Projecting a New Image
With inexpensive interactive projectors, some selling for less than $1,000, you might think that add-on interactive bars like those from Luidia would become irrelevant. You’d be wrong, because while eBeam’s Engage is expensive and quirky, it is precise and does interesting things that projectors alone can’t.
Rather than using a self-standing intelligent board or creating a connection between a stylus and a projector, Engage is a vertically-mounted bar that uses infrared and ultrasound technology. It can be set up on either side of the work area and getting started is a snap.
Just use the included cardboard template to attach the mounting hardware to the wall and snap the bar in place; it’s best to wait at least an hour for the adhesive to fully cure. It’ll work on just about any wall, from sheetrock to concrete, but it can’t work with a pull down screen. Be careful to set the bar about 2-inches away from the active work area or the bar might have trouble finding the stylus.
It can work with a projected image from 11- by 17-inches to 5- by 8-feet, which covers the territory from a one-on-one session to a full classroom. For schools that need the flexibility of moving the bar from room to room, it takes a minute to free it from the wall and snap it in place at a new location.
I used adhesive Velcro tape to install it on a wall with a white board and Luidia is considering introducing magnetic brackets so that the bar can be more easily removed and reattached. The kit’s connection box can be attached to the wall as well and all the cables are white, but there’re a lot of wires to deal with.
Once it’s physically set up, it’s time to connect the Engage bar with a projector (I used an Optoma TW610) and a computer (I used a Lenovo IdeaPad U260) with the included USB cable, plug it in and run the needed software from the included memory key. It works with PCs and Macs, but not Linux computers.
On the downside, you’ll need to spend a minute to calibrate the projector to the screen by tapping 9 bull’s eye points with the stylus. If the projector is ceiling mounted, you only need to do this once.
The stylus itself weighs 1.1 ounces, has right- and left-click buttons on the pen and a magnetic place to stow it on the bar. With a soft plastic tip, the stylus works well on a white board, but less so with matte or flat paint; the kit comes with four extra tips.
On top of the expected annotations and using the stylus as a mouse for navigating, the Engage bar has a scroll wheel at the bottom of the bar. It is accurate enough for going line by line but can be spun to whizz through a long document or Web page.
A big step forward is its mini-wireless keyboard. About the size of a smartphone, the 3.2-ounce device has a touch pad, backlit keyboard with Chicklet size keys and the bonus of a laser pointer, making it the easiest way to enter a Web address and then highlight what it shows.
Be careful not to inadvertently hit the SF key. It activates alternate keys for volume and multimedia controls, and can fool you into thinking the pad has gone haywire. Still, it’s a big step forward for those who want to mix scribbles, drawings and highlights with text.
The keyboard has a range of 27 feet and needs to be recharged with a mini USB cable. It comes with a rubber cover that has a magnetic back, but continues the Engage’s white color scheme, which means it will likely get dirty as fast as you can say, “what’s for lunch in the cafeteria.”
As soon as you start using it, the first thing you notice about engage is that unlike interactive projectors that lose contact when the pen’s tip is in shadow, engage uses infrared and ultrasound to locate the stylus, remains interactive. This is a big step forward for teaching with an interactive board.
Its hardware is matched with innovative software. The eBeam Home is a great place to start: there are links for the Scrapbook (for coming back to previously used items), Web resources, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Web and Luidia’s Lesson Exchange for teachers to share content. There’s a prominent start button or the software on the bar.
There’s also a circular eBeam Tool Palette for picking the type and color of lines with the stylus, but to get rid of a line you need to select the eraser rather than using the back of the pen. It’s also the place to take a screen shot of what’s on the board and adjust settings.
It all works well together, but I wish that eBeam would consolidate all these different areas into a central location as is the case with Hitachi’s StarBoard software.
The best part is that the system comes with a bunch of helpful videos about how to get the most out of the interactive bar and integrate it into a lesson. Familiarizing yourself with the bar and its uses can be accomplished in about 45 minutes of afterschool work and playing with it. It takes a bit of trial and error to get used to it, but Engage’s response is fluid and predictable.
Overall, eBeam’s Engage interactive bar is very precise with the ability to locate the stylus tip within 1.5 millimeters, yet it smoothes out jittery lines drawn by nervous students or overworked teachers. Its JBL speakers sound much better than the audio any classroom projector can deliver.
At any time you can record the whole class, including sound with the built-in microphone; the on-off switch lights up red while recording. This is perfect for posting a lesson on the school’s Web site for a student home sick or for a parent to try to keep up with their child’s education.
All in all, it’s a better experience than any projector can offer, and comes with a three-year warranty. At $1,300, however, it’s an expensive route to classroom interactivity because you’ll need a projector as well.
+ Transforms wall into interactive teaching space
+ Mac and Windows software
+ Wireless keypad with laser pointer
+ Excellent audio with microphone
+ 3-year warranty
- Need to calibrate screen
- 2-inch gap required
- Won’t work with pull-down screen