Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sharing My Toys - Technology Evaluations

One of my jobs for this semester is to evaluate a few pieces of technology and judge their usefulness for distance learning.  The three gadgets I'm working with are the Apple iPad 2, LiveScribe Echo pen, and Sony Bloggie Camera.

Apple iPad 2
My iPad 2 connected to a monitor via a VGA Adapter
I've had the original iPad for a while, and this fall I got an iPad 2.  I've been using the iPad 2 for a while, and I pretty happy with it.  The addition of two cameras was a big improvement over the iPad.  Also, the Reminders that came with iOS 5 finally gave the iPad 2 all the functionality of my old Palm Pilot.  This iPad has 64 GB of storage, and comes with wi-fi but no 3G.  One objection I have to owning a smart phone is paying for a data plan, so living without 3G is just fine by me.

Strengths for Students:
  • The battery life is incredible.
  • Versatility is possible through thousands of apps.
  • It is dependable and stable.
  • Facetime and web browsing are useful for online classes.
  • Cameras are good for recording students' work.
  • It is small and portable.
  • Everybody wants one.
Strengths for Teachers:
  • Same as for students.
  • Keynote is good for displaying PowerPoint presentations written on a PC.
Weaknesses:
  • Apple has a high level of control of the software available.
  • No Flash Player is available.
  • You must interface to a computer to activate the iPad.
  • Touch screen keyboards and autocorrect are a horrible combination.
  • Extra accessories are required to bring it up the functionality of a cheap netbook.
I would like to play with a few Android tablets in the future for comparison.  On the whole I would recommend its use.  If I were able to give myself over to the cult of Apple, I could get even more use out of it.

The nickname of my iPad is "Tricorder".  I'm starting to realize how much of a Trekker I really am.

Livescribe Echo Pen
The Livescribe Echo Pen with Notebook
The Livescribe calls the Echo Pen a smart pen.  Inside of the pen is a camera which is able to track the position on the paper and the pen records the writing on the page and the audio at the same time.  It is possible to upload the audio and writing to a PC and save it as a PDF document with embedded audio or as a pencast.  The latter is a product of Livescribe.  This pen has 4GB of storage, which is good for several hours of recording.

I've been using it to take notes at meetings.  The first meeting I used it in was a particularly contentious faculty meeting, where I got some background audio that the speakers might not have wanted recorded.

I also want to use it to create short videos on solving problems for my students.  The goal of the videos would be to model good homework habits to students by capturing my writing and audio in real time.  There are other ways to accomplish this goal, but the Echo Pen makes it very easy.

Benefits to Students:
  • Student can record lecture notes to get the audio and not worry about writing down every detail.
  • Allows students to e-mail written notes for distance learning classes.
  • Has several apps that can be controlled by touching the pen to certain places on the notebook.
  • Battery life and storage capacity is excellent.
  • The audio can be accessed through the pen or through the computer.
  • Writing can be saved to a PDF document.
  • The pen is small and rugged.  You can carry it in a backpack and not worry about it getting damaged.  Notebooks are also more rugged than a tablet or laptop.
  • You can still write with the pen even if the batteries die.
Benefits to Teachers:
  • Same as for students.
Weaknesses:
  • The pen only works with the provided paper.  It is possible to download and print paper from Livescribe, as well as buying special notebooks.
  • The apps are useful, but controlling them through the paper can be cumbersome.
  • It is not possible to directly export the writing as any other format than PDF or pencast.
  • The rechargeable batteries are at the top of the pen, throwing off the balance. 
I would recommend this for any student.  The price is pretty good, and it could withstand the abuse that a typical high school student would deal out to it.

Continuing with the Trekker theme, my pen is nicknamed "Yeoman".

Sony Bloggie Camera
Sony Bloggie Camera
This is the one piece of technology that I asked for from the college.  It is Sony's version of the famous Flip camera.  I wanted it to have it to shoot videos in the style of Dan Meyer.  In fact, I got to shoot video of Dan Meyer with it.  I've put it to pretty use so far, and I wish I had more opportunities to use it.  The 4GB of memory is good for two hours of High Definition recording.

Smart phone cameras work about as well as the Bloggie, but you only pay once for the Bloggie.

A video from the Bloggie is below.
Benefits to Students:
  • Not many.  You don't want to give a camera to student because you never know what you'll get back on that camera.
Benefits to Teachers:
  • The camera is easy to carry.  You can use it to capture candid moments.
  • The camera records in HD.
  • The camera can take photographs while recording video.
  • There are several different resolutions available.
  • An on board USB interface make connection to a computer easy.
Weaknesses:
  • Battery life is limited.  Recharging is only possible through the USB interface.
  • The only storage is internal memory.  It is not possible to augment the memory with an SD card.
  • The camera only records for 30 minutes at a time.  You need to restart recording for events longer than 30 minutes.
  • The camera does not have as many controls as a control freak like me would prefer.  White balance is a real problem.
Overall, the Bloggie does well for amateur video.  It will not work for professional video.  The ease of use and cost make it a worthwhile addition to the technology collection of an academic department.

The Bloggie does not have a Star Trek related nickname.

These are the gadgets I'm working with right now.  I'll share if I have any new revelations or new gadgets to share.