused on their work.
The online meeting scheduling service “When is Good” conducted a survey of 34,000 events and determined that Tuesday at 3 p.m. is the most “available” spot for a meeting.
Not only are more people typically in the office on Tuesdays at the standard office, but 3 p.m. is early enough not to impede with the average workday and late enough to be after meal times. Moral of the story? Always pick a time that works best for your team.
So, are Mondays and Fridays non-productive days in the office?
They are only non-productive if you allow it. Mondays and Fridays may not be good meeting days, but if you delegate deadlines and tasks for those days, employees will be motivated to get the job done.

Top 10 Ways to Use a SQWeezel

The SQWEEZEL, a universal tablet mounting system, is revolutionary for hands-free support for many activities. In the office, on the job, or even at home, we look at the top ten ways of how to use the SQWeezel.
1.      In the Kitchen
Tablets have a wealth of space to store recipes and with easy access to the internet it provides millions of recipes at your fingertips. Clip the SQWeezel on the kitchen counter keeping it away from the mess of the food or the heat of the stove, but within sight.
SQWeezel
2.      While You Exercise
Don’t trust the SQWeezel on an unsecure magazine rack that is part of your exercise bike or treadmill. Clip the SQWeezel to the machine and start burning calories. You can read, listen to music or answer email while doing your daily workout. Just make sure you don’t clip it to a road bike; that could be dangerous!
SmartDesks SQWeezel
3.      On the Job
Whether you are in an office, lab, or working with your hands in an industrial setting, the SQWeezel can help by providing you instruction or helping you record your data.
SmartDesks SQWeezel
4.      At School
Educational technology is a leading trend in the 21st century in schools for children of all ages. Whether you are teaching a concept through visual learning, maintaining your class attendance list, or reading a story to the children, the SQWeezel is a great tool!
SQWeezel SmartDesks
5.      In a Hospital
Both doctors and patients can benefit from the SQWeezel. Medical facilities have been incorporating tablet technology through the United States over the recent years. Patients who have extended hospital stays can clip the holder to a chair or hospital bed for entertainment.
SmartDesks SQWeezel
6.      As a Store Check-Out Option
With credit card technology, restaurants and stores are beginning to adopt the tablet check-out style. Stores can outfit their check-out location with tables to clip the mount and save space and money on bulky outdated machines.
SQWeezel SmartDesks
7.      In the Car
While we don’t advise the driver to use a SQWeezel while driving, unless they want to take advantage of GPS directions on their tablet, parents can add SQWeezels to their cars for children entertainment and learning.
Children in Car
8.      By the Couch or in Bed
Get rid of the arm strain of holding a tablet to your side or above you to watch a film or read a book. Just clip the stand to your nightstand or a table near the couch and turn the screen horizontally.
Woman in Bed iPad
9.      Outside on a Nice Day
Want to enjoy the great outdoors while reading an eBook? Clip your tablet with your SQWeezel to the chair and soak up the sun!
SQWeezel SmartDesks
10.  While on an Airplane
Depending on the length of your flight, entertainment may be a necessity while you travel. By attaching the SQWeezel to the tray table in front of you, you will free up space for food or additional materials you may need out during the flight.

Airplane Tray Table  

 
 
 
 
 
Want to learn more about the SQWeezel?
Visit: http://www.smartdesks.com/ipad-holder-stand-sqweezel.asp

April Fool’s Day: Best Office Pranks

In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, here’s just brief post on best office pranks.
Disclaimer: Pranksters agree to indemnify and hold harmless SMARTdesks from all liabilities, damages, costs, or expenses  (including but not limited to reasonable attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs and expenses) as a result of any claims or suits that arise due to the conditions and happenings of 1 April 2014. 
1. The “Broken Screen Surprise:”
There is a broken screen app for iOS and Android. Snag a friend or colleagues phone and the rest is up to you.
better-cracked-screen-pro2
 
2. Set their Facebook accounts to a language they don’t understand.
“English (upside down)” could be a rather entertaining option. To up the ante on this prank, set the computer screen to display upside down at the same time (following these instructions). Facebook will suddenly be the only website facing the correct direction. Once your colleague has fixed the screen rotation, Facebook’s lingering, (or as s/he sees it, sudden), upside down English will further his/her confusion.
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3. The Classic Post-It Note Rampage. 
If there’s a surface, it can be covered with Post-It notes.
Unknown
 
4. Another Classic: Foiling Offices. 
Surfaces, again, can be covered.
foil-office-624x368
 
5. Out of Order signs.
Perhaps on the bathroom door or coffee maker. Or both.
golden_years_urology_issues_facing_fiftysomethings_4454_144234403
 
…And for more pranks, click here.
Has anyone ever played these office tricks on you?

Textbook Economics, Part I: Are Digital Libraries the Future of Learning?

At the Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, NY, print textbooks are a thing of the past. For the 2013-2014, school year, the school has converted its curriculum to digital textbooks stored on an Internet cloud. So far, according to Lisa Alfasi of Pearson Education, Stepinac is the only high school in the country to abandon print textbooks entirely.
Digital textbooks are certainly a growing trend in the education sector, and not just in private educational institutions. By 2017, all North Carolina public schools will receive funding for exclusively digital textbooks. While moving to a digital library has its perks, the question remains how every single student will gain access to a computer, either provided by the school or a “bring-your-own” policy.
But after high school, according to the 2013 College Board Trends in College Pricing Report, students budgeted approximately $1,200 for textbooks and supplies for the 2013-2014 academic year. Student debt is an enormous obstacle for many recent graduates (read this excellent NY Times feature for an in-depth look at this issue), and the cost of textbooks often is not even included in tuition and fees that can near $60,000 per year for private universities alone.
In college, due to rising prices of hard-copy college textbooks, both online resources and textbook rentals are increasing in popularity. According to this USA Today article, some students avoid purchasing textbooks altogether in an effort to defray already astronomical education costs and student loans. In the future, it seems that textbook companies will have to develop cost-effective interactive and online versions of their books.

From the Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-368, page 6.
From the Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-368, page 6.

From this report, we can see that in the US, printed college textbook prices have risen at a rate of 82% from 2002-2012, and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) — which measures change over time in prices for bundles of consumer goods — has risen at a comparably much slower rate, 28%.
What does this mean? The cost of print textbooks is rising at a significantly faster rate than consumer goods at large. Therefore, proportionally, textbooks are becoming more expensive more quickly when compared to other goods considered in the CPI, which include eight major groups: food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, education and communication, and other goods and services. At the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, Bloomberg news addressed this textbook inflation as an “untenable trajectory,” according to Watson Scott Swail, president and CEO of the Educational Policy Institute.
To improve learning experiences, like at Stepinac High School, and offer a lower-cost alternative to print, publishing companies like Pearson Education are exploring options to capitalize on 3D digital technology for interactive textbooks. For example, Pearson’s Prentice Hall “United States History” digital text for iPad costs just $14.99 on Apple iBooks…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHNk0L2agY4
…But some would say that digital textbooks cannot replace the attractiveness of a hard copy textbook, at least in early childhood education.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBksLwCKLvk
Let’s return to the Stepinac model for a moment. With technology on the rise in classrooms, students unarguably have greater access to educational materials and resources. But what’s the solution for K-12 public schools, where funding usually does not cover procurement of technology for individual students (a problem case in point for the North Carolina plan to “go digital” by 2017)? And what about private and public universities, which generally provide neither print/digital textbooks nor computers for their students? The cost of learning remains a challenge, despite the benefits of a growing trend in digital textbooks in K-12 and university learning environments.
On a lighter note, thanks to Cagle Cartoons for this one.
Digital-Textbooks-on-the-rise

In your opinion…
Do you think digital textbooks should replace all, some, or no print media in K-12 and higher education classrooms?

 
Check back tomorrow for how SMARTdesks suggests “going digital” in the classroom!
 

SMARTdesks at Gulf Coast State College: The Inside Story

At the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) of Gulf Coast State College, in Panama City, Florida, SMARTdesks furniture is changing how learning happens.

The brand-new ATC opened for fall 2013 classes, and it is fully furnished with top-of-the-line SMARTdesks products. The LEED gold certified facility is 93,500 square feet and the first green building on the Gulf Coast campus. Through the ATC, the college seeks to provide students with the opportunities, resources, and network they need to succeed in a highly competitive global marketplace. To prepare its graduates for success outside of the classroom, the ATC curriculum is incredibly diverse; classes and divisions range from sustainable design to robotics and the culinary arts. (For a the comprehensive list of fields of study, click here).

The ATC mission is to provide its students with tools to communicate their skills and strengths in the 21st century job market. Accordingly, the building and its furnishings were designed to accommodate students and faculty who both bring their own devices and use preexisting technology infrastructure. GCSC invested heavily in a “learning convergence” environment, which refers to areas where students can work or have class while collaborating or using information technologies.

SMARTdesks computer desks and furniture — including the Exchange collaboration tables, iGroup, Nesta, Pi, and conference tables for board rooms — are a major component of the building’s open-architecture floor plans. Professors at Gulf Coast have found SMARTdesks furniture’s flexibility to be one of its greatest strengths. Dr. Ariba Garmin, Director of E-learning said, “The furniture SMARTdesks provided allows staff and student to create any learning environment you want. You almost don’t see it at all because you can move it around to suit your needs.”

The Exchange and iGroup, with their reconfigurable shapes, are collaboration tables tailored to the needs of the contemporary classroom. Each computer table element can be arranged in a variety of configurations, depending on the needs of individual teachers and professors. Nesta folds away quickly to clear classroom spaces of computer desks and tables when they aren’t needed. And Pi is the ultimate collaboration tool in the classroom; students can study separately or together in circles and lines.

To complete the ATC project, SMARTdesks collaborated with both Gulf Coast and the architect to construct the “future-forward” optimized learning environment that the college was looking for. Because the breadth of the course of study is so great, SMARTdesks engaged in mass customization to fulfill all of the ATC’s furniture needs. Mass customization means that every furnishing had to fit a divergent set of needs depending on the room for which it was designed. The SMARTdesks design team collaborated for months with the project architects on the design cloud to make sure each product was optimized for its space.

To read the full story in the November issue of PUPN magazine, click here. And for an excellent article on the history of learning environments, click here for a white paper from Educause, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing higher education through the use of technology.