Whether it’s for bringing a sick child into the classroom through a remote video lesson, a district-wide teacher training day or documenting good educational practices, it not only takes an extra person to operate the camera to keep the teacher front and center but the camera can be an intrusion. Swivl’s ingenious camera holder can change all that, opening a world of educational video for schools.
The cylindrical white and black Swivl base has a diameter of 5.0-inches and is 2.6-inches tall, small enough to put on the corner of a desk, on a shelf or a tripod to observe the classroom with a digital camera or tablet. Think of Swivl as a robot that can unobtrusively observe a classroom in action and you get an idea of its potential. It works with a variety of digital cameras, but really comes into its own with an Android or iPad.
Just slide the tablet into its slotted base, load the free app for each platform and the slate’s camera can start recording the goings on. Swivl comes with three inserts for different size slates and there’s optional mounting hardware for digital SLR cameras that costs $49. While there are apps for Android- and iOS-based tablets or smartphones, there’s no software for the current crop of small, inexpensive Windows tablets that are starting to trickle into schools.
Despite its size, the included 1.2-ounce handheld Marker is the key to Swivl’s success. The motorized base uses an infrared link with the Marker to follow it around the room, always keeping it – and the teacher – on-screen. More than a pretty picture, the Marker has a microphone built-in that connects with the base via a 2.4MHz link. Keep it in a shirt pocket or wear it around your neck with the included lanyard, it takes a fraction of a second for the base to get going, reliably follows the Marker around the classroom and can outrun even the fastest teacher.
Both the base and the Marker can run on their own rechargeable batteries and the Marker can be charged in a slot for it in the back of the base. They can each be used for about four hours of recording between charges, not enough for a full school day but plenty for most uses.
It took about 5 minutes to load the needed software, link the Marker to the tablet and get Swivel set up on an iPad Mini. While there’s no manual, Swivl has a start-up guide and there are a series of FAQs and five online videos on Swivl’s site that can help. The Marker automatically followed me no matter how fast I moved, as long as I and the Marker were within about 35-feet of the base.
Swivl makes a slight whirring noise when it moves and is able to rotate 360 degrees to capture a lecturer and then the board behind her and can tilt up by as much as 10-degrees in 0.1-degree increments and down by 15-degrees. On the downside, you’ll need to manually adjust the camera’s tilt the Marker’s central button. Unfortunately, if the marker is too close to the base, the motorized base gets confused and flicks around.
The image quality and resolution depends on the tablet’s camera, but the system can handle HD video. It can be a little awkward to use, though, because when you’re looking at a live image on the screen, it is reversed. The saved video mirrors it so you can read what’s written on a board, projected onto the classroom screen or on a piece of paper you put in front of the camera.
While it’s being used, the screen not only shows how much recording time remains, but whether the microphone is engaged, which camera is being used as well as the Bluetooth link and battery status. A large circle on the right starts and ends the recording, which glows red while it’s active.
The $400 Swivl base comes with the Marker, cables and 200 minutes of video storage space online. That’s about three hours and if you use the device as much as I have, that will fill up all-too quickly, although the videos can be saved locally if you want and Swivl has three settings for video quality. The $500 Basic plan raises the online storage potential to more than 16 hours while the $750 Pro Cloud plan brings it to 50 hours of video storage. After a year, the video storage costs $200 and $500, respectively, while the entry-level 200 minutes remains free and there are district wide discounts available.
If you get a pair of Swivl bases, a Marker can do double duty by controlling two cameras, creating a dual video feed that can cover the presenter and a board at once or shoot from two angles for a more professional-looking final product. Plus, if you want, the camera’s output can be displayed on a larger monitor via Apple TV (for an iPad) or HDMI (for an Android system). On the downside, there’s no way to remotely zoom-in or -out on an object, as would help while recording a lab or when there’s a group discussion.
It has a couple of tricks up its sleeve, as well. The Swivl can not only play-back slides from your online repository and work as a teleprompter, but it can be used for aiming the camera at the speaker in a video conference, potentially replacing expensive gear. It can also take time lapse sequences, but only with a digital camera.
Its $400 price tag is a bargain for schools that want to unobtrusively video classrooms. The company will lend you one to try for a month to see if it fits into the way your institution teaches and trains.
$400 with 200 minutes of online storage
+ Camera follows user
+ Wireless microphone and lanyard
+ Free trial
+ Online storage plans available
+ Pan and tilt
+ Works with iPad, Android or digital camera
+ Remote can control two Swivls at once
- Can’t remotely zoom-in or -out
- No Windows software