A visualiser is a handy teaching tool to show children small things on a big screen. It can also be used to show a page of a book or a sample piece of work. They come in all shapes and sizes and cost cost hundreds of euro. Essentially, a visualiser, in its barest form is a camera hooked up to a projector. The more money you pay, generally the better quality the lens. Flatbed visualisers also have the advantage of a backlit surface. However, do schools really need all that functionality? How good are the cheapest of the visualisers – the ones that are no more than a HD webcam on a stick?
I’ve been testing out two such visualisers for Compupac, an Irish company who are selling two Ipevo visualisers at €89 and €139 respectively. We’ll see the advantages and disadvantages of these smaller, cheaper devices as against their bigger brothers.
The cheapest of the two options is the Ipevo P2P, priced €89, with CompuPac. It’s a very simple device in that you simply plug it into your USB port and you’re ready to go. I’d recommend installing the software that comes with the visualiser for even better performance though it isn’t completely necessary. The quality of images on a projector is very good and you can see text clearly enough, though I’m sure if it’s very small text, it would be difficult. A nice feature of the P2P is a button on the lens which takes a snapshot of whatever is below it. This could be used for stop motion animation, for example. The Ziggi is a bit more expensive but also features a better swivel for the lens and it allows video capturing. I wasn’t able to see a huge difference in the quality of images between both devices.
Something I really like about these visualisers is that they can double up easily as professional web cams for video conferencing. More expensive visualisers, because of their more focussed lenses often find something like this difficult to do. I tried out the P2P on a video conference recently and it was perfect!
While I can see the advantages of more featured visualisers, I’m not entirely sure that primary schools need them that much. Since getting these visualisers, I have briefly surveyed approximate 50 teachers as to how they use their visualiser in their classroom. Without fail, all of them said that they used it solely for showing textbooks, worksheets, newspaper articles or small items. Very expensive visualisers can do video capture, double up as digital microscopes and give better quality images but these options are rarely needed in primary schools. I believe in schools, where budgets are tight, good enough is good enough. I can safely say that both the P2P and the Ziggi are more than good enough for primary classroom use.