The latest classroom projectors from BenQ put an emphasis on brightness and can connect with cables or wirelessly. The MX768 (XGA) and MW769 (WXGA) use Digital Light Processing technology to put as much as 4,200 lumens of light on a classroom screen. In addition to wireless operation, the projectors have HDMI, USB and wired LAN ports. The MX768 and MW769 projectors sell for $2,199 and $2,399.
Tired of seeing an unsteady stack of tablets charging with cords hanging every which way? Belkin’s Secure and Charge can hold up to 10 systems that are 1.3-inches or thinner. That includes everything from an iPad or Android tablet to a Chromebook or Windows slate system. The Charging station is made of steel, has large venting holes and is capable of charging each unit individually. The Secure and Charge system has a sturdy lock and can be ordered with surge-protected AC plugs for $349 or 5-volt DC outlets for $549. There are dividers between the systems, a place to stash the spare cabling and a place to put a pad lock to make sure they stay put.
It’s about time, but Microsoft finally released its Office for the iPad. It’s a big step forward for schools that mostly have PCs and Macs and want to standardize on their software with a single package for writing, spreadsheets and presentations. Office for iPad has downsized versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and you can add OneNote and Lync as well. The apps can be downloaded separately from the iTunes App Store or gotten through an Office 365 subscription.
You can now integrate just about any classroom piece of electronics on the cheap with Epson’s Pilot 2. The $249 control box lets you consolidate cables while controlling a short-throw projector, audio source and change between a tablet and a notebook being projected. It works with the company’s PowerLite 420 and 430 series, the 570 and 580 series as well as the BrightLink 570, 580 and 590 projectors and has optional speakers.
If you think that using tablet at school requires a traditional desk and chair, Bretford’s Explore Chair with Tablet Arm can make the classroom a lot more slate friendly. It can be ordered four seat colors, comes with casters or floor glides and the chair can be manufactured with the tablet arm on either side to accommodate righties and southpaws.
With all the phones being used in classrooms as impromptu document cameras, it’s refreshing to see a dedicated doc-cam that not only delivers a high-quality image and is easy to use but is inexpensive enough to get one for every classroom. In other words, forget about $600 document cameras in the classroom because IPEVO’s $139 VZ-1 HD outperforms cameras costing much more.
At roughly half the size and weight of doc-cams from Epson and Samsung, the black VZ-1 folds-up and is easy to carry between classes. It is powered by an included USB AC adapter and cable. Press the bright green power switch to start it up and it takes the VZ-1 a few seconds to display the image.
The device’s camera head lacks a lens cap, but when folded it fits securely into the base, protecting the optics. Unfold its articulated arm and the VZ-1’s camera can sit as far as 13-inches above the target while providing a generous 12.75- by 8.5-inch field of view. It can get as close as 2-inches to an object and remain in focus. The camera swivels 270-degrees, allowing it to be rotated to the best orientation, which makes positioning the camera quicker and more exact.
It has a manual focus control, but the camera’s auto-focus was quick and accurate. The autofocus mechanism works well on a variety of items, but is overly sensitive to being shaken or jostled, even on a sturdy table. The camera has a built-in two-element LED light, but its brightness can’t be adjusted and can produce a hot spot in the image if you’re not careful.
While the camera head lacks an optical zoom, you can move it up and down to adjust how much of frame is filled. Able to capture full HD video and send it directly to a projector, the VZ-1’s 5-megapixel camera can be set to 800 by 600, 1,024 by 768, 1280 by 720 or 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. I actually prefer to set it to Auto Resolution and let the document camera set its output to match the projector it’s connected to.
There are advantages to connecting the VZ-1 to a notebook that’s linked to a projector with the included Presenter software and USB cable. The pay-off is that the detail captured is increased to as much as 2,592 by 1,944 resolution, the camera’s limit. It is transformed into one of the sharpest doc-cams around, but as the resolution rises, the video delay does as well.
The software works with a PC or Mac computer and can run full-screen on a computer. It allows you to take a screen shot at any time, but not annotate the screen or capture a video stream. It makes up for the camera’s lack of a zoom lens with a 6X digital zoom set up for getting close.
A bonus for the software is that it can mirror the image both vertically and horizontally. Oddly, for such an advanced device, the VZ-1 uses a VGA cable to transfer the video stream to a projector rather than an HDMI or DisplayPort one. It also lacks a microphone or audio-in jack.
A good idea is to get IPEVO’s $69 Wireless Station. It connects to the camera’s USB port and allows the doc-cam to be used with an iPad or notebook without a cable. You can annotate and highlight items on-screen.
Over the course of several weeks, I used the VZ-1 with a variety of targets, a Dell M110 projector and an Acer R7 notebook. It was easily overwhelmed by bright light so I kept the blinds down on sunny days. It worked well with magazine articles, maps and books as well as for showing the displays of tablets and calculators. It was also adept at projecting how to perform a dissection, a chemistry lab and even for capturing writing on a pad of paper with a Sharpie for showing how to solve an equation or edit a sentence. In other words, the VZ-1 can turn just about anything physical into a lesson and can make the blackboard jealous.
In the spirit of more for less, the VZ-1 outdoes document cameras costing three- or four-times more with high-quality images and the ability to use a projector directly or a notebook. In other words, it’s time to put your smartphone back into your pocket or bag.
+ Flexible camera head
+ Can drive projector or notebook
+ Auto-focus lens
+ LED light
+ HD+ resolution
- No optical zoom
- Lacks microphone or audio jack
- Sensitive to shock
Dell’s Latitude 13 Education Series notebook seems custom-made for schools because it was designed with the needs of teachers and students in mind. Rather than a handful of options, the base machine is available with so many options that there are likely thousands of configurations available. You can get it in traditional non-touch and touch-screen models that can fold flat on a tabletop for easier finger work.
The system can use any operating system from Ubuntu Linux to Windows 8.1 Pro, and is powered by a variety of fourth-generation Intel processors that range from Celeron to Core i5. The system can hold up to 8GB of RAM and be outfitted with 500GB hard drive or an 80- or 128GB solid state storage system.
The Latitude 13 Education model has a pair of USB 3.0 ports as well as HDMI, micro-DisplayPort, audio and an SD card slot, but no VGA connector for use with older projectors or monitors. While it’s not a ruggedized system, the Latitude 13 Education has a sealed keyboard as well as soft bumpers around its screen lid and base to protect it from the abuse that is all-too common in schools. Pricing starts at $540.
I don’t know about you, but with fires in the West, cold weather in the south and snow nearly everywhere this year, setting up remote classrooms can be the difference between a snow-day at home –for teachers and kids – in front of a TV or gaming console and just another day spent learning. Motrr’s Galileo can turn an ordinary phone or tablet into a video camera that follows the teacher around the classroom to create one-person lesson videos. The key is Mottr’s intelligent base that aims, tilts and pans the phone’s camera at the target regardless of where it goes and the $4 Appologics app that tells the base what to do. It works with iPhones, iPads and recent iPod Touch models and costs $150 for newer phones and slates or $99 for older ones.
Tired of paying Symantec or McAfee too much to protect your school’s computers from virus and hacker attack? Avast has a deal for you. The company’s Endpoint Protection Suite can be used by schools for free, potentially saving thousands of dollars a year. The package is available for schools and libraries in the U.S. with between 5 and 30,000 clients and protects desktops, notebooks and file servers. Just register and create an account.