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