Archive for the ‘Technology Reviews’ Category

Wii Have Liftoff!

I’ve been working on this Wii Smartboard hack project for about two weeks and today I’m pleased to report that I finally have liftoff !

What is it? Johnny Lee (who presented at TED 2007) has been doing some fascinating work with simple Wii remotes. One of his projects, shown below, has been to make a “hack” version of a SmartBoard using a wii remote, an infrared light, and a bluetooth capable computer.

It’s been blogged about all over the Internet, and several of you have urged me to write about it, but I wanted to try it myself before passing it along. So … here are the gory details (more lucid details, without all the embellishment, can be found on Johnny Lee’s website. It is the project called Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote.

STEP 1: Build an infrared light pen and borrow someone’s wii remote. I did purchase the parts from Radio Shack for under $10: an infrared light, a switch, some wire, and a AA battery. For the pen construction (which was going to possibly require some sautering), I enlisted the Industrial Technology Wing of our campus for some help. One of their students did a fabulous job disassembling a standard whiteboard marker to create our working infrared pen. When you press and hold the switch, the infrared light is on. In our model, the battery is housed in the tail end, which makes it relatively simple to replace (by removing the duct tape). The infrared light is glued into the tip to hold it steady.

STEP 2: Find a computer that has bluetooth that can be hooked up to a projector of some sort. This actually turned out to be one stumbling block. It turns out that not a single classroom computer on our campus is bluetooth enabled. This left us scrounging for laptops (or my tablet PC), which kind of defeats the purpose of installing the system in a classroom, but for the purposes of trying the technology, it was fine.

STEP 3: Get the computer to detect the Wii Remote. This was the hardest step. I spent hours trying to get my tablet to pair with the Wii Remote. I still have not gotten my tablet to “synch” with the remote. It would detect the existence of the Wii Remote, but it would not pair. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I am running Windows XP Tablet, and not a standard version of Windows XP or Vista. The tablet keeps insisting that I give a code for the Wii Remote before it will pair. This evening, my assistant Jill volunteered her laptop for the experiment and we used her Bluetooth (for the first time ever) to successfully perform the synch. So that’s one good thing I can say about Windows Vista. Where I spent hours not getting XP to synch properly, Vista managed it in under a minute.

STEP 4: Download Johnny Lee’s Wiimote Whiteboard software (found on his website). You can’t even run the software until you get the Wii synched, so don’t bother trying.

STEP 5: With the computer projecting, and the camera part of the wii pointing at the projected space (mirroring the computer screen), run the Wiimote Whiteboard software and calibrate the pen to the space. If the pen does not seem to be seen, you will have to keep adjusting the wii camera and starting from scratch until all four calibration points are easily seen by the wii remote.

This is Jill demonstrating our successful launch of the Wii Smartboard Hack.

Now, you’re going to ask, how does it work? Well, we still don’t have it set up properly. We need to play with the angle of the Wii remote camera, but Jill’s laptop ran out of power before we got a chance. You can see that the writing we’ve got on the board in this calibration is somewhat “blocky” but it was smoother in a previous (not pictured) calibration.

I guess all I can say, at this point, is that I can verify the technology works. So we have, at least, accomplished that much. Ideally, I would affix the wii remote semi-permanently to the ceiling projector apparatus so that it couldn’t be bumped during use, but I promised to return the wii remote (unharmed) to the owner.

So, we’ll update you again when we have power for Jill’s laptop and some time to work on our calibration issue. In the meantime, start thinking about what we might be able to do with a “smart” table with four seats and four infrared pens!

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Technology Review: Voki

by guest blogger Robert Foth, from Pima Community College
What is it?
A free animated avatar (the parent company is oddcast – maker of SitePal). Check mine out at my college homepage. Voki avatars can be hosted on any html page (blog, wiki, webpage, etc.). The website will give you the code necessary to embed this little avatar. You can choose the type of avatar and the background used (some backgrounds are animated and may appear faster or slower than expected). There is options to add effects to the audio, but I have not had much success with that feature.

Cost? Free!

Technical Requirements?

You need to set up an account on the Voki website and be able to copy and paste html code. You can use a microphone to record your voice (text to voice never sounds great, but you can use it). Audio can also be imported from a file or called in with a cell phone. The audio limitation is about 1 minute on the audio.

How could we use this technology in the hybrid, online, or traditional classroom?

I can put up a greeting for my students for when they access my website/online classroom. I currently have mine on the course homepage in WebCT. I can see using these to make an online assignment more interactive by having some instructions given by the voki (you can do a talking moose if you wish Maria). The MathPlayground uses vokis in problems: students listen to two different arguments in a problem and then are polled to see who is correct.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?

Impress your colleagues by having an avatar give announcements on the departmental web page. Put one on your website to stand out among the crowd (for those of us interviewing this year).

Wish list for this technology?

The ability to use an audio file of greater size (one minute is not always enough time). There are some bugs in the system (occasional errors in background image / audio updates) – hey it’s free though. The ability to add a polling feature at the end of the animation would be nice too.
Feel free to comment-in a link to your avatar if you’ve got one!
For more on avatars and other avatar software, click on the label “Avatar” in the right-hand column under “Labels” or click here.

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Technology Review: Yugma

Thanks to Dan for trying out this software with me! : )

What is it? Yugma is a synchronous screen-sharing tool for the Internet. All the participants can dial in to a long distance phone number and look at the same computer screen. The presenter computer screen can be passed from presenter to presenter. As a second option, you can use Skype for the audio, but then you are limited to two participants.

What is the cost? Free for a basic account.

What are the technical requirements? I don’t see how you could possibly stand this without high-speed internet. I had to disable my 2nd monitor to get the software to run properly if I was the projecting computer. A user would also have to be able to call the long-distance phone number for the audio portion of the call.

How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom? I could see this used for both traditional or online classes. In a traditional classroom, it might be a way to bring a knowledgable speaker to your classroom if they need to have live access to a computer as part of their talk. For an online classroom, you could use it to walk a student through orientation or help them with something they are having trouble with in the technical requirements of the course. Because you could see their screen, you’d be able to talk them through what they are doing wrong.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives? Likewise, it might be a good option for graduate seminars to bring in a guest speaker (of course, if you want to be able to use a whiteboard and you don’t want the computer screen option, you’d want to try something like WizIQ instead – which does include audio).

Where do I hope the technology will go from here? (a wish list)

    • Yugma ran a bit slow – but not any worse than any of the other “webinar” software I’ve seen in action.


  • Obviously, integrating audio with the program would be a plus.



  • Sharing only part of the screen would make Yugma run faster I think. I don’t really need to share my entire screen – could we maybe click and drag to create a viewing rectangle? This might also solve the 2nd monitor problem.



  • To start broadcasting a screen took a few minutes – it wasn’t clear that we should wait and that the program was really doing something – we went back and forth trying to share our screens several times before we realized that we needed some more patience.



  • The software for this platform is less intuitive than the software that runs WizIQ – a well-run usability study could do wonders…


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Technology Review: Microsoft Intellimouse

Some of you may recall an earlier technology review about the Virtual Magnifying Glass, which I find very useful when I am giving presentations and need to magnify something.

This is a niche-market bit of technology… but you are all likely to know someone who could really use this, faculty member, student, or maybe you!

What is it? Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer (or Wireless Optical Mouse 5000)… a mouse with thumb-buttons, one of which is a magnifying mouse window. (okay, it has other features too, like tilt scrolling, which is side-to-side scrolling, but I always forget about that one)

What is the cost? $40

What are the technical requirements? The software for the mouse must be installed on the computer that you want to use it with. Also, it’s only going to work on a PC. Anyone know if Mac makes a similar product?

How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom? In large lecture halls, it could be a useful bit of hardware to have with computer stations to do a quick magnify when looking at small text on the projector. One of our adjuncts monitors a computer lab and she had a student who was nearly blind, this kind of technology could be a lifesaver for those circumstances.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives? Maybe you have trouble reading the computer screen when you don’t have your glasses/contacts on in the morning?

Where do I hope the technology will go from here? Actually, I can’t think of anything else I’d want in a mouse. The only annoying thing about this mouse is that I always accidentally hit the “back” button before I hit the “magnify” button because I can’t remember which is which. Of course, I could just turn off the back button, or reassign it to some other function… but that would require some software tweaking.

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Technology Review: WizIQ

Three of us (on both Macs and PCs) went out to cyberspace tonight to try out WizIQ to see if it might be suitable for online office hours. There is more information about why I am testing WizIQ on the previous blog post here.

What is it?An online software tool for interacting with others on the web that includes a whiteboard with drawing tools, graphing grids, the ability to upload images, speak with audio and webcam video (although we didn’t try that one).

What is the cost? As far as we can tell, it’s free for educational uses.

What are the technical requirements? You would want a decent internet connection. As the instructor, you would want a microphone but it’s not necessary as there is a text chat feature too. If a student had audio, they could talk too. Also, users have to sign up for a username and password to get into the session.

How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom? You could use it to hold online office hours, as long as you are only answering one question at a time. All users see the same whiteboard at once. Everyone can draw on it (if the “teacher” gives that permission). If you wanted to bring a guest speaker to class from off-site, you could do it in this platform.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives? I think this would be a great tool for collaborating with other faculty across distances at any level of mathematics. Working on a book or other project? You could collaborate here and see the same things on the screen in addition to talking (so maybe better than a phone call).

Where do I hope the technology will go from here? (a wish list)

  • An eraser (to remove parts of what you have drawn) would be nice. There is a delete feature, but it took us a little while to find out how to do it.
  • Be able to assign each participant a whiteboard that they can use independently while you work with one student. We tried this, but as soon as one person jumps to a new whiteboard, everyone else sees it too.
  • We had some trouble uploading content in the “Content Upload” screen. None of us could get that to work. But we did get images to upload okay.
  • A selection tool for picking up multiple objects would be useful.
  • Be able to retroactively change the color of drawn objects.
  • We didn’t find the math symbols to be particularly useful. It was easier to just draw the symbol we wanted on the screen with the pencil tool. I’d rather have a greater variety of drawing tools (dashed lines, polygon shapes, open and closed points, transparent shading, etc).
  • There was a strange echo whenever three of us were on audio at the same time (but not with only two). It sounded like a sci-fi movie sound effect.

Thanks Shiela and Laura for stepping up and being online guinea pigs! : ) M

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Technology Review: Logitech io2 Digital Pen and Notebook

Logitech io2 Digital Pen and Notebook

What is it? You write with the pen in the notebook. The pen has ink. The notebook is real paper. What’s new? The pen uses an optical sensor to store everything you write. Even once the pen is separated from the paper, it stores the pages you have written. When you are ready to upload, you place the pen in it’s USB-linked cradle and it uploads in one click of the mouse. Now everything that was written down is on your computer.

Cost? Retail is $149.95 for a pen and notebook. Of course, you can find it for a little cheaper if you look around on the Internet. You can get several sizes of notebooks. I was able to purchase six standard-paper sized notebooks for under $25 after some digging.

Technical Requirements? Pen, cradle, notebook, io software. This all comes packaged together. To my knowledge, this product does not work on Macs. The pen “package” does come with many ink cartridge refills. I used the pen for four months in six hours per week of class before it needed a refill.

How could we use this technology in the hybrid or traditional classroom? Every day that we meet for my hybrid (part Internet, part classroom) Intermediate Algebra class, a different student takes notes using the digital pen and notebook. They take the notes with them, I take the pen with me and upload that day’s notes to the web site. Very quickly, we established the rule that those students that have been absent are the ones that should step forward to be note-takers, since they get the greatest benefit. The students think this “magic” pen is SO cool!

How could we use this technology in the online classroom? If the technology gets cheaper, or the student could get many semesters of use out of the pen, we could use this technology to have students “show their work” for problems requiring sophisticated use of notation or graphs.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?
The obvious use of this setup is for those folks who are not trained to create graphs or equations using a computer, but need to be able to communicate such figures using a computer. You can attach the jpg file to an email and send your response to a question quite quickly. I know a professor who takes notes in all his meetings with Grad students with a digital pen & notebook. The student can take the notes, he can cradle the pen and have a record of everything that they jotted notes about and archive the information in a file for that student.

Wish list for this technology? I would like an easier way to convert from the proprietary .pen files to pdf files. Right now the conversion is .pen to .jpg (using the pen software) to .pdf using Adobe Acrobat Standard. A cheaper setup cost would also be great to get mass use for students in online math classes. Also pen software that works with Macs would be a plus.

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Google Bookmarks Update!

My one wish for Google Bookmarks was a way to access the bookmarks without having to download the Google Toolbar… GRANTED!
You can now add your Google Bookmarks to your iGoogle homepage. And you can sign into your iGoogle homepage on any computer that has Internet access with any browser.

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Technology Review: Virtual Magnifying Glass

Virtual Magnifying Glass

What is it? Have you ever watched a presentation in which the presenter took you to a website where the text was too small to read on part of the site? Or presented a problem or animation in class where part of the presentation was too small to read? Once you’ve used this for a presentation or training, you can’t go back. You feel unprepared without it.

Cost? Good news! Free!

Technical Requirements? Software must be loaded on the computer you are presenting from (sorry, not Mac-compatible, but I’m told that Macs have one of these built in). On any day you want to use it, you need to go in to Programs and turn it on once, after that it stays in the icon bar on the lower right of your screen.

How could we use this technology in the hybrid or traditional classroom? Whenever I pull up a web site for my students to view, someone wants the site address or I want them to look at text on the site that is too small to read – pull up the magnifier! Also, if I want them to focus on a specific portion of the web site, this is useful too.

How could we use this technology in the online classroom? When I record videos for my online class, I can use the magnifier in the video to emphasize certain material or web addresses.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?
If you’ve read this and you give a presentation in the near future, USE IT. This should be used (or be on hand) in all presentations at conferences. How many times have you said to your neighbor “What does that say?”

Wish list for this technology? Don’t know – sometimes it freezes up, but not very often (usually when I’m really abusing it). The company that makes takes requests, so if you think of a feature that you’d like to have, request it.

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Technology Review: Google Toolbar (updated!)

Google Bookmarks(on the Google Toolbar)


What is it? Before I started using the Google Bookmarks, I would bookmark a website in the browser on my home computer and then at school I would go to Favorites to find it … only to find it wasn’t there (or vice versa). How annoying is that? Well, if you have a google account, you can download the Google toolbar and then save your “favorites” to your Google account on the Internet instead of on the hard-drive of a specific computer. It’s the Blue star in the Google toolbar above. Now I can pull up my favorite websites anywhere! (at a conference, in a colleagues office, in a computer lab, on vacation,…) Cool! (read the update!)

Cost? Good news! Free!

Technical Requirements? You’ve got to get a Google account first. (Sign up for Gmail while you’re at it – it’s awesome!) You also need to download the Google toolbar on any computer that you want to access your bookmarks on (but that only takes about a minute) and log in to your account. (read the update!)

How could we use this technology in the hybrid or traditional classroom? I can pull up my cool math websites from any computer station that is hooked up to the Internet. I can save a website to my bookmarks from any computer that is hooked up to the Internet.

How could we use this technology in the online classroom? I can’t think of a direct use for online classes, but indirectly it will help you to manage your vast collection of Internet resources.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?
I can save lots of time by not having to re-search for websites that I know exist but do not have bookmarked on the computer I’m using.

Wish list for this technology?
Google – please make the bookmarked list accessible without downloading the toolbar – just by logging in to the google account. (GRANTED!!! Read the update!)

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Technology Review Format

I am reposting some of the Technology Reviews that were on the main website, because these now seem more appropriate here.

Here’s what I usually try to tell you if I give you my technology review:

What is it?
What is the cost?
What are the technical requirements?
How could we use this technology in the traditional or online classroom?
How could we use this technology in our professional lives?
Where do I hope the technology will go from here? (a wish list)

Please feel free to email me with any of your own technology reviews (in this format). I will be happy to post them, with credit to you, so that all may benefit.

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