The Ultimate Presentation Power – Student Use of the Document CameraBy Joe Frisk
For decades, teachers have stood in front of the class, presenting material printed on transparencies via the stand-alone projectors, relics dating back to 1944. These machines, while better than nothing, have never impressed me. I viewed them as inferior technology when I was in high school and view them no differently today. Why are they still in use? Why do teachers put up with them and seem unconcerned with the limitations? They cannot project an image that is not on a transparency, the presenter must stand in the way of what is being shown and bulbs burn out at critical times. I believe a majority of teachers do not realize there’s a better presentation technology available, one that can transform pedagogy, stimulate learning in nearly all students and get students up and teaching their peers. This technology is not much more difficult to use than a chalkboard and is a real time saver. It’s the document camera and this article is written for those of you who have one in your classroom and want to get the most out of it.
What Can They Do?
My interest is in advancing pedagogy, as our teachers and students could be the best in the world but will not get there without the finest equipment and instruction to go with it. This is not a beginning primer on the use of the document camera. For that, see my article, The Document Camera – A Better Way To Present. Here, I will give a brief history of the technology, a glimpse at ways to use the camera across disciplines and conclude with my favorite teaching strategy.
Some opine the document camera first received widespread recognition during the O.J. Simpson trial, as the Elmo brand camera was utilized to present evidence. Today, I find cameras in courthouses, municipal buildings and at law firms. Many elementary and secondary schools either ignored the cameras or decided they were too expensive, though they can often be found in well-equipped colleges and universities. Many students, including those in my former district, leave the secondary system and have no idea what document cameras are or how to use those they see in the college classroom. Teaching in fourteen Southern Minnesota schools, I did not come across this equipment until my students, trained in its use, found one in a computer lab and brought it to my attention. Many teachers have never heard of them. Document cameras need a champion.
Smart Gets Involved
Smart Technologies, Inc. is pushing the Smart Document Cameras and might be that champion. Interactive white boards are excellent tools, but they have problems associated with software, networks and a long learning curve. The document camera stands independent of a computer or network and can be learned in minutes. Its power lies in versatility, spontaneity and simplicity. Smart Technologies have integrated their cameras with their line of interactive boards, a move that could spark greater interest in the cameras. It will be an uphill battle if my experiences are the norm. In my district, the administration had no clue as to what I was doing and the value of it. When I took a “training” class on the interactive white board, the trainers advised us to delete the document camera support icon from the computer desktop, because “We don’t use those things around here, but I think I saw two or three in storage.” As discouraging as this was, the cameras will catch on. They’re too good to ignore.
The document camera has the versatility to work well across disciplines. In the Osseo, Minnesota school district, 200 cameras were purchased for math and science teachers where they are said to be “transforming teaching and learning.”1 Typical uses in science classrooms include visually presenting each step in a dissection, showing plants, animals and insects, up close and in great detail, and presenting equations in a manner superior to writing on the board. There’s no better way to instruct during a dissection then by using a document camera. A tray can be set under the camera and the dissection process and parts of a specimen can be clearly displayed. Specimens that would have to be examined by microscope, one student at a time, can be seen by the entire class under the powerful zoom lens of modern cameras. No slides need be prepared and cleaned, no time wasted with students standing in line to get a glimpse of a specimen and great detail can be observed by all students. Some cameras allow image capture, and photos take by the camera can be posted on the web for student use.
Teaching math, the camera allows students to work out problems while the rest of the class watches and participates. This can easily be done on an interactive board, but again, the presenter ends up getting in the way of material being presented. With a document camera, everyone can clearly see what is taking place. Being a social studies teacher, I’ll now explain how I operate the camera in the classroom, using techniques that will also work in language arts and other areas of study. (continued page 2>>)