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The problem and a Solution with interactive whiteboards

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by , 14th August 2013 at 11:40 PM (12202 Views)
Let me start by saying that I love regular analog marker whiteboards. They are great and my handwriting on them is much better than on paper. I love to have a room with two or three ten-foot marker boards to fill up for my lectures. There are a couple of downsides to this though:
  1. Rarely are there three 10' whiteboards in a lecture room
  2. Eventually you are forced to erase and start over
  3. This is not a great venue for distance learning via a camera

On top of these three issues, I was forced to teach a class last semester in a lecture hall with no whiteboard, but rather a Smart-Podium. Here are the pros and the cons of the Smart Podium
  1. Recorded my work so I could go back
  2. Recorded a movie so I could post it for students
  3. Handy to switch between the Note application and other programs for demonstrations

  1. With my handwriting one or two equations or figures took up the entire screen
  2. It did not save my settings
  3. When I scrolled I lost the students

I've decided I cannot do the Smart podium again. The semester is over and I will never schedule that lecture room again. I still want to be able to have a distance learning and recording option though. For the past 6 months I have researched my options. I will go through each one with the final one being the one I am going to try next.
Smart Board
I tried one of these when I was visiting an elementary school. I was hoping that my hand scrawl would work on the board, but alas the resolution and accuracy of the pen stunk. I became less of a fan the more I used it.
  1. Large Format so more can fit on the screen
  2. Saveable workspace
  3. Works for distance learning

  1. Accuracy was poor
  2. latency was poor (line followed my pen at a normal pace by 1 inch)
  3. Resolution was poor

IR cameras with Projectors
The next thing I tried was a handy little device that works with any projector to make it a touch screen kind of like a Smart Board. The camera was made by 3M and was under $200. It came with an infrared pen that lit up when it was touched to a solid surface. I hooked it up to a computer with a projector and displayed on a whiteboard. Calibration took a little while, but eventually I figured it out. I played around and decided that this was worse than a Smart Board
  1. Large Format so more can fit on the screen
  2. saveable workspace
  3. Cheap
  4. Works for distance learning

  1. Needs an ULTP (Ultra Low throw Projector) for really good use
  2. Has a time lag on drawing
  3. accuracy was poor
  4. Calibration was a pain

Though cheap, this would not work for what I wanted to do.

You can buy a nice system that has the ULTP and the camera all in one. I haven't tested these, but I think they might suffer from the same problems as this 3M product. Whenever I see demos with them I never see them try a very accurate drawing, just quick, large movements. Epson makes the nicest of these that has a desktop stand so you can turn a table into a nice large touch screen. For certain applications these are great, but not for my problem.

The problem with tablets is the same as with Smart Podium. All of them have a smaller area which means they will only be able to handle about 75% of what I could do with the smart podium

My Solution
Still in the testing phase is my possible solution. I had an epiphany that my touch area on a tablet or Smart podium need not be the entire screen being displayed to the students. In simplest terms let me try to describe what I want to try. Imagine that the projector that the students see is divided into a 3x3 matrix. On my tablet/ touch device I can only see one of the nine squares at once. This gives me the ability to be very accurate within one of those blocks. Because it is blown up larger than life the students will have no problem seeing what I am doing, but I have nine times the area of my tablet device to fill up on the screen. The problem is no one makes software like this.
Though no one makes software like this, I have thought of a work around and I have tested it. The problem is it requires two devices to make it happen. The first device is our host computer that connects to the projector. This computer hosts a simple whiteboard software and a VNC host server. VNC is a program that allows you to remotely control your computer over the network. From this point you would need a tablet device (pretty much any tablet you prefer). You can then log into the host computer from the tablet and control the zoom on the tablet. In other words the tablet will just be a window into the host projector/computer.
I have tested this using my android phone and a random computer over my wifi connection. It seemed to work very well. The android VNC client allowed me to scroll until I held the pen and then it would let me draw. The only problem is I want a stylus for my tablet.
Eventually I want to get a Samsung Galaxy Note 10. It comes with a stylus and also does something called palm rejection. Palm rejection means once the stylus is on the tablet it will not recognize your palm resting on the touch screen. The Galaxy Note is not the only device that does this, but it is the one I want to try. The big downside of this is that my wifi network at school is limited and so I have to find a different way to connect the two devices. This is turning into a very large headache.

One additional note is a secondary possible way to perform this on just one device. For demonstration purposes I would introduce the Sony Vaio Duo 13. This tablet/computer is a full fledged computer with a touch screen. It has palm rejection with a stylus, and it has a VGA output to accommodate standard projector systems. Once connected you can use the projector as an extended desktop. VNC allows you to only use one window as the host side. So you place your whiteboard application into the projector/extended desktop area, and then VNC client into that window. This means you don't need a network because you are simply connecting to yourself. It should also be extremely fast. The only downside that I see is you lose the possibility of sitting wherever you want to to lecture. The tablet remoted into the secondary/host computer allowed the lecturer to go anywhere in the room to lecture.

When I have one of these systems up, I will post a review and how it works. If you have any additional thoughts or questions, feel free to let me know so we can get something working well.



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