By Jonathan Boyle
Visualisers are quickly becoming more popular as schools pick up on how useful they are. They are desk-based cameras that allow teachers to share whatever comes in front of the lens - an object, document or even a person - on a large screen as either a photo or video image via their digital projector. So they can be used with or without whiteboards.
I have been aiming to get one in school for some time. One that represents great value for money and can be installed in more than one classroom without compromising the budget. The Easi-View (£75), from TTS, is a low-cost, good-quality visualiser possessing some features that you would find on more expensive models.
Simply install the software and plug in via your computer's USB slot and you are ready to go. The microphone is cleverly built in to the Easi-View's base and sound is captured using your computer's own sound facilities (the 3.5mm input to your sound card).
The camera is attached to the Easi-View's flexible gooseneck stand, making it look something like a table light. It has a fairly good sensor (3 megapixels) and the photographs produced were perfectly acceptable. The autofocus was a welcome feature and it did its best to respond to the ever changing demands of the classroom and the range of subject choices. When the autofocus did not activate, a quick click on the on-screen focus button jerked the system back into action and normality was restored in a jiffy.
Aesthetically, the design is "retro" with a striking similarity to the artefacts in many a good alien invasion movie. It is well built and withstood the enthusiastic knocks and bumps of the children. The gooseneck is highly flexible and holds firm at all but the most extreme angles. One issue to note is that the lightweight base means that the combined weight of the camera and the gooseneck may cause the product to fall over or at least become unstable. This was largely solved by making sure that the camera head was lined up as close to the footprint as possible.
Capturing video is done easily with the packaged software. One of its neat features is the facility to rotate an image through 180 degrees. This is particularly useful if you are drawing an image on a desk as it ensures the children will see the drawing the correct way around. This is genius and resolves those problems associated with hooking up a camcorder over a desk.
Be aware that the less brightly lit an object, the longer the screen refresh rate; so movement may appear blurred between frames. The built-in LED lights go some way to illuminating close objects, but their effectiveness diminishes the further away the camera is from the subject. Good illumination and less fluorescent lights will eradicate the problem.
So how close can you go in ? I found the limit when I used the Easi-View to show the manufacture of a printed circuit board. Just at the point where I wished for the students to see the PCB pads I lost focus and had to pull the camera back, losing the opportunity to illustrate the soldering. However, as a webcam or camera to record students talking about their work it was far more effective. It can even be used for video-conferencing.
Its killer application for me is the ability for students to get an immediate photograph for their project work. By simply pressing the camera button on the base and printing out, you have some evidence of the work done before you can say Easi-View. Batteries and memory cards are required of course making this process seamless.
Logging off for the night reveals a smaller issue. The light on top to the camera stays on if your machine is on a network that does not shutdown. As access to computers in some schools is in a locked cabinet, there may be no easy way to turn the Easi-View off. Ours has continued to glow across a darkened room since installation.
Not for a minute would I contemplate sending this product back and, yes, I would recommend it to others. This is a very good value for money product and the opportunity to have one in each classroom is a real possibility.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 3
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
Low-cost, plug-in-and-go visualiser powered by a computer''s USB connector. Price £74.99, 6-pack £399.99
TTS Group Ltd, Park Lane Business Park, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire NG17 9GU
Tel: 0800 318 686
You can find out more about the Easi-View visualiser on the TTS stand at the BETT show. Stand P1.
You can learn more about visualisers at the website of the Visualiser Forum
Jonathan Boyle is a deputy headteacher maximising technological benefits for learners