Tag Archives: $50 interactive whiteboard

Smartboard Trials and Tribulations

Last quarter I received a Smartboard to use for the quarter on a trial basis via the TELR Smart SEED program at Ohio State. I’ve been really impressed with how smoothly the Smartboard works as an interface.  Compared to the $50 Wii-based version, the Smartboard requires much less calibration and feels more natural without the LED pen.  In short, it’s a really slick product.  However, the sheer size of the portable version has been a big barrier to me.

Unfortunately, as you can see / hear in the above video, the model I was given was a bit awkward to move and we were not able to find a good place to store it aside from leaving it in the classroom, which was not secure.  I did manage to find a couple of rooms that had permanently mounted Smartboards, which were fantastic, but I wasn’t actually able to regularly use the one I was given.

It would be great to have a Smartboard in every room, but this is a huge initial investment.  Before making this committment, we need to decide that this is a worthwhile investment.  To make this decision, we should give teachers experience with them.  I think this catch-22 can be solved by distributing the $50 Wiimote-based version to decide if it’s worth making the larger committment.

There are lots of articles out there that talk about how interactive whiteboards are transformative, but when you read through the examples of how the technology is used, many of the examples do not fully exploit the technology (i.e. writing can be done on a traditional whiteboard, movies can be projected on a traditional screen).

So, I’m going back to encouraging teachers to build and use $50 interactive whiteboard, but I’m also going to encourage them to use Smartboards, if they are available.  (Another alternative would be to combine the Smartboard software with the Wii-mote-based hardware, but the Smarttech requires a separate license to do this.)

I’m compiling uses for interactive whiteboards by tagging them with me Delicious account (see them at http://delicious.com/eslchill/iwb).  If you have ideas for innovative uses, please share them.  The technology can be transformational, but I’m not sure we’ve found the “killer app” yet.

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Mashable Interactive Whiteboard Activites

Body parts.

Body parts.

I recently followed a tweet (a message on Twitter) from Dai Barnes to his Diigo bookmark list (Diigo is like Delicious, but you can annotate pages with highlighters, etc.) and found several interesting resources.  The most immediately useful was Sanfields Free Flash Resources for Teachers.

This site links to several popular classroom games including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune, and Matching, all of which pull questions from an XML file, which means they can be customized for your words and phrases!  Instructional videos for doing this are linked from the website.

There are also some handy little gizmos like a clickable traffic light, which could be used to give non-verbal feedback to students, and a customizable wheel of fortune for making random choices, picking teams, questions, etc.

There are also a few games tailored specifically to the interactive whiteboard-equipped classroom.  One of these is a fridge magnet letters game which allows students to drag and drop letters of their choosing.  Another, which I think is even more ingenious, is called Rouleaux.  It works like a slot machine with three spinning reels (a two-reel version is also available) which randomly selects topics from a given category.  The results of each spin can be used to generate ideas for roleplaying, impromtu speeches, and many other activities.  Again, the best part is that the game is cutomizable; You can choose different combinations of reels (for example, the “body” reel at left) and even create your own.  How great!

I’m thrilled to have found activities that are so customizable.  Being able to adapt and change them makes these resources exponentially more valuable.

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Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii)

Ivan just got back from TESOL, where the Wiimote-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard was very well received.  We started talking about some of the questions that were asked which lead to this post: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the $50 Interactive Whiteboard.

How much does it cost? / Is it really only $50?
The controller for the Nintento Wii is for sale throughout the United States for $40.  You can build an infrared pen for $5-6.  The software is free to download.  The cost of the computer, projector, and Bluetooth adapter (if your computer does not have built-in Bluetooth) are not included in the $50.

I can’t make my own infrared pen.  Can I buy one?
Absolutely.  Do a Google search and you will find several options starting as low as $6.

Do I have to modify the Wiimote? / Can I still use it with my Wii?
No / Yes.  The Wiimote connects to the computer via Bluetooth, the same way it connects to the Wii.  You don’t have to open the Wiimote, break it, or reprogram it.  So, if you (or your kids) have a Wii, you can use the equipment you already have for both purposes.

Can I take a Wiimote and infrared pen in my carry-on luggage?
You mean if you’re flying to a conference to make a presentation?  It turns out you can.  Both Ivan and I have recently carried these devices onto flights and had no problems at all.

How do I know if my infrared pen is working?
Check it with the camera on a cell phone.

How do I get started?
Download the free software (Mac version or PC version), build an infrared pen (see my demo) or buy one online, connect to the Wiimote via Bluetooth (open your Bluetooth devices, push the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wiimote, add the device), run the software, calibrate it (push the “calibrate button,” click on the targets), and you are done.

How do I set it up?
Place the Wiimote so that it is at least as high as the midpoint of the screen and aimed at the center of the screen.  It should be at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the screen on either the left or right side, depending on how you write — you don’t want to block the Wiimote’s view of the pen with your hand.  The Wiimote should be placed far enough away (usually about 10 feet) to be able to “see” the whole screen.  You’re ready to calibrate (see above).

What should I do?  My writing is choppy. / My Wiimote can’t see my pen. / There are too many infrared dots!
If your writing is choppy or your pen seems to stutter, try adjusting the “smoothness” on the PC version.  Mac users have fewer options.  Quit as many other applications as you can and / or try moving the Wiimote closer to the screen and recalibrating.
If your Wiimote can’t see your pen, check that the Wiimote is connected to your computer and that your pen is working.  Assuming everything is working properly, you probably need to reposition your Wiimote so that it can see the entire screen.  The Mac version allows you to track infrared dots that the Wiimote sees, which is helpful, but both versions tell you how many dots are visible.  Try the pen at all four corners to make sure it is visible.  If not, move the Wiimote and try again.
If you are seeing too many infrared dots, you may be picking up interference.  I’ve gotten infrared interference from overhead incandescent lighting.  Try moving the Wiimote around to see if you can identify the source of the interference and then eliminate it (in my case, I turned off those lights).

Hope this helps.  If you have a question that does not appear on this list, leave it as a comment and I’ll answer it and / or add it to the list.

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Projects: Update

A quick update on projects I have been and am working on:

Not actually my desk, but you get the idea.  Lots to do!

Not actually my desk, but you get the idea. Lots to do!

1. ESL Sandbox – coming up – I had been kicking around this idea (basically, word blocks that can be dragged around the screen to form a variety of sentences), but I have decided to try to pull it together.  After talking with some of the ICALLers at CALICO, I think I can come up with a flash-based version that would perform some basic, binary analysis of word blocks as they are dragged together.  If the words can be paired in that order, they will “stick.”  If not, they won’t.  Sentence level analysis might be too much to ask, but will word pairs be enough to analyze?  Once it’s built, we’ll try it and see.

2. Twitter and Personal Learning Environments – coming up – I was recently introduced to Twitter but really became a fan during CALICO.  It was used as another layer of discussion (a backchannel) that really added to the conference experience for me.  I also learned a lot about Personal Learning Environments and other ways to apply Web 2.0 technologies in educationally useful ways.  I intend to explore these further, particularly in the context of exploring offering online classes.

3. Interactive Whiteboards – ongoing – Since building my first $50 Wiimote-based interactive whiteboard, this project has been very well received.  I’m still hoping to get another grant to put more of them in more teachers’ hands.  (If you’re in Ohio, and interested, make sure you contact me.)  In the meantime, I received a Smartboard to use Spring Quarter.  It will be interesting to see how they compare.  I talked to some people at CALICO who had used both and preferred combining the Wiimote hardware and Smart software.  The Wiimote hardware is much more portable and is easier to use with permanently mounted projectors, which are in most of the classrooms I use.  Look for more updates on how this shakes out in the spring.

4. Second Life – done – I taught an elective class in Second Life last fall.  There were about six students who stayed with the course for its four-week duration.  Overall, they enjoyed the experience but it was more of a novelty than something that could really be used regularly in the classroom.  The student in my class were obviously technophiles who took to the movements (walking, flying, etc.) very naturally.  Building was a frustrating experience because of both the precision required and difficulty with collaborating (if two people accidentally take ownership of something by editing it, neither can move it again.)  We also had trouble finding reliably friendly places to meet new people to talk with.  Second Life search feels a little like pre-Google Yahoo searching — finding something you know is easy, but finding something new is difficult.  Until these issues are resolved, I probably won’t take students there again.

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Zoom It with Sys Internals

Peter, our indispensable ESL tech support, recently pointed out Zoom It to me. It’s part of the Microsoft Sys Internals Suite. From what I gather, a couple of software developers named Bryce Cogswell and Mark Russinovich came up with these utilities to do things that the crew in Redmond didn’t think of. Eventually, they formed their own company to promote them which was purchased my Microsoft. To learn more, search for some of these names on Wikipedia. I’m sure there is an interesting and geektastic story behind all of it, but I digress.

Microsoft Sys Internals includes utilities like Zoom It.

Microsoft Sys Internals includes utilities like Zoom It.

For users of Wii-based interactive whiteboards, ZoomIt may be very useful. After a hotkey is pressed, ZoomIt gives you the ability to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around, and write on the screen. It works with all versions of windows and at only 129KB to download, it’s a pretty efficient little piece of software.

I haven’t used this myself, but it seems like it could be pretty useful. If you try it, leave me a comment and tell me what you think

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I’m Getting Smart

Get SMART.  (Or build your own!)

Get SMART. (Or build your own!)

Well, I’m getting a SMART board.  Ivan (of Ivan’s Insight fame) was interested in their Airliner Wireless Slate so when the Digital Union announced it’s SMART Seed program, he applied and put me down for one of their portable interactive boards.  We figured it might help our chances if we talked about how awarding us this technology would put it in twice as many hands as awarding it to just one person.  We must have convinced them.

After I heard the results from Ivan, I had mixed emotions.  Was this abandoning the $50 version?  Was I selling out?

Not exactly.  I’m looking forward to getting some firsthand experience with a SMART board.  I’m also curious to know more about how SmartTech enables users to connect are share info and ideas with each other (something that needs to be done with the home-built versions as well).  And, finally, will the slick plug-and-play corporate version, which should eliminate most of the hassle that goes along with the cheaper version, really be worth the price?

So, look for reports here once we get them in our hot little hands.  And thanks to Ivan for getting this done!

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Infrared Pen Construction Demo

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