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Owing to an injury, I need an alternative solution for delivering a semester-long mathematics course that I was originally going to teach using chalk and blackboard. It seems that a good option might be to use a tablet and stylus to simulate this classic delivery format. Indeed, most lecture rooms here are equipped with a projector and VGA/HDMI connectors.

After browsing around, it seems like a Microsoft Surface product combined with software such as Drawboard PDF or OneNote could be what I'm looking for.

Desired attributes: I essentially want a virtual chalkboard that'll be cast via projector. Added perks might include

  • Edit: I also tend to touch hand-to-surface when writing, so the monitor should solely react to the stylus in lecture-mode
  • Control over fore/background colours and other nice visual/drawing features
  • The ability to display 'multiple boards' on the projector at once, even while I'm just primed on a specific 'board' on the tablet (to simulate the true lecture theatre experience)
  • Being able to flip back to 'erased' boards

Could anyone offer any further advice, recommendations or guidance? It'd be great to have some more specific, up-to-date hardware/software recommendations with setup advice. Does anyone have any experience doing this?

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    $\begingroup$ Another idea: document camera with lots of paper and markers. This gives you the advantage of drawing things before class without much planning and/or going back to previous "slides" by simply retrieving the relevant paper. I think you can route a document camera into an hdmi or vga connection. I like this as a solution since it is relatively low-tech and is more close to your usual style. Personally, I think the electronic pens leave a lot to be desired and I've spent a few hours trying to create legible content for grading purposes on pdfs. Time pressure teaching, markers on paper ftw. $\endgroup$ – James S. Cook Jun 27 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ Are you planning to interact with your students during a lecture? $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Jun 27 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesS.Cook Hmm, will consider this as a potential option too then. $\endgroup$ – karooby Jun 27 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RustyCore I suppose I'll sometimes talking, explaining things and asking questions as though I would during an ordinary blackboard-style lecture $\endgroup$ – karooby Jun 27 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Jasper your wish is my command. $\endgroup$ – James S. Cook Jun 27 at 16:24
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Another idea:

Use a document camera with lots of paper and markers.

This gives you the advantage of drawing things before class without much planning and/or going back to previous "slides" by simply retrieving the relevant paper. I think you can route a document camera into an hdmi or vga connection. I like this as a solution since it is relatively low-tech and is more close to your usual style.

Personally, I think the electronic pens leave a lot to be desired and I've spent a few hours trying to create legible content for grading purposes on pdfs. I own a Bamboo tablet which attempts to recreate some of the texture we take for granted with paper/pen/pencil writing. It does help, but it is still rather ugly at my current skill level. Maybe after I spend a couple hundred hours it'll start feeling natural...

Time pressure teaching, markers on paper ftw.

Incidentally, this is more or less how I've made some of my videos for advanced students' independent study. The videos linked below I use a camcorder fastened to a wood frame I built about 50cm above where I'm writing. A document camera is similar if you get the right one.

My Differential Geometry Playlist

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  • $\begingroup$ Alright, I guess you've convinced me this solution's the better one! I'm not a huge fan of writing on paper with markers, will biros still do the job? $\endgroup$ – karooby Jun 28 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ And are there any specific document cameras you might recommend me? $\endgroup$ – karooby Jun 28 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ This is good especially if the document camera supports image capture, which many do. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Jun 28 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly I do not have a particular recommendation. Your school may have some in their classroom support division. It might even be possible to borrow it. One of my colleagues borrows one each day for his teaching. I think you can get a pretty nice one for $200, probably less, but I'm not sure what optimal price-point is for your application. Maybe someone else here can help with that question. $\endgroup$ – James S. Cook Jun 28 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Have you tried writing bigger? Small writing doesn't work well, but I've found I'm happy writing on a Surface after only a few hours, if I write bigger (say, letters around 1cm). $\endgroup$ – Jessica B Jun 29 at 11:23
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I am teaching at the high school level, not university, but this has been my standard set up for a couple of years now:

I connect my iPad to my notebook, and screen capture my iPad onto my notebook. I then display my notebook via a projector. I use the Notability app on iPad to write notes (using the Apple pencil), and this is projected for students to see. (This app is very flexible with different pens / highlighters / selection tools / etc, and the developers are regularly updating it with new functions) The purpose of also doing the screen capture is to (i) record the lessons, and (ii) allow me to quickly switch from the screen capture application to project other useful applications (ie. a computer algebra system; graphing software; etc.)

The main disadvantage of this method is the high cost of the Apple products.

This also does not allow me to display multiple "boards" at once, but it is very quick to scroll back through earlier pages, or select an earlier page from a list of thumbnails.

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My colleagues have been doing this using a Surface and Acrobat. If you just want to write onto a plain page, OneNote will probably serve the purpose, and has the best writing experience. The advantage of Acrobat is you can write onto pre-prepared slides. The disadvantage of it is price. I'm going to try using OpenBoard, which is free, but still somewhat buggy (most noticably the button sizes are off on my screen).

These can generally cope with the hand/stylus issue, but can allow finger-writing as a back-up option. There is some choice of background. Returning to earlier pages is fine too. However, I've not come across anything that allows multiple boards to show at once (unless you spend a LOT more on tech). On the flip-side, you can save the file and upload it to your VLE, so it's not as bad if students don't have time to copy everything in the lecture.

The one situation we haven't found a solution to yet is: if you have slides that reveal in stages, and write on an earlier part of the slide, the writing 'disappears' when you bring up more of the slide.

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  • $\begingroup$ You can import pdfs into OneNote, so you can still write on pre-prepared materials. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Jun 27 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenGubkin Does it understand that what you are looking at is a set of slides? Getting between pages in OneNote isn't that slick. $\endgroup$ – Jessica B Jun 28 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ There may be a way, but I don't know it. They are close to releasing a new version which should have a lot more features. $\endgroup$ – Steven Gubkin Jun 28 at 13:53
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You might consider to just use an overhead projector, with grease pencil and acetate. You won't have the multiple boards, but you can go back to earlier pages if needed. (Number as you go, to make this easier, on the fly.)

If you want to keep the same feel as blackboard talk, I recommend to write them as you do the discussion. If you have a canned talk, it is a very different energy.

One other advantage of the transparencies is that they can easily be converted to notes for web (or even handouts) by running through a scanner (or copier). Note, that there is a little practice in how to do this best in terms of putting your hands down when done writing (not occluding the screen) and which side you sit on. One small advantage of the OHP is you are facing the audience and it is easier to glance at the class.

One of the downsides is probably the energy level, since people don't see you striding around (we are social animals, not computing machines). Try to compensate for that, by being loud (not yelling, but projecting) and modulating your voice and intensity/interest. Also, maybe add a little more interaction in terms of Q&A, exercises, etc. Nothing over the top, but just a little bit more than normal to compensate for the lack of movement energy given by a chalk talk.

Also, consider to incorporate small amounts of recitation (student to the board), if not already doing this. [Figure out how to do this, if it is impromptu and in a large group, do the better students only...so you don't waste class time. Other option is volunteers from after group/individual problem solving time.] This will at least, get your boards filled sometimes. Obviously, if you need to have the slates erased for next classes, you will need a student volunteer(s) to do this--discuss this with the class during first session. I anticipate you will get some sympathy and not have issues with volunteers. (If not, then just order the kids who wrote stuff up, to erase it at class end, as a general practice. Again, set the expectations during first session when you describe how class will be conducted.)

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