When Needs Collide, or, Hi-Tech + Low-Tech = Eureka!

For years I’ve used flat-bed scanners to scan historic documents. Lately I’ve started using my iPad to photograph them instead–faster and less intrusive. Even though the results are usually reasonable I’ve often considered finding a stand to avert the inevitable wobble that results from attempting to hold the iPad flat and steady while pressing the shutter button. Trying to run the result through OCR software to turn that scanned document into text that can be edited is even harder when the scan itself is not crystal clear.

Recently a request from a faculty member for quite another problem into a solution for both his and my dilemma. The request resulted from a difficulty many of us have: trying to write on a tablet device in a way that is legible so that we can record the process of that writing for a video screencast. For example, we may want to make a video if drawing a graph or solving an equation. Yes, you can write or draw on your iPad. Yes, you can attach a WAACOM or other drawing device to your laptop and write/draw on that. However, the experience is not always as comfortable as using the technology you grew up with: pen and paper.

So, the request? Can one write on paper or a transparency and then capture that process using a standard classroom document camera (ELMO, etc.). The answer turns out to be yes, sort of. The doc cam needs to be a digital one, you need to find the drivers for it, and the drivers must be compatible with your computer and operating system. After some searching (and thanks to Media Services for the loaner!) I found some of the Samsung doc cams around campus could do this, with varying results. But the experience wasn’t always a happy one given the myriad combinations of doc cams and drivers (i.e. it flat out would not work with some combinations).

Enter the hi-tech+low-tbelkin-stage-standech combo: a stand and a mobile device. There are stands that can hold your iPhone, iPad, MicroSoft Surface, Android or other mobile device over a piece of paper. You then use the devices camera to record writing on that paper. Belkin makes one (Belkin Tablet Stage Stand B2B054, $168) that can use any device as long as the camera lens close to the corner of the device. It’s being used in K-12 and up classrooms as a cheaper alternative to doc cams when the instructor has their own mobile device.

The beauty of this combination is that you can use your own device, using the software that is familiar to you. And though $168 is not inexpensive, the stand is portable and can be shared in a department.

So, UVM faculty: if you write better on paper than on a tablet, want to make a video of that writing and have aniPad or other mobile device, let me know. I can loan you the stand for a week or so to see if it will fit your needs.





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