For a 21st-century classroom, the traditional overhead projector is quickly becoming a tool of the past. Instead, the familiar piece of equipment—a classroom staple since the 1960s—is being replaced by a combination of digital multimedia projectors and document cameras.
“Overheads are really passé,” says Brian K. McKee, the technology resource director for the 15,000-student Portsmouth school district in Virginia. “We’re now asking our teachers, ‘Can you do something even more interesting with a document camera?’”
Teachers can zoom in and out on objects to show more detail than a traditional overhead projector will allow.
• Network capabilities
If the document camera is connected to a computer, it can take screen shots of aspects of the lesson so students can revisit them later. Also, with the right equipment, being connected to a network allows students in other classrooms to look in on whatever is being projected, which is especially helpful during dissections.
• Ability to capture motion
Document cameras don’t just display static images, like a slide show. They actually display movement, which is particularly helpful for teachers using the equipment to show how to set up a science experiment or any other lesson that requires an active demonstration.
• Higher image resolution
The quality of the image that a document camera can project varies, but generally it is much more detailed and of higher quality that overhead-projector transparencies.
Document cameras are essentially cameras mounted on an arm that shines over a workspace where a teacher can place whatever he or she wants projected—a worksheet, a textbook, or a 3-D object, for example.
The document cameras are then integrated into a digital projector, which broadcasts whatever the camera sees onto a screen so the students can view it as well.
Teachers in McKee’s district have used document cameras to model science experiments and dissections for the class, project worksheets onto the screen to cut down on paper use, and magnify still lifes in art class so that all students can see, no matter where they sit in the class.
Randy Rivers, the superintendent of the 620-student Bluestem Unified School District 205 in Leon, Kan., has also overseen the integration of document cameras and multimedia projectors into classrooms.
“Today’s students are highly visual,” he says, and that characteristic makes document cameras an important teaching tool. He has seen teachers use them to make revisions to written reports in front of a class, record student speeches to be watched later for suggestions, and showcase objects that students bring in to share with the class.
“It makes the teachable moment possible,” Rivers says.
And although the equipment isn’t cheap—a document camera ranges in price from about $500 to $2,000—it can be affordable for school districts if it is made a priority, says Rivers.
Although teachers in McKee’s and Rivers’ districts have generally found the document cameras easy to use, making sure teachers are comfortable with the technology is a high priority, says Grant Woods, a spokesman for the Malpitas, Calif.-based AVerMedia Inc., a company that develops and sells audiovisual products such as document cameras to schools and businesses.
“We want to make sure teachers know, now that you have this thing,"he says, “what do you do with it?” Instructional videos on the company’s Web site and a support staff that helps teachers get the equipment set up help answer that question.
Ease of use is also a top priority for New York City-based Toshiba America Inc., says Jane Poon, the product marketing manager for the Digital Products Division of the company, which recently released a multimedia projector that features voice guidance to help walk teachers through the setup and use of the equipment.
“Teachers don’t have enough training for the devices they use in the classroom,” says Poon. “This [model] brings ease of use to our customers, especially the teachers that are using it for the first time.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2009 edition of Digital Directions as Projecting a Better View