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Why if and When to Move to BoardMaker Studio

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on Fri Feb 17, 2012

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Here's a 'changing over to the new Boardmaker Studio?' discussion that I imagine quite a few establishments will be having over the next wee while.

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Original Enquiry

I have a bit of a predicament and would really appreciate your help! In this city, we are about to refresh all our current computers...There are bound to be issues at refresh with new software and resources being required. The biggest issue for us is Boardmaker. In this special school, we are (I think!) advanced users of Boardmaker Plus!, using it to its fullest potential with lots of interactive activities and creating individualised resources for our children. We even make our communication passports using Boardmaker. However, we are using Mac versions and we need to move over to PC versions come refresh. The burning question is - Boardmaker 6 Plus! for PC or Boardmaker Studio? I have been trialling Boardmaker Studio, and I'm finding it hard to change the mindset of starting from scratch every time, to now using templates and adapting someone else's work / idea. Some of the interactive things I do currently can't be done without actual programming, or importing from the current version. I know you noted some reservations in your blog, and I was wondering if you had  any further thoughts about this?

Boardmaker is a wonderful resource, I could not teach without it, but I don't want to move to a version which is going to be a source of frustration at a time when there are lots of other changes happening.

Thanks in anticipation!

Kind regards

Principal Teacher, Special School

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Answer from Sally at CALL

Yes this is a big dilemma for you, I understand.  There is no 'right answer' of course, as you already realise - it's a judgement call. And your school is perhaps a bit of a special case, as an 'advanced symbol-using special school'.

If you and your colleagues are finding that you can do everything you want to already with BM Plus, I think on balance I'd advise you to stick with it. Especially if you have cracked the whole interactive speaking, draggable IWB classroom resources bit (which is the sticking point for many others, who still only use BM for printable materials).  And also especially if, as you say, there are going to be lots of other difficult changes to cope with at the same time, concerning the refresh.

CALL has just heard from a PT at another Special School who says that they are sticking with BM 6 Plus! - no plans to change to Studio. Maybe partly money and partly a positive choice.  Indeed, there seem to be people here and in the USA that still use the decades-old original or very early versions of BM  (Mac and PC) quite happily, so there is no obvious need to rush to change to the newest version.

The only thing I can see that you'd lose out on with BM Plus! rather than Studio, is the possibility that more and more of the shared resources available on BoardMaker Share may start to be in Studio not Plus (and the complicated interactive ones are not usually 'backwards compatible') but to be honest I think it will be a long time before that starts to happen, and maybe your school materials are so specialised anyway that that wouldn't affect you unduly anyway. Interestingly, the new add-on 'Pre-Made Activities' (pretty cheap) coming out, see http://www.mayer-johnson.co.uk/pre-made/   - and these may well increase as time goes on - apparently run on their own, and don' t need BM Plus or BM Studio to run.

However, this is really a whole school / authority strategy issue, not just a choice for you as an individual teacher (or do you have designated responsibility for ICT, overall)?

I think Mayer Johnson's plan is to market BM Studio into schools that have never used symbols before, including Secondary schools, and to push the 'inclusive classroom/school' concept. I believe BM Studio was designed to make things easier for new users (especially teachers wanting interactive materials for IWB use). If a school or a member of staff is just starting out and thinking of using symbols for the first time, I am starting to point them to BM Studio, and they seem to recognise it as being 'like PowerPoint' or 'like Clicker' - and can also see that it could actually replace both of those as well, to streamline down to one single package (which might make it more likely to be used well than staff trying to use three or more packages).

For you, relevant considerations are perhaps (1) the 'user demographic' (sorry!) in the school . Do ALL the staff know and use BM Plus as well as you do? Is there training in it at this 'advanced' level for new staff coming in? Or are there just you / one or two 'experts' and all the others leave you to make all the material for the school?  And if the latter - what happens if/when you and your 'advanced' colleagues leave the school?  You should perhaps consider also what support other than from Mayer-Johnson you and other staff currently use / need / benefit from.  If you share materials with other schools and or have materials made for you by external specialists, then you might want to also consult them on this issue (probably you already have) and think about agreeing an overall strategy rather than potentially going off in separate directions.

And (2) the other software used in the school - and how widely and how well this other software is used?  If the school already has whizzo advanced expert users of Clicker and  Powerpoint then maybe there is no need for another package that does this kind of thing (with symbols inbuilt) but if these are under-used and you you think that some of these functions might enhance teaching and learning opportunities then BMStudio might have something to offer.

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Finally there are always compromise solutions. I know it sounds a bit mad, but there might be a case to be made for buying a copy  (or some licences) of EACH version, so that different staff who might be at different points of expertise and experience, and might have pupils who are very different, could use the one that suits them best, and also have the opportunity to plan and build a kind of 'Boardmaker Transition Strategy' for the school / authority (for I fear that BM 6 Plus! may be set to disappear completely in a few years time.)

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Sorry it's so complicated but hope this helps.

Best wishes, Sally

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Response from Enquirer

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed response! I am happy for you to publish this on your blog or elsewhere, as it is a problem others will be facing.

I have a dual role in this is as ICT co-ordinator for my own school, but also as the special schools "champion" (unnecessarily grand title!) on the refresh team. There are 3 of us across the city trialling Boardmaker Studio over the next 6 months, and Mayer Johnson are keen to get some kind of package in place for refresh.

I would say that most staff have a good grounding in Boardmaker, and all classes are using interactive resources. There's probably an "expert" in each class, either teacher or member of support staff.

We don't use Clicker perhaps as much as we should, and are moving towards using Boardmaker for most things, including presentations.

I think your suggestion of using both versions to allow a period of transition is probably the best way forward.

Thanks again for your time and your support.

Principal Teacher, Special School

Tags: AAC, symbols, software, Boardmaker

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