You can be forgiven for being just a little satisfied and complacent after successfully outfitting a school with rooms full of computers, projectors and a school-wide network to tie it all together. Unfortunately, your work isn’t quite done yet. Sooner or later, every effective digital classroom needs a document camera to project physical things – like a newspaper article, a page from an atlas and even the class pet.
Also known as visualizers, document cameras are for when you need to show the class something that goes beyond a digital image. It’s all about teaching with items that exist only in the real world. Every teacher has found that there are plenty of times when you either can’t find the right digital image of a flower petal or a video of sodium burning. That’s where a document camera comes in.
As the name implies, think of a visualizer as a self-contained digital camera that can turn anything from a piece of paper to a petri dish into a lesson that the entire class can see with a projector. While it might make sense to use a cell phone or digital camera, don’t bother.
That’s because a doc cam has something ordinary cameras don’t: a long arm that holds the camera steady so that it can be bent, rotated and swiveled to aim it at a variety of objects.
GANG OF SIX
The good news is that document cameras are not all that expensive and you only need one per room or projector. In fact, many districts get one doc cam for every three or four classrooms that are shared, moved around and used as needed.
The bad news is that there are so many doc cams available that it’s hard to decide which is right for your classrooms. To cut through this, we’ve gathered together six of the newest, coolest and most capable document cameras available and ran them through the digital wringer at Scholastic’s TechLAB testing facility.
Over the course of 6-weeks, we subjected them to a variety of tests, doing to them what you would in a typical school day. After looking them over, measuring every aspect of their operations and trying out their key features, we used them in several mock lessons to see how they perform in the classroom.
These visualizers vary from large systems that take over a desktop to ones that are so small that they can be folded up and put in a drawer or a jacket pocket to take to the next classroom. They all have their own lighting for use in a darkened classroom, but they vary greatly as to how bright they get. They can all zoom in and out on a detail and have a variety of special effects, but the output of some look better than others. In other words, they all are able to put sheets of paper or physical objects on the classroom screen.
One does a cool educational trick. Using sophisticated 3-D modeling technology, Smart’s Document Camera 330 allows the teacher or student to manipulate a little cube whose moves are mirrored with a 3-D image on the screen. It can be an image of a flower, a geometric figure or just about anything and is the closest thing to classroom magic.
It stimulates curiosity and opens pathways of understanding, but cool as it is, many teachers and administrators will find this technology overkill. What they really want is the ability to inexpensively put a physical object on the classroom’s projection screen.
While none of these devices hit a grand slam, they are all solid hits. The best overall performer was Samsung’s SDP-860, which put the sharpest images on the screen and was extremely flexible in what it could show. It’s not perfect because the SDP-860’s black-on-black color scheme is hard to use in the dark.
Still, Samsung’s SDP-860 can turn just about anything into a lesson.