They’re not new or fancy. We’ve had them in classrooms on the Mary Baldwin Staunton Campus for years. You probably take them for granted unless they don’t do what you want them to do. Yet those gray podiums in the classrooms are, by far, the most-used piece of instructional technology in Staunton and the regions. What’s in them and how to do they work best?All of our podiums have a PC and a DVD/VCR combo player. Most have a document camera. Some have a MAC as well as a PC.
Most classrooms also have a video projector controller (ours are made by Extron) that replaces the projector remote to turn the projector on and off, select the input device, to blank the screen, and to control audio volume. Note that the projector controller locks its buttons while the projector is warming up or cooling down. The On or Off lights will flash during this lockout period of 30 seconds to one minute. Blank Screen is a useful button to remove the distraction of the projected image without having to wait for the shut down and restart periods for the projector. The Blank Screen button flashes green while the picture is “muted.” If you find that you are not seeing the input you want on the projection screen, press the input button for a different device, wait a second or two, then press the input button for the device you want to show. The projector will resynchronize with the controller. More information about the Extron Controller is here: http://www.marybaldwin.edu/oit/classroom-technology-standard-rooms-on-staunton-campus/
The document camera, which many of us call an “Elmo” since that’s the brand we have the most of, is a great tool that some people use and some people have never touched. It’s a video camera that has zoom and focus controls. Usually it’s pointed down at the lighted “stage” so that hard copy can be projected on the screen. Music faculty love it because hard copy is the only way that most music is available. Math faculty love it because equations are much easier to read from hard copy. And diverse faculty love it because handwriting, whether on a pad of paper (which allows the instructor to flip back to previous pages in case there’s a question) or on a small whiteboard tablet laid on the stage, can be done faster and more neatly when writing on a horizontal surface. The document camera isn’t just for showing things on paper, though. You can see key presses and the display of a graphing calculator on the stage. Small physical objects can be easily shown to the class and manipulated. The camera head can be rotated to point at the front wall of the classroom, in case a poster or map that’s larger than the stage needs to be shown in detail. Just remember to press the autofocus button or rotate the focus ring if the picture is fuzzy.
Because we have more sources than inputs available on the video projector, a laptop signal has to “loop” through the doc cam. You can see and hear what is displayed on a laptop (not included!) by plugging it into the sound and video cables that come out of the document camera, selecting “Laptop/Doc Cam” on the projector controller, turning on the doc cam, and pressing the button we’ve labeled “toggle for laptop” to switch between the doc cam and the laptop picture.
Since the DVD/VCR has to be in an odd position in the podium, its front panel controls are hard to read. Its remote should be in the podium, and is easier to use. Just hold the remote at least two feet away from the front of the DVD/VCR, or the player may not pick up the signal from the remote.
You may be able to skip the DVD/VCR altogether if you need to play a DVD, though. Because of the way the players are made, the video connection to the projector is fairly low-quality, producing a fuzzy picture. The PC has the ability to play DVDs and its picture quality is much better. We’ve installed a powerful new media player on the classroom PCs called VLC Player from VideoLAN.org. (It is a free download, so you can put it on your home or office computer as well). It will play many types of DVDs, including DVDs from Europe. See our VLC Player documentation here: http://www.marybaldwin.edu/oit/showing-movies-in-the-mbc-staunton-classrooms/ (Another benefit of playing a DVD from the PC allows you to see its picture on the podium computer monitor. The doc cam and DVD/VCR pictures don’t display on the computer monitor.)