Think whiteboards and interactive projectors are the future of the classroom? NEC has a wildly different approach that is not only less expensive but can pay dividends by allowing teachers to face their students while they teach. The company’s Interactive Software can allow a teacher to use an iPad to not only write on-screen and mark-up lessons from the tablet’s screen but to control the projector as well. At $300, it can save schools a bundle by letting them do without expensive whiteboards or interactive projectors while making teaching more efficient.
Based on technology from Doceri, the NEC program is similar to Splashtop’s Whiteboard software, but picks up where it leaves off. At its essence, the software wirelessly links an iPad to a host computer so that what’s on its screen can be projected for the class to see. On the downside, the system requires two computers at a time when it can be a dream to get budget approval to replace a single computer.
There’s a two-step setup to make the Interactive Software work. First, load the NEC Interactive Software on a computer (Mac or PC) and then get the Doceri Remote app for the iPad; it’s available as a free download on the Apple iTunes site.
The software eases the critical linking process and once the two systems are wirelessly connected, the iPad takes control of the host computer. The first thing you’ll notice is that because the lesson is actually on the host computer, the iPad can now play Flash interactive elements, although indirectly.
At any time, you can move the host computer’s mouse around, write on the screen and even adjust the projector. I used the dynamic duo with several sample lessons on an NEC V series projector and an Acer Veriton desktop PC. The Interactive Software automatically matches the resolution of the PC with the tablet and projector and puts the iPad in control.
For instance, I was able to mark up an on-screen physics lesson with the choice of 5 line types, including several different marker tips and spray paint, in 35 colors. I was able to change the width and opacity of the line for the perfect teaching effect for calling out the parts of a sentence. Rather than working with my back to the class, I was facing the kids, making sure that they were paying attention and not passing notes or daydreaming. It’s better than having eyes in the back of your head.
Happily, there’s also an on-screen eraser. It came in handy for going back on a math problem or to get rid of my annotations. I really like the idea of using it to remove some key parts of the lesson for students to fill in as a quickie quiz. At anytime you can wipe the slate clean and start again with the same background program on the PC, making it easy to repeat the same lesson for the next class.
It’s a little awkward and takes some getting used to, but you can remotely perform basic moves on the host PC, like changing what program is running on the host PC or going to a Web site. Just click on the mouse icon on the iPad’s screen and you can move the mouse around with your finger
There’s an on-screen keyboard for typing in a password or Web site address, but it gets tedious for anything longer. Happily, the host PC’s keyboard remains active.
NEC’s software offers one more thing: it can save the entire sequence as a video so that you can archive your lessons for other teachers, parents or children that miss a class. Unfortunately, it lacks audio so the teacher’s explanations and student interactions are lost.
The set up works on just about any projector, but if you have an NEC projector, you can use the iPad to control the projector. Just click the icon that looks like a projector at the top of the iPad’s display and the iPad’s screen and what looks like a simplified remote control appears on the screen. With it, you can perform projector’s vital functions, from turning it off to changing which input is active.
There’s a big bonus: NEC includes an excellent tablet pen. It has two heads, one for writing and one for erasing on the iPad’s screen. I like the fuzzy writing tips it uses better than the soft rubber tips that are more commonly used on tablet pens. The pen has a 21-inch white tether that plugs into the iPad’s headphone jack that will make it hard to lose, but blocks the use of audio on the tablet.
All told, the software works well in a variety of situations, although there’s a slight lag between writing on the pad and when it’s seen on the screen. It’s annoying and at times frustrating, but tolerable. Of more concern is that the software, even when it’s not being used, slows down the host computer, causing mouse movements to lag. I got around this problem by shutting it down when I wasn’t using its interactive features. While the system provides access to all the educational software on the host computer, you can’t use this system to project educational iPad apps, lessening its impact as a teaching tool.
It all adds up to a superior teaching tool that makes whiteboards and interactive projectors seem complicated and obsolete. Not only can you face the class while teaching – something that’s not always possible with an interactive projector or white board – but you can move around the room checking on what the class is doing.
At $300 (including the stylus), NEC’s Interactive Software package is reasonably priced, given that it can cut the cost of an expensive white board out of the expense of setting up a digital classroom. There’s a 30-day trial so that you can try out the software (minus the stylus) before considering buying the package.
Overall, NEC’s Interactive Software is a real game changer that provides a viable alternative to smart boards and interactive projectors, but delivers a big advantage: the ability of the teacher to face students and roam about the class while teaching. That makes NEC’s Interactive software priceless in today’s classrooms.
NEC Interactive Software
+ Lets an iPad annotate and highlight what’s on-screen
+ Can remotely manipulate host system
+ Saves lesson as video
+ Includes excellent stylus
+ Can control projector
- Needs iPad and host computer
- Projector control requires NEC equipment