Last time we saw the SMILE Plug cloud computer, it was nothing more than a render -- an alabaster box with dual external antennas and a glowing green (or red) visage to let you know when it's functioning properly. We were told that it would be a dev kit that creates an ad-hoc network within a classroom that serves up to 60 devices at once using Arch Linux ARM, and can run off a wall outlet or a battery pack. Well, that bit of vaporware has coalesced into what you see above, and it seems that Marvell has delivered everything it promised. The final SMILE Plug packs 512MB of RAM, a 2Ghz single-core Armada 370 SoC and an enterprise-class 802.11 a/b/g/n Avastar WiFi chip to ensure high connectivity and power efficiency at a low monetary cost. It also has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, dual USB 2.0 plugs and a microSD slot for folks needing more than the 512MB of onboard storage. As currently configured, the SMILE Plug will cost around $30, and it'll start shipping to Stanford's SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment) pilot programs next month.
Marvell SMILE Plug cloud computer hands-on
Marvell doesn't plan to be the only one building these cloud computers, however, which is where the SMILE Consortium comes in. You see, the SMILE Plug is but a reference design, and Marvell and Stanford are trying to get OEMs building their own SMILE Plugs. The consortium is dedicated to "developing innovative education solutions on an open platform" and is seeking both hardware manufacturers and software developers to meet its goal of changing educational environments around the world. What kind of classroom do Stanford and Marvell envision, and how does the SMILE Plug fit into it? Join us after the break to find out.
You may be wondering just what the SMILE Plug is good for? Well, Stanford's SMILE Platform is designed to get students creating questions in the classroom instead of answering them. Dr. Paul Kim, Stanford School of Education CTO and Assistant Dean, sees the rote memorization and recall of facts method used in schools worldwide as a poor educational model because it doesn't properly engage students or encourage higher-level thinking skills. SMILE addresses this issue by forcing students to ingest source material and generate their own questions about it. Those questions are then reviewed by both their teacher and fellow classmates -- the more the question elicits critical thinking and reflects understanding of the information, the better that question will score. Over time, Dr. Kim has seen the quality of questions improve dramatically in trials and the program teaches students research and information organization skills that are "critical post-graduation life skills." SMILE is a flexible model that Dr. Kim has seen work equally as well with 3rd graders as with medical students, and he's had successful trials of the system in 22 countries, from South Korea to Tanzania.
The SMILE Plug is a tool that helps implement the SMILE system in places without access to the internet. It creates an ad-hoc network that students can connect to using their phones, tablets and PCs. Then, students generate, share and rate multiple-choice questions on those gadgets using a free, custom app. Marvell is also in the process of developing firewalls and monitoring tools to ensure that students stay on task. While Stanford and Marvell are, naturally, fully behind the SMILE pedagogy, Dr. Kim informed us that the SMILE Consortium is really just about improving education -- members are encouraged to use what Stanford and Marvell have created and develop their own hardware and software solutions. Marvell informed us that several OEMs have expressed interest in joining up and building SMILE Plugs of their own, but it'll be awhile before those partnerships are are officially announced. When will SMILE Plug exit the pilot phase of its implementation? Well, Dr. Kim is working on getting more school systems on the bandwagon, and Marvell's aiming for widespread production of its hardware in around a year.
Marvell and Stanford Announce Availability of the SMILE Plug,
Now Piloted in Over 20 Countries Worldwide, and the Formation of the SMILE Consortium
SMILE Consortium Drives Global Adoption of "Classroom 3.0" Leveraging the Marvell SMILE Plug: Transforming Traditional Classrooms Into Connected, Interactive and Secure Learning Environments
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (Sept. 18th, 2012) – Marvell (Nasdaq: MRVL) today announced the availability of the SMILE Plug, the first cloud computer designed to transform a traditional classroom setting into a highly interactive learning environment. Beta versions of SMILE Plug are currently being piloted in more than 20 countries worldwide in classrooms ranging from early elementary levels to graduate level programs. Marvell has also expanded its collaboration with Stanford University by announcing the formation of the SMILE Consortium, an industry organization dedicated to developing innovative education solutions on an open platform that enable "Classroom 3.0," a connected, secure learning environment that simplifies and speeds the deployment of technology to students worldwide.
"Education is the key foundation for the success of our future generation globally. I am very proud that Marvell has been a long-standing and passionate supporter of education and helping to build better and affordable technologies," said Weili Dai, Co-Founder of Marvell. "I believe it is important to help our teachers better connect with their students in the classroom with effective teaching tools to give students the power to learn, create, connect and collaborate in new ways. The Marvell SMILE Plug for 'Classroom 3.0' propels education into the 21st century with technology solutions – for both teachers and students – that give access to the best information and resources the world has to offer anywhere at anytime."
Developed in conjunction with the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE) program, the SMILE Plug is an easy-to-manage cloud computing server that supports a wide array of SMILE learning applications. Powered by Marvell's high-performance, low-power ARMADA® 300 series System-on-a-Chip (SoC) and Marvell's Avastar® 88W8764 Wi-Fi, the SMILE Plug creates a micro-cloud within a classroom that is controlled by the instructor, creating a secure, private, and robust classroom connection for up to 60 students.
"I've committed my academic career to creating and leveraging technology in the classroom that provides educators the ability to engage students more deeply in their learning environment. While technology innovation has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, the education model has not evolved. SMILE enables a new, modern paradigm for learning in global classrooms, from elementary to graduate schools," said Dr. Paul Kim, chief technology officer and assistant dean for the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. "Traditional education models focus on the memorization and recitation of facts; with our R&D partners such as Marvell and solutions such as the Marvell SMILE Plug, we focus on developing pedagogies that enable students to be actively in charge of their learning experience – conducting their own research, organizing information to form personalized theories and presenting these findings to their peers, which are critical post-graduation life skills."
The SMILE Plug provides teachers with a platform to expand access to and utilization of new educational content and the ability to control mobile devices within the classroom, enabling overall better lesson planning and student evaluation. The SMILE Plug leverages an open platform based on Arch Linux for ARM, the Plugmin administration app and the Stanford SMILE Server. It can also be connected to an external 5-volt Lithium-ion polymer battery for backup power, enabling use in areas where electricity can be inconsistent.
The SMILE consortium is an independent, open source member based community that is committed to improving the learning practices for students globally, especially in underserved communities, by leveraging the benefits of innovative mobile technology. The mission of the SMILE Consortium is to cause a paradigm shift within education by enabling students to be active agents in their learning through an inquiry-based learning model. By utilizing both mobile and cloud-based technology, the SMILE Consortium provides an open platform for creating new learning environments that enable Classroom 3.0.
The Marvell SMILE Plug is currently available; please visit http://www.marvell.com/solutions/education/cloud-computer-for-smile.jsp for more information.
For more information on the SMILE Consortium, including how to become a member, please visit: http://www.smileconsortium.org/.
"Children have traditionally looked to teachers and parents as sources for learning; connected devices like the Marvell SMILE Plug empower students to take their education into their own hands," said Claudia Olaciregui, a fifth-grade teacher at Ellis Elementary School in Sunnyvale, Calif., who has used the device in her classroom for the past two years. "By encouraging students to explore the areas that are most interesting to them – rather than memorizing facts outlined in a textbook – the SMILE Plug truly immerses students into the learning process."
"Arch Linux ARM is a proud contributor to the Marvell SMILE Plug," said Kevin Mihelich, Lead Developer of Arch Linux ARM. "Arch Linux ARM is optimized for small form factor devices, making it a good match for the SMILE Plug-classrooms can achieve the same results as using a much larger computer but with only a fraction of the power consumption, which is often a key criterion for schools in less developed regions."
"Razortooth Communications is excited to be a member of the SMILE Consortium to help create opportunities that bring easy-to-use "EDUTech" software to the world," said Junko Sakai, PR spokesperson for Razortooth Communications, LLC. "Our Plugmin app for the SMILE Plug is designed to be simple to use, configure and manage, which makes it a perfect component for classroom devices, where teachers have limited access to network administration resources."