Friday, November 5, 2010

Our HillBilly Smartboard

I'm so excited!  Although I already have a Smartboard in my classroom, I've heard about these "HillBilly Smartboards" and absolutely had to try building them.  Ok.  So, they're not really called HillBilly Smartboards.  That's the name our fearless leader @sojbanks gave to it.  It's a homemade interactive whiteboard made with a wii remote, infrared pen and a piece of software.  What does this mean?  You can turn on surface that can be projected on into a touchscreen.  Just like a smartboard.

I saw it on a Ted Talk and then soon after, an employee at FutureShop showed me another video.  I spoke with @scorgo, from Division Office, and she told me that Division Office had a few of these special pens that I needed.  I told her that if they lent one to us, I would get it up and running and share that knowledge with them.  Of course, the sweetheart that she is, I walked away with two pens and a bluetooth dongle (needed to do this) that came with the pens.

Off to work I went.  I had all the pieces that I needed except for software.  Every piece of software I worked with refused to play nice.  How rude! Not sure if it's our operating system, system requirements or a flaw with the software.  (Although I did try this on both my work and home computer which are completely different so I suspect it may be the software).  I won't mention the software name as I'm sure someone else made it work and I don't want people to by-pass it just because I couldn't...

The software that I finally got to work is not free, however.  Luckily, they do have a demo version which works just like the paid version except you have to click a button every 10 minutes or so to get it to keep working.  Annoying but for my purposes, it worked great.  It's only $30.00 to buy it though so it's not bad.  Oh, by the way, I used Smoothboard.  I like it because it comes with it's own tools:  pens, shapes, highlighters, etc.  but will still work using the Smart Notebook software.  (Don't tell anyone I said that.  I don't think you're really supposed to do it that way.  It'll be our secret).

First, I tested it at home using my home laptop as my touch screen.  The pen was a little large for the screen but it actually worked.  Then, I brought it to school and tried it on a whiteboard.  I just propped the wii remote on a tripod.  This took a bit of work to position it properly but once it worked, it worked well.

After that, I discovered a website that sells educational kits.  For about $200, you get a wii remote, blue tooth dongle, ceiling mount, a good infrared pen that is touch sensitive (unlike the push button one I was using), an AC adaptor for the wii remote (so you don't have to use batteries) and the software.  Pretty good, eh?  A lot less expensive than a smartboard! 

So, how do you set this up?
1.  Plug in bluetooth dongle (unless you have a bluetooth adaptor built in.
2.  Install and open software.
3.  Run software.
4.  Press the 1 and 2 buttons at the same time on the wii remote until it finds and begins install of your remote.
5.  Point the wii remote at the center of the screen/board you are projecting on to.  This is the hardest part.  I found that if the wii remote is half way between the board and the projector and twice the distance from the board as the height of the board, you'll see the best results.  (Actually found the distance info on a help website but can't remember which one or I would link it).
6.  Calibrate the wii remote.  (See software..just press A on wii remote or click on the button).  If you can't click on the calibration points, you'll have to adjust the wii remote.  This is much easier with two or three people helping.
7.  That's it.  Everything should work great after that.

Notes:
1.  One wii remote works but you have to be very careful not to blog the wii remotes line of site to the pen.
2.  This software will actually recognize two wii remotes.  Set them up on opposite sides of the board.  If you block the line of sight to one then the other will pick it up.
3.  It takes just a little bit to get used to writing neatly.
4.  I found that touching the board (when using a push button pen) will be way more accurate than holding the pen slightly away from the board.

Has anyone else created their own "HillBilly Smartboard"?  What software are you using?  What problems did you run into?  How do you think it compares to a real smartboard?  Anything else you think is important to share?

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