The wait is nearly over and Smart Notebook 11 is set to be released on 23rd April. (Edit : It’s here.) I’ve been lucky enough to download a copy early and have a sneak peak of the new version of the Smart software and see how much it has changed since it was previewed at BETT back in January. Thanks to the folks at Smart for letting me have a copy.
I’ll try and sort out some videos in the near future that demonstrate some of the new features, and I will also have to update some of my training materials, but for now here’s an initial run through of some of the things that caught my eye.
The first thing that caught my eye is the redesigned main toolbar. This was beginning to get quite cluttered by version 10.8 and not every tool would fit on the single row. The new toolbar has two rows so more tools can fit on. As before you can customise the tools available, and move the toolbar to the bottom of the screen. The icons to do this are on the far right of the toolbar.
The left hand side of the toolbar stays the same. The right hand side is a contextual toolbar: If you choose a tool such as the Pens, the toolbar changes, to reflect the options available to you.
All the pens are grouped together now – Regular pens, creative pens, calligraphy pen and the new crayon tool. It’s also now possible to customize the creative pen which lets you build your own stamp using any image you choose.
Likewise if you choose a shape, then the various shape options appear. From here you can choose the type of shape, as well as colour and outline style.
A new tool is the regular polygons tool – which has a few new shapes, and clearly shows how many sides each shape will have when you draw it. This will definitely be of interest to maths teachers. It allows shapes from 3 to 14 sides.
A new feature that I’m very pleased to see is the Freehand Fill. I’m not quite sure why it’s taken so long to get this since MS Paint has been doing it for centuries But now it’s here. Draw any irregular shape with the pen tool, and you can fill it in with the paint bucket.
It does not group the fill and the outline automatically. So if you want both to move together you’ll need to group them after filling. Personally I’d like them to autogroup and then be able to ungroup if I wanted them as separate shapes. I think more people would be expecting it to work that way. But then Promethean software has always worked this way too, so maybe it’s just me
Another new feature is the Embedded web browser: This means that you can insert a live web page directly onto a SMART Notebook software page. You can interact with it as normal, plus use the pen tools to annotate on top of the page as well as drag and drop images from the browser into your lesson. I found it worked well, and will be a handy addition.
You need to remember to use the pin icon to “pin” a particular page in place so that it’s there when you next open the file, otherwise you start with a default welcome page from Smart. There is another “pin” button with a green arrow that returns you to the pinned page, if you go off on a browse and need to go back to that page.
One niggle is that there’s no browser zoom option so that you’re stuck on a page resolution/size dictated by the browser. If you want to see more of a page you may have to scroll a bit. I think it would also be good to have an “open in browser” button so that you could go straight to IE or Firefox to get a regular page view too (rather than having to hyperlink).
Another brand-new feature that looks really interesting is the Activity builder. Basically it lets you create activities where objects react to actions by accepting or rejecting other objects. So you could create containers that would only accept a correct set of answers – such as odd numbers, kings of england or the correct text label for a diagram.
So in the example below I set up the box to only accept red objects, and to reject green ones. Incorrect objects will move back to their start position, and if you wish you can also have them play a sound.
I can see lots of potential for this – and I’ll work on some examples and a tutorial in the future. Watch this space.
A very interesting new feature is the Audio recording option. You can now record sounds directly into your SMART Notebook lesson. This means you can quickly add audio of yourself or students to a page as a link. To play the sound, click on the link. If you want to attach a sound to an object such as an image, right click on the object and select Sound, then record yourself. The sound is automatically attached.
I had a great chat with Jim Hollis from Teachers Love Smartboards and he pointed out that this records sounds as an .ogg file rather than an .mp3 file – so this will mean sounds added in this way won’t work if the file is opened in older versions of Smart Notebook. So do be aware of that.
Other tools to be aware of include a Reset page feature to return your page to its last saved state and a Show Page border feature which will show you where the page borders will be when the file is shown on other computers – useful if you make your pages at home on a different resolution monitor to that used in schools.
The tables have been improved too. It does feel easier to scale, move and interact with tables more easily. You can also quickly turn a cell shade back on once you’ve clicked on it to reveal the cell contents (Thanks Jim for showing me that!). I need to play a little more with the tables, and will report back on those another time.
In terms of the common whiteboard file format, I was interested in how well this new version would deal with .IWB files, following the experiment I had a few weeks ago. I tried Smart 11 with the same .IWB files as before, and like Smart 10.7+ it was pretty awful at opening them up. I hope this is something Smart can look into with later releases of 11 in the future. It’s not a big issue right now, but it would be nice to see sometime.
So on the whole I really like the look of Smart 11. It looks great, and it was very easy to get up and running. I’ve always been a big fan of Smart notebook and this version builds on that legacy well. If you are already familiar with version 10 then you should be able to migrate to 11 quite easily. The new features will be very welcome by a lot of you I’m sure. If you do have version 10 then the update to 11 will be free of charge. Activation keys work in the same way as before.
Thanks again to the folks at Smart for letting me get a sneak preview of the new version. Keep an eye on the Smart website for more details. Not long to wait now!