X Close

Digital Education team blog

Home

Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team

Menu

Archive for the 'Software review' Category

Writing when teaching remotely

Steve Rowett22 April 2020

We start this blog post with a short exercise for the reader: search Google Images or an image library for the word teacher.

I hope that you see a range of diverse people in the pictures. But I bet that most of them will have a pen or chalk in their hand, and a board or surface at their side. The act of writing and talking as a form of instruction is perhaps the most commonly perceived characteristic of who a teacher is and what they do.

The move to remote teaching has made writing as a form of teaching more difficult. A mouse may be great for controlling a computer, but it’s hard to use it to write smoothly on screen.

So in this post, we will look at how we might continue to use writing as a form of teaching, even from home.

Before we start, a note on accessibility. Whilst we teach remotely, so of the facilities that our students might have relied upon (like captions, transcripts, note-takers or signers) might not be available, so we may need to make alternative accommodations. Please do think about this before you plan your teaching and contact Digital Education if you would like advice.

Using a visualiser at home

In the classroom or lecture hall, many rooms will have a visualiser (also called a document camera) for showing writing and objects. These are typically hooked up to a projection screen through the AV system and are also captured by lecture capture. UCL uses a mix of table-top visualisers and ceiling mounted visualisers from a company called Wolfvision.

You can also buy more consumer-level products in this category. At home I use an IPEZO VZ-R camera, which costs about £200.

The IPEVO VZ-R visualiser - a sturdy base with a webcam mounted on a flexible hinge.

IPEVO VZ-R Visualiser (source: ipevo.com)

The camera connects via USB and can be used in two ways:

Either method works well, but I’d recommend the latter as webcam video is often heavily compressed. This method works well with all our supported platforms, including Lecturecast (Echo 360) Universal Capture Personal, Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams.

The camera is compact but sturdy. It has an in-built light, and facilities such as zoom and autofocus, and can capture a surface slightly less than A3. It also has an inbuilt microphone which is likely to be closer to you when you are speaking than one in a laptop.

Control buttons on the IPEVO VZ-R including power, zoom and focus

Control buttons on the IPEVO VZ-R (source: ipevo.com)

The software can control the features of the camera, and can make recordings that you could upload to Lecturecast, for example. The controls neatly get out of the way when they aren’t being used, so that you can focus on the content. The image below shows the auto-focus in operation, clearly capturing a book cover.

IPEVO Visualizer software showing controls and a picture of a book under the camera

IPEVO Visualizer software showing controls

The Visualizer application can easily be shared in a Blackboard Collaborate room, and you can then move the window out of the way and focus on the participants. The image below shows me writing some simple maths on a notepad, captured by the camera, using the screen sharing feature of Collaborate to show this to other participants.

Writing equations which are shared within a Blackboard Collaborate room

Writing equations which are shared within a Blackboard Collaborate room.

IPEVO offer another model, the V4K, for £100, which has a lower resolution sensor (but still good) and no light. Of course other companies are available, and I’ve heard recommendations of Genee and Aver models. These types of visualisers are often used in secondary schools, so any teachers you know may be able to give suitable advice.

One thing I particularly like about the IPEVO models is the design. The one I have folds fairly flat, so is easy to store away, so my living room doesn’t have to look like a lecture theatre. Here’s a comparison of its size when folded compared to a bottle of wine. And yes, it does fit in a wine rack.

An IPEVO VZ-R is about the size of a bottle of wine when folded

The IPEVO VZ-R folds down to the size of a bottle of wine.

Writing on an iPad or other tablet

Using an Apple Pencil on an iPad or a stylus for other devices, you can use a notes or sketch app to write on an iPad. This works fine as a standalone process, but you can also use software such as Reflector or Airserver to mirror your device to your PC or Mac and screen share it as part of a call using Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom etc., or to record it from your screen using Lecturecast Personal Capture. If you have a Mac, you can also plug in your USB to Lightning cable and use Quicktime to mirror your screen by selecting your iPad as the camera source (thanks to Dr Steven Schofield from UCL Physics and Astronomy for that tip).

The short clip below shows Steven leading a revision lecture with his students. He reports that “I gave a two hour live revision lecture today; I was able to use the screen mirroring software to share my iPad Mini screen with the class via Blackboard Collaborate. It went really well and I had good feedback from the students. I think the overall experience is so much better than just talking to prepared slides. ”

Using a webcam

If you have a webcam that isn’t built in to your computer, you can use this too. We’ve tried a couple of webcams and it can work well, but may not have the full controls or handy features like the light that the VZ-R has.

Using a mobile phone

You may have seen tweets where inventive teachers have rigged up their phones to use as cameras. But how do you do this?

Well, IPEVO provide an app for that too. To make this work, you need three things:

  • An Apple or Android phone on the same network as your computer (PC, Mac, Chromebook and Linux supported)
  • An installation of IPEVO iDocCam on your phone
  • An installation of IPEVO Visualizer on your computer

Launch the app on your phone, and then the Visualizer software on your computer, and your phone will appear in the list of available cameras.

The phone can be selected from the list of cameras available in the IPEVO Visualizer software

Your phone shows as a camera in the IPEVO Visualizer software

And here is an example of it in use, with my old IPhone SE acting as the camera:

The final bit is to rig the phone up in a secure way, about 40cm above your desk. You might use a desk mount, or a pile of books, or some blu tack and string, but I’m afraid that is up to you.

Introducing StepShot Manuals

Jim R Tyson8 February 2018

For a while now, I have been quietly promoting StepShot Manuals (StepShot for short) to my colleagues in ISD. StepShot is a rapid documentation development tool. Which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. StepShot allows you to record an on-screen process – for example, formatting a table in Word or filling out an expenses form – taking screenshots, adding callouts and annotations and writing explanations as you go.

Some key uses for StepShot include

  • rapid development of training materials and technical documentation
  • developing test scripts for UAT
  • recording test results or bugs
  • creating knowledgebase articles
  • recording process for business analysis and process review

If you have ever done these jobs, then you might have combined several tools, for example

a screenshot tool (Windows has one built in), Word, an image editor (Paint or Photoshop), with a workflow like this: take all your screenshots, insert them into word editing, cropping etc as you go, adding explanatory text.

Stepshot brings all this together in one tool. You set it up to record the activity and select to create a screenshot for mouse clicks or keyboard actions or to use a specific hot key combination for screenshots. As you go through the activity recording images you can also give each a descriptive title and a comment. When you stop recording StepShot opens its editing tool. This latter looks a bit like PowerPoint: your images are listed vertically down the left while the main window allows you to edit an image and add text.

Click to see the animation!

This is already a vast improvement on hacking documents together with separate applications, none of them specifically designed for the job, but wait there’s more! StepShot can export your document when you have finished, as Word, PDF, HTML, XML or DITA and can publish directly to Confluence, SharePoint or WordPress. (If they add a PowerPoint option I’ll throw a party). There are simple built in templates for output and with a little effort you can create a customised or branded template.

So, currently about a dozen people at UCL have taken up a license (UCL staff members can contact ISD Training Administration for licensing information. To use StepShot you do need admin rights on your Windows or Mac PC.). It has been used to create training materials for lecturecast (published on Confluence), it has been used in UAT creating test scripts, it has been used by software testers to record bugs and communicate them to developers. No one currently using it has had more than a two minute informal introduction to the product but people seem to pick up its basic use very quickly. Users report that they enjoy using it as well. The most commone response using it for the first time has been about the immense time savings you can achieve and next about the simplicity of use. One or two people have commented that they don’t really like the look of the output, but this is largely because they haven’t learned how to customise output. I have offered a short workshop on customisation and hope to run it again.

I have created a Microsoft Team site and I will be keeping in touch with people using it since I have been asked to feedback our experience to the developers.