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Digital education

Smartmarkers, Panopto and Whiteboard Capture

18 May 2017
SmartMarker Box

by Karl Luke

The whiteboard is commonplace within numerous learning spaces across Cardiff University and many academics use whiteboards for instruction. This presents a significant challenge for the Learn Plus service; how can whiteboard interactions be captured with sufficient quality?

This is a bit of a “Holy Grail” for event capture and a question many institutions continue to grapple with. Outside of Cardiff University some institutions are currently investigating innovative camera solutions, such as the Panacast to capture whiteboard content.

Introducing the e-Beam SmartMarker

Smart Marker

In collaboration with the Physical Learning Spaces project team, we have been conducting a small pilot of the e-beam SmartMarker. This technology adds digital-capture capabilities to nearly any whiteboard. Pen interactions are captured via a special portable sensor which attaches to any whiteboard surface, up to 16ft x 5ft (5m x 1.5m). The SmartMarker consists of two components: a sensor that attaches to a surface and a cover that houses a standard dry-erase marker. Together, they allow you to scribble the way you normally would, but the sensor captures every interaction and can even recognise different colours.

We have been trailing the SmartMarker with Professor Christopher Morley (Director of Undergraduate Studies, CHEMY) and an example of how this technology has been captured with Panopto can be seen in the video below:

Direct link.

The academic perspective

Early results from this small-scale trial are promising and Chris is particularly complimentary of the technology:

“I plan to use them in all my modules in 2017/18, and would definitely recommend them.

 The system was very easy to set up, once the software had been installed on the lectern PC.  The “hub” is magnetically attached to the whiteboard via a small metal plate which is stuck there permanently.  I’ve had no complaints that this plate’s presence interferes with the normal use of the board.

 The students loved the use of the SmartMarker.  We have some comments from the evaluation of this module, and it was also mentioned in the Student-Staff Panel.”

 However, there are some minor technical issues to resolve, such as how to get the best experience with the dedicated eraser:

“It took me a while to get out of the habit of trying to correct mistakes by rubbing them out with my fingers.  The erasers on the ends of the pens worked fine for small corrections, but the larger bluetooth eraser sometimes didn’t work very well, and the reasons for this intermittent behaviour are still not clear to me.  I realised after a couple of lectures that it is actually better not to use the bluetooth eraser to clean the board.  You can use the software to store each drawing separately, and once it’s been saved, of course the board can be cleaned using the normal eraser.  This also has the advantage that you can return to a previous drawing if required, which was particularly useful for reminding students of a previous lecture at the start of the next.”

Increased accessibility

As well as providing great quality whiteboard capture, the technology has the potential to improve the accessibility of whiteboard instruction to a live audience. Using this technology, real-time pen strokes can be projected or displayed on screens within a learning space, increasing the visibility of the instruction.

Next steps

At the moment we are in a very early process of evaluating and assessing this technology, along with other whiteboard capture solutions, therefore a rollout of an enterprise solution is not on the immediate horizon. However, if you have a specific requirement to trial this technology please get in touch with University IT via the requirements request form: