Education Technology Thought Leader Interview: SMART Technologies CTO Warren Barkley

This post was written by Kelly Walsh and originally appeared on Emerging EdTech. It is used here with permission. Be sure to follow @EmergingEdTech for more on engaging students and enhancing learning with technology. 

 

As the Chief Technology Officer of SMART Technologies, there is no doubt that Warren Barkley is a busy man. He has been writing blog posts and posting on social media (as I think today’s CXOs should be :)) in addition to his other work and life responsibilities, including 4 children. I want to thank Warren for making some time to engage with me and share insights, resources, and perspective with our readers here on EmergingEdTech.

Prior to joining SMART Technologies in 2012, Barkley worked for Microsoft, so he is no stranger to working for technology companies. I know that when I came to education from another industry, there was so much to learn, and I dove into it head first and have not looked back. Barkley appears to have taken a similar track. Let’s explore this further and learn more about how the CTO advocates for smart uses (pun intended!) of “#EdTech”.

  1. I’m a big believer that the best technology leaders are those who embrace the industry that they are working in, so they can work to innovate solutions that truly help their companies stay ahead of the curve. From the discussion we’ve had, and from your blog posts and social media shares, I can see you are of a similar mind. What drove you to the education industry, and what do you do to help stay up on the challenges and opportunities that come with it?

I actually started my career in education, having received bachelor degrees in both music and education. I took my first teaching position in the early 90’s and then moved on to be principal for the school. From there, I went to Microsoft – so by coming to SMART, I get to combine my passion for both education and technology – it’s the best of both worlds.

In terms of staying on top of the challenges and opportunities, I read a lot of education publications. I talk to our customers on a regular basis, and our dev teams go into the classroom to experience firsthand how our products are being used. We also work with educators throughout the year to improve our products based on their input. And of course with four kids, I keep on top of the challenges faced in their schools throughout the year.

  1. Speaking of change and innovation, it is no secret that SMART has been a leader in Interactive Whiteboards for years. With the rapid evolution of education technology, what sorts of technologies and services is SMART focused on lately to help anticipate changes in how educators leverage technology as a teaching and learning tool?

Our mission is to enable people to work and learn in ways that are natural to them. We create products that are intuitive and simple to use – so that the technology fosters the collaboration. SMART Boards in the classroom require some training to use to their fullest potential, but as we move forward, all of our solutions are built around the concept of “walk-up-and-use.” So when students and teachers walk into the classroom, they naturally know how to use the tools in front of them. Some examples of this are SMART kapp and SMART kapp iQ as well as SMART amp.

  1. So tell me more about SMART amp. Do teachers need to have a SMART Board to use it?

SMART amp is collaborative learning software that is cloud-based and designed specifically to make collaboration in the classroom simple and more effective. SMART amp provides an expansive workspace where teachers and students can join together by chatting, co-creating, and engaging with content. It puts many of the instructional features you find in different apps and plug-ins all in one location for a seamless teaching and learning experience. And because it operates in a web-browser, teachers ensure that students have a consistent learning experience anywhere, anytime, on any Internet-connected device – no SMART Board required.

  1. We discussed the idea of 21st Century Learning and how it is really a good deal more than many practitioners seem to understand. Can you elaborate on that a bit?

The idea of 21st Century Learning is interesting because we are witnessing technology having the same effect on curriculum and learning as it has had on the international business scene. For the first time in history, technology has “flattened” the world by allowing information sharing and collaboration across the globe in a matter of seconds. Now, in order to remain relevant, content must be digital. Students are turning to online and digital resources first – analog and text-based resources are becoming obsolete. Practitioners at every level should consider how technology is changing the classroom and the way in which students learn. The sooner educators embrace this reality, the better prepared their students will be for entering the ever-evolving digital world.

  1. One of the key 21st Century Skills employers are increasingly hoping that students will have when they enter the workplace is Creativity. How are teachers using SMART Technologies solutions to develop creativity as a skill?

I love this question, because I truly believe our products foster creativity in a way that few edtech solutions do. The very nature of tools like SMART Boards, SMART Notebook and SMART amp are to enable group learning – whether it’s small groups or large, inside the classroom or outside of it, within a single classroom or across countries and time zones. We enable group and project-based learning that inspires students to contribute in ways they never would without SMART in their classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard kids say that they have more creative ideas or are more willing to contribute because of the project-based learning and group learning activities they do using SMART.

  1. I’ve been inspired by a number of education technology focused books. Sal Khan’s One World Schoolhouse, and Sams and Bergmann’s Flip Your Class: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day are two such examples. I wish every teacher would read both of these! I like to ask those I interview about specific books, authors, or educators that have inspired them? Any specific works or experts you would recommend that have inspired you?

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. It is a data-based study of success and the factors that lead to it. I think every parent should understand that character matters more than academic performance.

In terms of influencers, every time I talk to Angela Maiers I learn something. Her views on how to help teachers fix the complex problems with simple solution cut through the fog. It’s worth following her – http://www.angelamaiers.com/.

  1. So, with the time and energy you’ve devoted to education and technology in the last few years, I’m curious … if you had just one recommendation to make to teachers everywhere regarding the integration of technology and education, what would that be?

Start with the learning. Not the outcomes as much as how can you create a lesson that enables co-creation and creativity. Be a coach, not a teacher, in that process and then figure out what tools (technology) you need for the job. Let the kids help you find those tools and teach the class how to use them (here you need to let go a bit, because almost always children will understand the technology better than you and take to it faster than you). Finally ask yourself does the technology reflect how the kids would use it in their lives, or am I restricting in a way that feels artificial? If it does not authentically reflect their connectedness and usage outside of school – children, especially teenagers – become less engaged.

  1. How about Administration? What are the most important recommendations you would like to drive home for administrators and leaders at other institutions regarding the integration of technology and education?

I probably shouldn’t say this but I will… I often worry that administrators and middle management get in the way of making good edtech purchasing decisions. We have seen lots of examples where the addition of technology to classrooms is a political decision, not an educational one. We’re entering an era, if not already entered, where students expect to be connected, use the latest and best tools, and won’t tolerate barriers. In many cases the mobile device that kids have in their pockets is newer and more powerful than what the school can provide especially, on an ongoing basis. Administrators need to be thinking innovatively, now more than ever, about what is most effective not only for their current students, but also the students five years from now. From the dozens of schools and districts I have visited around the world, the difference between great use and availability of technology in classrooms and not comes down to leadership more so than funding. If there is a coherent, concrete edtech vision that is bought into by parents and leadership, great things follow.

  1. The ever expanding array of technology tools at our disposal these days can be both exciting and overwhelming. If you had to pick just a few, what are some specific uses of technology you see emerging over the rest of the current decade as having the most potential for engaging students and impacting learning outcomes?

I think mobile devices in the classroom are as important as Internet access. I recently saw some research that states more than 70 percent of high-school aged kids have their own mobile device. And more than 90 percent access the Internet at least once a day. With statistics like this, it’s clear that these are the tech tools kids use most, and there’s tremendous opportunity to facilitate learning through the tools they know and love. We talked about SMART amp earlier, and this is exactly the type of tool that makes learning accessible and natural for kids on any device, anywhere with an Internet connection. Because the Internet gives students access to a ubiquitous amount of content, technology that helps users sort through the information, understand and process it, is crucial. In addition, students need to be actively engaged in the learning process, collaborating to teach themselves and others, so in that vein, technology that allows for real-time collaboration will have a great impact on engaging students and fostering successful learning outcomes.

  1. Any additional thoughts, observations, or future plans you would like share with EmergingEdTech readers?

I think mobility and access to information online is key to the future of education. In fact, I believe it will deeply impact the role of traditional schools today. Rather than traditional schools, you might see something like a center of learning with all the curriculum online, which allows students to learn at their own pace. And when they need help, they can go in – teaching is becoming less about teaching and more about facilitating learning, so to speak. No more sage on the stage… teachers will instead become guides on the side – facilitators and instructional coaches. If you think about it, going to class will be more like the workplace today, where people can work from anywhere and only attend a physical location/meeting place on an as-needed basis. This change won’t happen overnight, but I do think it will happen. In general, people are resistant to change, but this is truly child-centered learning and happens to financially make a lot of sense as well.

Thanks again Warren and continued luck to you and to SMART Technologies!

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Warren Barkley
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About Warren Barkley

Warren Barkley is SMART's Chief Technology Officer. He brings over 19 years of technology experience and leadership. Over the last two years at SMART he has built a world class technology team, created a new product category with SMART kapp, and award winning education SAAS SMART amp. Prior to his current role, he served as General Manager in the Microsoft Lync/Skype division. Barkley held several key positions in Microsoft over his tenure and was instrumental in the development of Microsoft Lync as the communication and collaboration software of choice for Fortune 500 companies. At Microsoft he also played a central role in establishing WiFi as a worldwide standard. Barkley holds over 60 worldwide patents in networking, wireless and communications. Barkley has degrees from University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. Before his technology career Barkley was a teacher and musician.

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