Sam Gliksman’s iPads in Education Ning is one of the best sites on the web for thoughtful commentary and discussion on using the iPad for teaching and learning. On March 15, Sam wrote about a software package called Doceri and how it might be used as an inexpensive substitute for an interactive whiteboard system. Though I’d heard about Doceri before, I was intrigued by Sam’s description and several of the comments that followed. I was leading a workshop for a group of educators at the end of March on using the iPad as a display device, so I downloaded the trial version of Doceri.
The Doceri software has two parts. One resides on your computer, Windows or Mac, and the other is a free iPad app called Doceri Remote. The two work together to make the iPad a remote screen and control surface for the computer connected to a projector. You can view, navigate and annotate applications running on the desktop of the computer using the iPad, similar to an interactive whiteboard (IWB) with a wireless slate such as a SMART Board or Promethean board. The cost for the Doceri software? Just $50. I liked the capabilities and the cost (a price/performance combination I refer to as a value buy) enough to contact the folks at Doceri (Mar. 16) to learn more about it and perhaps get support for a demo for my workshop group.
What first impressed me about the company was the speed of their response. Within one hour I had two email replies from Doceri staff, including the regional sales rep, Steve James. A short time later, I received a message from the CEO and Chief Architect of Doceri, Paul Brown, offering personal help and encouraging me to arrange a private tutorial with Steve. Steve and I arranged time (Mar. 18) so he could walk me through a few of the features of Doceri by phone. I was impressed with what I learned and invited Steve to lead a demo for my workshop participants. Steve led the demo, addressed questions and stayed during lunch to handle any follow up queries. Doceri generated considerable interest among those attending.
I’ve since spent some time reading comments on Sam’s article and checking other sources for suggestions on creating inexpensive interactive whiteboard systems based on the iPad. For example, Tim Tyson’s videos and an article by Wes Fryer have been generating considerable buzz.
Sam did a great job describing the useful features of Doceri, so I won’t repeat them here. Instead, I’ll address a few items that stood out for me.
The first is cost. Compared to commercial IWBs, Doceri costs thousands less. In terms of convenience, while I was impressed with the solutions Wes Fryer and Tim Tyson wrote about in the links above, I’d have to give the edge to an integrated system like Doceri versus the do-it-yourself app combos described by Wes and Tim.
While it is true the iPad has less working surface area than a SMART or Promethean wireless slate, those slates are blank. That is, they don’t mirror what you’re seeing on the computer screen. You must watch the projected image to see what you’re doing on the slate. With Doceri on the iPad, you actually see the computer screen on the iPad.
You really need an iPad stylus of some kind to make effective use of the iPad as a remote navigation and annotation tool. Others have observed that using an iPad stylus with Doceri is less precise than using the pen that accompanies the SMART or Promethean wireless tablet. However, Steve showed us a prototype of a Doceri stylus that plugs into the headphone jack of the iPad. This custom stylus should offer better precision than third party pens and will also allow you to rest your hand on the iPad screen while you write. With other pens, the iPad might interpret your resting wrist or palm as input, leaving stray marks on the screen. Update: Paul Brown offers this tip – for greater accuracy, zoom in before you write with the stylus.
SMART and Promethean offer extensive libraries of ready-to-use content for building lessons. With Doceri, you would need to build your own collection of clip art and other resources for lesson construction, though you can record and save Doceri lesson snippets for playback later.
A student doesn’t need to go to the interactive whiteboard board to get involved in the lesson. Instead, the teacher takes the board to the student by handing off the iPad. This is similar to handing off the slate for the more expensive IWBs. The difference is you can use the iPad for so much more when not using it as an IWB tool.
Doceri is a part of SP Controls, Inc., makers of room AV control systems, so if you need those functions you can add them to Doceri. But you don’t need to. Is the Doceri interactive whiteboard software right for you and your classroom? As I stated earlier, I believe Doceri’s combination of price and performance makes it a value buy, especially when compared to popular interactive whiteboard systems. I heartily agree with Sam’s recommendation, “It’s certainly worth your time to download their trial version and see if it meets your needs.”