Using a Tablet as a Document Camera That Can Record Lectures

I currently teach large lecture classes at Georgetown University for the School of Foreign Service in various classrooms throughout campus. The classes that I teach provide students with a basic understanding of quantitative methods. These classes require that I engage students in lecture by using many examples, which essentially require the use of a chalkboard, and the ability to record lectures (including what I write on the chalkboard) so that students can review the material at a later time.

Past Solutions to the Problem

In the past, I first tried using solely the chalkboard in large lectures in an effort to go through the material at a slower pace so that I would hold the students’ attention. The problem with solely relying on the chalkboard was that not all the students in the classroom were able to view the chalkboard due to the configuration of the classrooms (some of the classrooms were too wide and students on one side could not see what was written on the chalkboard, while other classrooms were too narrow and long so students in the back had difficulty reading what was written on the chalkboard). In order to solve this problem, the following semester I used PowerPoint slides and the projector so that all students could view the notes regardless of where they sat in the classroom. The problem with PowerPoint slides was that I was going through the material at a much faster pace, which resulted in a majority of the students getting lost or not being able to fully understand the material. To adjust the issue of pace, I decided to record the lectures so students could review the material if they needed. The problem with the PowerPoint slides with lecture capture (other than the fast pace) was that I still needed to use the chalkboard. However, when I used the chalkboard the lecture captures still did not record the chalkboard, which was not very helpful if students wanted to review the material after class (due to the gaps in the lecture recordings).

The Solution

Since none of the classrooms at Georgetown University that I have taught in had the technology of a smart board (or something similar), I needed to find a better solution. After much research and thought, I realized what I needed was a portable document camera with the ability to record. The document camera would replace the blackboard and allow me to project written notes on a projector. This would more effective than using the chalkboard because the projection would allow that all students would be able to see what was on the screen regardless of the configuration of the classroom or where the students sat in the classroom. The ability to record would allow me to record everything that was being projected with the document camera. This would allow students to review the material as many times as they needed to.

Not only did I need a document camera with the ability to record, but I also needed the solution to be portable so that I could transport it from classroom to classroom (since not all classrooms at Georgetown University have a document camera with the capabilities to record). The solution I came up with was using a tablet as a document camera. In addition to the tablet, I needed a stand that would convert the tablet into a document camera, and an application that would record the notes being projected. Once I thought of a solution, it was easy to find the perfect stand (just stand 2) and an application (boardcam pro) that allowed me to successfully turn the tablet into a document camera to replace the blackboard and record the lectures without gaps.

The problems with the configuration of the classrooms at Georgetown University, I needed a classroom with the technology to do the following:

  • Use of the chalkboard that all students can view regardless of where they sat in the room
  • The ability to record what is written on the chalkboard so that students can review lectures to prepare for assignments and exams
  • A solution that provided both of these that was available in all the possible classrooms that I would teach in the coming years.

One of the solutions to both of these problems are classrooms with a smartboard technology, which most of the classrooms at Georgetown University do not possess. I needed to find a solution that allowed me to do these things in a large lecture setting.

Throughout the years using the chalkboard versus using PowerPoint slides, I found that students learn more with the use of a chalkboard. The use of a chalkboard allows the instructor to go at a slower pace, which in turn leads to a better explanation of the material. I noticed that students did better on assignments and exams the semester I used the chalkboard versus the semesters I used PowerPoint. In addition to comparing grades, I also compared the comments on teaching evaluations. Most of the comments on the evaluations during the semesters I used a PowerPoint alluded to the lectures being “too fast paced” or “unclear,” which was not the case during the semesters that I used the chalkboard. Therefore, I wanted the ability to use the chalkboard (that was visible to all students in the classroom) so that I can go at a slower pace making the lectures and material clearer for students in order to enhance learning.

In addition to using the chalkboard, I also needed the ability to record every aspect of the lectures so that students had the ability to review the material on their own after lecture. Based on my own learning experiences and observing students’ learning in the past, I realized that quantitative methods (or statistics) is a topic that is best learned by most after repeated exposure. In other words, I found that most of the times, statistics is learned after reviewing the material a second (or third) time. Therefore, I needed to ensure that the students (who needed it) had the ability to review the material as many times as they needed in order to ensure they understood the material and do well in the course. Therefore, I needed to be able to record the things written on the chalkboard (without gaps) so that students can review it as many times as they needed in order to ensure a full understanding of the material.

The Findings

In order to assess the success of the tablet, students were provided with a link to survey that assessed how students felt about the use of the tablet in the classroom. Most students (over 95%) had positive things to say about the use of the tablet as a document camera and the use of the lecture captures. Most students either agree or strongly agree that they preferred the use of the tablet over the chalkboard in the classroom. They also agreed or strongly agreed that felt that the technology was used successfully in the classroom (when it worked, more on this in Section 2 below). The open ended comments mostly mentioned that they really appreciated the ability to review the lectures and that it enhanced their knowledge of the material. Here are some of the comments left by students:

  • "The thing I like best about it is that it forces the teacher to go at a good pace for note taking."
  • "This is my first experience with ITEL and found it extremely helpful when taking notes. As a visual learner, the ITEL activity allowed to me quickly comprehend the material."
  • "It allowed for better vision of the material to a large lecture and easy sharing online to better access materials."
  • "I was able to see all the course content and could later review the content via lecture captures."
  • "Very effective - I wish all courses that are not discussion based used some variation of this."
  • "Very effective to see exactly what the professor is doing."

The only negative comments left by students about the use of the tablet as a document camera were connectivity issues due to Saxanet (which will be discussed in Section 2). Overall, students had a very positive experience with the use of the tablet as a document camera and would prefer to see the technology used in this way in larger classes.

My advice to other faculty members if they want to use the tablet as a document camera is that it is very successful in a large lecture setting. Students will really be able to appreciate the pace and the ability to review lectures. I think this would be especially useful in large lectures in the fields of math and science.

I would like to offer two pieces of advice for faculty thinking about using the tablet as a document camera:

  1. Do not rely on Saxanet. Hook the ipad up to the projector with a connector. Initially we tried to project the ipad using Apple TV and relying on Saxanet. There were major connectivity issues and the ipad would disconnect from Saxanet frequently in the middle of lecture (every 5 minutes in some cases). After discussing this problem with CETS and UIS, I was told to perhaps ask students to put all their devices on airplane mode and that may (or may not) resolve the issue. During one lecture, Saxanet would disconnect the ipad every two minutes. During that lecture, I simply gave up and used the chalkboard, and was able to record the lecture. After this instance, I bought a connector that would allow me to hook up the ipad to the projector using the VGA port. After this solution, we did not have any connectivity issues.
  2. Use an application with autofocus like BoardCam Pro. The autofocus feature ensures that the camera is not zooming in and out during the entire lecture and distracting the students.