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Pete Roythorne gets to grips with visualisers

Every once in a while a piece of technology appears on the scene that makes you think, "Wow, how did we ever manage without that?" No, I'm not talking about the ubiquitous interactive whiteboard, but a little thing known as a visualiser.

If you ever have to demonstrate or share anything with a large class, then a visualiser could well change your life. Basically, it's a special type of video camera mounted on an adjustable arm. The idea is that when used in conjunction with an interactive whiteboard or a digital projector, whatever is placed under the camera will be displayed on a big screen. Also, most visualisers offer good "zoom" facility, so you can show things in more detail than would be possible to replicate elsewhere.

We're all familiar with the overhead projector and the concept of transferring texts on to acetate sheets for display on a bigger screen. In some respects the visualiser can be thought of as the OHP for the 21st century. However, this bit of equipment goes much further than any OHP-user could ever have wished for.

It's not limited to displaying flat, text-based items or diagrams, in fact any three-dimensional object can be placed under the camera and shown on your big screen in full colour.

Add video capability to this, and you have a versatile and powerful teaching tool that can allow anything from threading a needle to a biology dissection to be easily shared with the whole class.

Once coupled with your classroom computer any images or video can be captured, annotated and stored for future classes or even put on a website so students can access them at home. This can helpremind them of the lesson when they're doing their homework.

You can also freeze the picture at any point to highlight particular things, and you can interact with imagevideos on your interactive whiteboard or PC. You can even use your old OHP acetates if you want.

Prices for visualisers range from pound;200-pound;14,000, so there are plenty to chose from. For classroom use, systems around pound;800-pound;1,500 are your best bet.

Imagine watching the crystals form in a Petri dish on an 2.5 metre-wide screen or showing your students textures and materials at high magnification. You could show them fine details in a drawing, demonstrate close-up work on circuit boards, show a chemical reaction or display English texts to the whole class. The list goes on.

So, could it finally be time to say goodbye to large numbers of children huddled around your desk struggling to see what's going on?


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