SmartDraw Diagramming Utility
The SmartDraw graphics package for charts and diagrams is actually the most fun software utility that I’ve used in some time. Almost any teacher of statistics or social studies has had the difficulty of trying to communicate a vital topic to their class that has unfortunate stigma of being, at least from the vantage point of a typical student, “dry.” Of course, “interesting” is a subjective concept, and it’s oftentimes unrelated to how important a particular set of ideas might be. In some cases, there’s little that can be done: some important issues, like, say, tax law, are just not inherently exciting.
A large proportion of other subjects, however, and perhaps the largest share overall, are the many subjects that could be fascinating, if they weren’t so abstract. Not being able to “see” what’s being discussed in terms of concrete examples and visually displayed material can potentially drain the life force out of many a crucial set of ideas in applied mathematics, psychology, history and social studies, sociology and anthropology, and many other vital academic areas.
SmartDraw.com’s flagship software package SmartDraw is a powerful tool to counteract this syndrome. With this combined graphics utility, symbol and clip art collection, and design aid, just about anyone can be create complex graphs, flow charts, and diagrams with an ease of use described by the company as constituting a “zero learning curve.” Are your students bored with lab reports in 3rd period chemistry? With a minimum of effort and cost, you can give them the tools to breakdown the empirical reports with a sophisticated series of report graphs that rivals 3M’s. Does communicating a set of lifeless statistics to your Sociology grads to demonstrate the explanatory power of cliometrics sound excruciating? Presenting them visually in chart and diagram form, personalized with selections from a voluminous collection of graphics and clip art, can be like a revelation.
Although intended for consumer and institutional advertisers and not graphics professionals, the product offers a host of productive features like drag and drop drawing, intelligent chart connectors, a wide array of templates, tables, fills, and theme art. The package is available in three different versions as well: SmartDraw standard, SmartDraw Professional, and SmartDraw Professional Plus. As a recommendation for the typical education professional, I would suggest that the Professional package would probably be best suited for in-class usage, with its seamless integration with the Microsoft Office Suite, and built-in spell checker. However, a case can be made for the specialized symbol collections and art work included as a bonus with the Professional Plus package, for those that can take advantage of those benefits. A very strong series of tutorials accompanies the software further enhancing user-friendliness.
With demos available on the site for free trials of the packages, it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with SmartDraw 6. The only thing it could do is improve your ability to hold your students’ attention, and facilitate conceptual expression. To download trials, or purchase on-line, log onto the manufacturer’s product page at www.smartdraw.com.#