Interactive projectors are considered to be a superior teaching tool. It’s even more important with the shift in teaching to more student involvement.
Interactive projectors vary a great deal. In particular there are several things to consider.
First as a group, interactive projectors cost significantly more than those that are not. (Let’s count projectors with simple remote mousing as non-interactive.) Today’s interactive projectors typically cost more than $1000 and up to $2000 although educational discounts keep most of them around $1500 or less. That’s still a far cry from traditional projectors from $400 to $800, for similar WXGA resolution.
The need for interactivity therefore must be weighed against the issue of how many classrooms can a school, or district equip. Should a school go with 20 “standard projectors” or 7 particularly good interactive ones, or perhaps go with 2 interactive projectors and 12 traditional ones.
That of course depends on the amount of use, and benefit, something that may well be a teacher by teacher issue. As we all know, some teachers really take to technology, others do not.
Placement and therefore projector throw is an important factor. Ideally interactive projectors should be ultra short throw, as that class of projector is designed not to blind the presenter, be it a teacher or a student. By mounting on the wall right above, or on a table below the screen/whiteboard surface, only inches from the wall, the user is not blinded by the light. Next best are very short throw projectors, with their lenses typically 3 to 4 feet out from the wall/screen. These too, can be mounted directly to the wall, rather than the ceiling, which has the benefit of being a simpler, less expensive installation, always a good thing. While generally interactive projectors are expensive, there are exceptions. Consider the Viewsonic in this year’s report (the PJD6544W). It is a pen based, well below $1000 interactive projector. One cost saving feature is that it’s standard throw, not ultra short throw, but it is a good example of bringing a good interactive capability to schools at a lower price point.
The interactive capabilities and ease of use are the other major factors. Today we have interactive projectors that range from the ability to use a single pen, to those supporting multiple pens at once, and we’re just starting to see those projectors that don’t need a pen, that react to finger touch. (I recently saw in Japan, a projector, the Epson Brightlink 595, which uses finger touch – very fast and precise), and supports up to 8 touches at once. The demonstration used two pens and six fingers –all working at once, and tracking across the full screen area, rather than each being limited to a specific quadrant or area. It worked, and worked well. We had hoped to review a Brightlink 595 but they still weren’t available. We did manage to review a pre-production Brightlink 585 instead. Very similar but pen based, no touch.
Most pens need to be pressed against the screen, which means in reality, whiteboards especially those designed to double as a screen, work better than screens, which tend to get damaged. TI – Texas Instruments, the folks that bring you the DLP chip, have developed a pen system that their OEM’s can use. One advantage is that they can be used from back in the room. That’s a plus for the teacher who wants control, but wants to walk around the classroom, seeing what the students are doing. The downside, of course, is that it gets pretty imprecise at distances. Oh, fine for underlining something, but not for writing a sentence.
More recently tablets are being used as interactive tools. As you can imagine, it’s a whole different thing to be sitting back drawing on a tablet, and having it appear on the projected image, than standing up there and drawing directly. Generally, I would think at this point, that the pen is still mightier than the tablet, but an iPad or android tablet adds to an interactive projector’s range of capabilities.
Were also starting to see collaboration capabilities built into interactive projectors so that what appears on one board, can also appear on another board, in another physical location. Interesting stuff, probably more useful in higher ed, than K-12, but a feature that probably has the most demand in the business world. Last year we reviewed the Mitsubishi WD390U – a “cloud” interactive projector with collaboration. Sadly, as mentioned Mitsubishi has exited the projector business.
Although I can’t quote any studies, the general consensus is that interactive projectors can improve student (and teacher) productivity, make for a better learning experience. It’s up to schools to balance the trade-offs between price and benefit. The most effective way to implement is to make sure that interactive projectors are getting used regularly in the classrooms they are placed in.