Jan Costenbader

Digital Whiteboards: Choosing the one that’s right for you

I currently teach online and hybrid Mathematics courses in the College of Science and Health. My courses are computationally intensive and often require the professor to write equations or diagrams on a white board. This presents a particular challenge when creating screencasts for online delivery, which requires a combination of hardware and software. I will focus primarily on the hardware for this post, the software is worthy of another complete discussion.

Software

Before going on to the hardware, I should mention some of the software tools. First you need a screen capture software to record the screen and audio. Free screen capture software includes Jing and Screencast-O-matic. The most robust, paid versions include Camtasia Studio for Mac and PC (also from Techsmith) and ScreenFlow on the Mac. (I use ScreenFlow.) Next, depending on the hardware solution chosen, you will need a drawing tool. A great freeware app is Open-Sankoré for Mac/PC/Linux. (Note that the latest version of Open-Sankoré does not work with Mac OX Yosemite. OpenBoard is a workable alternative.) Khan Academy is well known for their engaging videos (PC only) which works with SmoothDraw. On the Mac side, there are a couple of candidates. I use Deskscribble and FlySketch. Of course, there are some hardware alternatives which are included below.

Hardware

If you are going to capture handwriting, then you need something to write on. Here are some, but not all, potential solutions, arranged roughly by cost from low to high.

iPevo Document Camera

For a mere $69, you can grab the iPevo document camera and point it at a sheet of paper and simply write away. The plus is that you already know how to write on a sheet of paper, this simply records a video of everything, including your hand. The hand is also the downside, as the camera has an automatic white balance and the color shifts as you move your hand in and out of the frame. One of our faculty has used it effectively in a statistics course for Chemistry. Another benefit is that you can use it to demonstrate 3D models or other objects, however, you cannot use it to illustrate or diagram on websites or images you may have on the computer screen. Good or bad, the iPevo document camera accurately captures your handwriting, which is a major benefit.

Wacom Bamboo Tablet

I have one of these very versatile little tablets on my desk right now ($69). It doubles as a trackpad, and can be used with the drawing software mentioned above (Open-Sankoré, etc). It includes a pressure-sensitive stylus, which also comes with an eraser. The biggest difficulty is having to watch the screen and coordinate your hand movements with the tablet. In other words, you are not looking at exactly where you are writing/drawing. Consequently, my handwriting looks even worse than it really is. That said, others have reported great success with it and at the cost, if it doesn’t work for you, it still makes a great trackpad.

Papershow

Canson Papershow (approx. $200) uses a Bluetooth pen and specially formatted paper that has embedded microdots. The software then transmits the image to your computer screen, which can then be captured by your screen capture software. Like the document camera, you are writing on a familiar medium, meaning, paper, but without the distraction of capturing your hand in the picture. This was the first of these solutions we tried and we used it quite extensively. The downside is that you must continue to purchase packs of paper as you use them, adding to the cost. Like the document camera, your handwriting is accurately represented.

Livescribe Pens

I have the Livescribe 3 Smartpen (around $200). This is similar to the Papershow in that it uses a Bluetooth ballpoint pen and special paper to send the images to your tablet or smartphone, capturing your audio on the mobile device as well. No screen recording software is required. The output is a special .pdf document that has the audio embedded in it. The best way to describe it is to actually look at a sample document. Now the sample document is the downfall of the system. While it has some great features, it requires the students to download the PDF, then go to the PDF player and upload it in order to hear the synchronized audio. As of July 7th of this year, Livescribe no longer allows pencasts to be embedded in a web page, so the two step process is in place to download the PDF and then upload it to the player.

iPad, Android, and Surface Tablets

There are various sketching and screen capture apps on the tablets. My favorite is ExplainEverything. This runs on iPad, Android and Windows surface tablets and is a bargain at $2.99 for the iPad version. The biggest benefit is that is it is an integrated screencasting/whiteboard app. You can export your recordings to various video formats. This sounds like the ideal tool, however, I find it limited by how well it renders my handwriting, which is more of a function of the iPad that a limit of the software. Even with a decent stylus, the iPad does not have the accuracy to render my handwriting all that clearly. Again, some have had a success with it, but for long, complex equations or derivations, it is limited. At the price, and if you have one of the devices, it is certainly worth a try.

Wacom Cintq

Last, and certainly not least, is the Wacom Cintq tablet. ($800). This is, by far, the costliest option but it is also the best solution for my use. The tablet attaches directly to your computer and becomes a second display. You use a special pressure-sensitive pen to write directly on the screen with nearly the same feel as writing on paper. It accurately, and without lag, reproduces your handwriting. Essentially, you can write on anything that appears on your screen; a web page, a blank piece of paper, a PowerPoint slide or any image. I have used this for many hours of screencasts with great results but, again, at a much higher cost of any of the other solutions.

Summary

Keeping up with emerging white board/screencasting technologies is a challenge. The playing field changes weekly with new innovations and new technologies. For example, the Microsoft Surface systems are, as yet, untested in our programs, but have potential. There is always the question of what Apple or Google may introduce in their next generation tablets and software.

Choosing a solution for you depends on your budget and usage scenario. You can be perfectly content with a document camera or you may want the more costly, high-end solution. I do hope this survey gave you some ideas and insights into the different options.

Jan Costenbader

About Jan Costenbader

Jan came to DePaul from California State University, Chico in November of 2010. There, he taught Mathematics and developed an online hybrid Mathematics course for General Education Mathematics. He also assisted faculty in course design as an instructional designer. Currently, he provides instructional design consultation to the College of Science and Health, the Quantitative Reasoning program and several departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In addition, he teaches fully online developmental Mathematics and blended Quantitive Reasoning courses.

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