Project: Project!

Do the newest projector products have a profound impact on teaching and learning in the 'smart' classroom, or could 'new' merely mean 'newer'?

Canon IN NOVEMBER OF this past year, the editors of Campus Technology launched our first-ever High- Resolution Projection Study, to find out if the latest in projector technology could really make a significant difference in teaching, learning, and educational innovation on US campuses. We asked campus educators, technologists, and administrators interested in participating in our study-- and demonstrating a real need for improved projection technology in the classroom--to submit their best argument regarding why their institution should receive a cutting-edge projection device, free. What we were looking for: compelling and original use, and a diverse selection of venues and purposes for the projector equipment. We wanted to see how the new products would impact education in any number of differing educational environments.

For the purposes of the study, in January 2007 we shipped identical projector equipment--a Canon REALiS SX6 projector--free of charge to four different institutions that we had selected out of the 149 entries we received during the competition review period. Use of the equipment commenced in February 2007, and we followed the use of the devices over three months, to see what impact on teaching and learning was experienced.

About the Equipment

The Canon devices shipped were part of the REALiS line of high-resolution multimedia projectors, offering sharp, brilliant image projection via an innovative LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology combined with the manufacturer's proprietary AISYS light engine technology. Canon spokespeople maintain that these features contribute to delivery of exceptional image quality. The SX6 model we provided is the top of Canon's REALiS line of projectors. At 3,500 ANSI lumens, it is the brightest "ultra-portable" SXGA+ projector Canon makes, and is designed for demanding-use situations. (Canon claims the SX6 gives the widest range of Adobe RGB color space of any projector.) The projector also boasts a 1.7x ultra-wide powered-zoom lens with autofocus, giving users the widest zoom range of any of Canon's projector lenses. Additionally, the equipment's DVI-I terminal allows users to project high-quality video from satellite and digital cable boxes, as well as DVD players.

Competition Sample

The schools we chose as recipients were: 1) Herkimer County Community College (NY), for use in, among other areas, the school's forensics classes, where high-resolution projection of crime-scene images (fingerprint, hair, skin, and fiber samples, etc.) is desperately needed; 2) Pomona College (CA), for art faculty who have been clinging to 35mm slide projectors because they are unhappy with the limitations of XGA projection and yet are unable to take full advantage of high-resolution imaging software already in-house; 3) The Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, for the medical students' micro-lab classroom, the detailed cellular level microscopy work required there, and to replace a microscope/video camera/CRT monitor system; and 4) The University of New Orleans, to replace equipment lost in Hurricane Katrina, and to allow UNO students greater visual acuity in their geograhic information systems (GIS) studies for ecosystem research, storm water management studies, and the like.

Study Questions

Over the past three-plus months, we've asked the users to consider questions and issues such as:

  • How is the projector different from other models you've used in the past? Did you notice a difference in brightness? Contrast? Color quality? Resolution?
  • How has the projector made a difference in the classroom, compared to past technologies?
  • Are you using the projector with other technology tools (e.g., special software or other classroom hardware)?
  • Do students better understand course material when the intricacies of what they see and examine are clearer, sharper, and more true-to-life and vivid?
  • Has the technology enabled instructors to cover new course material that they could not cover previously?
  • Are students more effectively drawn in to their studies?
  • Are instructors better able to involve students in study matter by using such tools?
  • How has the acquisition of a high-end projector made a difference to the campus overall?

Results

At Herkimer County Community College, where Lynton Clark is a forensic investigations instructor in the Criminal Justice Department, students, he says, are indeed now more effectively focused on their work: Fine details--fingerprinting images and clothing fiber samples, for instance--have been greatly enhanced. "The more eye-catching a presentation, the more a student pays attention," he insists. Clark claims his current presentations are definitely brighter and more vivid, with greater contrast and better color quality than previously possible. In comparison to two older systems the school had been using (only 1,000-2,000 lumens), "It took me about five minutes to realize that I'd been living in the 'dark' ages," he proclaims. A big advantage: "During a video or PowerPoint presentation, I can leave on a bank of room lights or crack the blinds, allowing for some natural light by which to take notes--without affecting the strength of light emanating from the projector." And now, when he uses crime-scene diagramming software, "fine lines and other trace items within a scene are clearly visible," he points out.

Clark says that his latest teaching innovation is adding a Nikon-D digital camera to the system, and "demonstrating the various functions of the camera, various menu options, and real-time photo captures that appear instantly on the screen."

When we received the SX6, I set up a side-by-side shoot-out with our current LCD, a DLP projector, and the Canon. The deciding factor was the screen-door effect. -- Joe Brennan, Pomona College

Pomona College Director of Media and Classroom Services Joe Brennan was more than specific in his report on the initial installation and use of the college's new projector, even if he is reserving his final commentary for a wider user sampling than the current one-third of the art and art history faculty. But he does reveal that, based on the satisfactory installation and early use of the free projector, the school decided to purchase a second identical one, and thus will now be able to "better assess its usage." Brennan's early feedback, however, is quite valuable:

"We have been looking for a digital projector solution that would help us transition our art and art history faculty away from the traditional 35mm slide projection. Our first step was to purchase a digital-imaging archiving solution to provide faculty 24/7 access to the most frequently used images in our art and art history catalog, via their PCs. After we projected the images [via] our classroom LCD projector, we were less than impressed with color reproduction, and the LCD lacked the fine adjustment menus our faculty wanted. Brightness was within an acceptable tolerance, but [XGA] resolution was in need of help. Most horrifying was the screen-door effect created by the native technology in our LCD solution, enhanced by the distance between projector and screen.

"When we received the SX6, I set up a side-by-side shoot-out with our current LCD, a DLP projector, and the SX6. All three are at a comparable brightness, and all are within the same manufacturer's list pricing scheme. Our current LCD solution was immediately eliminated from consideration. The DLP and the SX6 have similar color accuracy and have the fine adjustments needed to get color accuracy. The deciding factor was the screen-door effect visible on both projectors: The DLP did a great job of minimizing this, but the SX6 really made a greater impact in this area.

"I was also concerned that the SX6 would not have enough inputs to meet the classroom's needs, but it had all I needed. And my biggest concern was the interface with our campus-standardized projector control interface: I was worried about the RS-232 control, and the availability of the drivers. But the drivers were readily available, and operated the projector via RS-232 control as expected."

At the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, where Al Reed is IT desktop support manager for the Office of Information Systems & Instructional Technology, users are impressed by the new projector equipment's performance in the microbiology lab--a venue previously served by large, ceiling-mounted CRT monitors.

"The SX6 gives the students a much larger image to view than the old CRT monitors [did]," he explains, adding that it "now allows us to project a large image that can be seen with great detail from nearly every chair. With the images produced by the projector, the instructor can now show specimen details that could not be magnified before, so this ability definitely enables more class interaction."

Reed goes on to report that the projector is "currently being used with a standard PC output displaying Power- Point presentations, images of microscopic examples, and images for student-practice suturing labs." It also is used to display images produced by a camera mounted on a microscope, for actual cell visualization. "The brightness is perfect for the environment we have installed it in; the images are crisp and bright despite the room being well lit by fluorescent lights," he says, adding that at this point, the images viewed are mainly delivered as VGA, through the instructor's laptop, and "all colors are accurately reproduced."

Regarding the impact on fresh ways to deliver learning, "The projector has enabled the instructors to use new means such as PowerPoint lecture notes instead of paper," he says. But though he admits that "The instructors have not yet had enough time to fully convert to using the projector as a primary teaching tool," he says he has gathered "from observations and comments concerning the nowavailable technology in that room, the instructors will be moving to convert course materials that will take full advantage of the projector." Use of the SX6 has also prompted the instructors to request an upgraded video camera to be integrated into the video system for enhanced microbiology specimen projection.

It took me about five minutes to realize that I'd been living in the 'dark' ages. -- Lynton Clark, Herkimer County Community College

As for the University of New Orleans, the projector's intended use in the College of Engineering has been postponed due to delays in the renovation of the college's lecture hall. In the meantime, Merrill Johnson, associate dean and professor of geography in the College of Liberal Arts, has been benefiting from the holdup: She has been able to use the SX6 during the hiatus, to teach her political geography students in Geography 4310.

"All of my lectures are supported by detailed map and graph presentations using PowerPoint," Johnson reports. "One of my biggest challenges--a challenge that prevented me from using LCD projection when it first appeared--is having projection systems that are of sufficiently high resolution to show the occasionally intricate map detail that students need to perceive, in order to understand a point that I'm making in class. For example, I hate to show a cultural map of the Balkan Peninsula when the mosaic of cultural areas bleed together, disappear, or otherwise appear as blocks of data on the screen. A projector like the SX6 prevents these types of problems from occurring." (Editors note: When the Engineering College is ready to adopt the SX6 for its post-Katrina GIS, ecosystem, and storm water management studies, we'll be tracking the results.)

It's safe to say that even in these early weeks and months of usage, our state-of-the-art projector recipients believe that this kind of intelligent classroom technology has a very positive impact on both teaching and learning. The only caveat we heard was from Joe Brennan at Pomona College, who is eagerly awaiting Canon's implementation of "sizable discounts to educational institutions" so that cutting- edge projection equipment such as the REALiS SX6 can find its way even more easily into the hands of enthusiastic educators.

:: web extra: Learn more about today's 'smart' technology options in the session, "Smart Decision-Making for 'Smart Classroom' Evolution," at Campus Technology 2007 in Washington, DC, July 30-Aug. 2.

comments powered by Disqus