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Using a Visualiser in the Primary Classroom - Dughall McCormick


As with many Primary teachers, I was delighted when an IWB arrived in my

classroom (in 2001) and I was keen to exploit all its multifarious uses. Initially,
I wanted to augment or ease my existing good teaching and learning strategies
such as sharing a text with the whole class, sharing of students’ work,
identifying strengths and weaknesses, key features etc. An IWB helped in this
process by allowing electronic texts to be displayed for whole class review and
annotation. Problems arose when I wanted an extract from a book, an
illustration or students’ own work to be displayed. Initially, I’d spend time
word-processing such texts for display purposes but, ever one to seek a
technological solution, I started using a scanner for such purposes (having one
at home). It wasn’t long before I took the scanner to school and it became a
permanent and frequently used piece of classroom equipment that I couldn’t
live without in the same way as my IWB. Literacy and Numeracy lessons were
transformed and children would be eager to produce pieces that they could
then scan and display for whole-class group review, evaluation and annotation.
This soon extended to other curriculum areas with children’s artwork,
diagrams, designs, mind-maps etc being scanned in. Of course, an additional
bonus was ‘saveability’ for future use and portfolio development. Next, I was
scanning extracts from books and then creating my own ‘Big Books’ from the
reading scheme (by ‘capturing’ pages into the IWB software). These Big Books
could then be made into rub and reveal activities, thought bubbles and speech
bubbles could also be added to illustrations etc.

Then, we had a visit to the school by a rep with a visuliser to show us. The
device in question was an extortionately expensive ‘Rolls Royce’ model that
could zoom to the nth degree and, combined with IWB blew us all away with
the potential it offered. The ‘time delay’ I’d previously experienced with the
scanner vanished in a puff of smoke! Negotiations took place and it was agreed
that the rep would leave the visualiser with us for a few weeks for us to pass
round the classrooms for evaluation. By an incredible stroke of good fortune,
the rep moved to another job during those few weeks and the visualiser was
‘forgotten’ and is still in school as a valued ‘gift’.

What is a Visualiser?

For those that don’t know, a visualiser or ‘document camera’ is a glorified

webcam that can provide ‘live’, realtime pictures directly into a data projector
or (via USB) into a computer. There are many different versions on the market
ranging from simpler ‘bottom-end’ models coming in at a few hundred pounds
to ‘top-end’ examples that will set you back several thousands of pounds.

The camera is mounted 30-50cm directly above a ‘display’ space onto which
documents or objects can be placed for display purposes. Often, they come
with an ‘illumination’ element for optimal display quality.

Doing it on the cheap

My first thoughts were that we could easily ‘cobble’ the same effect with a
webcam, retort-stand and cheap angle-poise lamp. Despite many incarnations
and attempts to reproduce the ‘authentic’ experience, we eventually gave up
on a DIY solution having found that picture quality or poor lighting led to
unsatisfactory results. I have also come across the use of a ‘Copystand’ in
conjunction with a webcam.

Decisions, decisions

Having realised the potential impact in the classroom (from YN-Y6), a decision
was made to equip every room with a visualiser; but which one? We clearly
couldn’t afford the ‘Rolls Royce’ and a trip to BETT allowed us to narrow the
field somewhat. It was a mind-boggling experience but Avermedia’s Avervision
130 looked favourite by virtue of a flexible gooseneck camera mounting and a
light module to attach to the head.

Making the Most

The new devices were broadly welcomed by teachers although speed of

adoption was mixed. This was due in part to the fact that classrooms were also
simultaneously being equipped with IWBs and class sets of voting devices and
there was an element of ‘innovation overload’.

As with any technology, it is only a matter of time before creative teachers

start to innovate and come up with previously unimagined applications. Below I
will list some of the ways we put the visualisers to work:
As with the examples for a scanner (above); display, annotation and screen
capture of texts (published or student-generated) were very popular.
Unlike a scanner, the visualiser can also display 3-D objects:
Natural materials such as flowers, rocks/stones, leaves.
Artefacts such as historical objects, children’s work – clay models, DT projects
Unlike a scanner, the visualiser can also display ‘wet’ artwork.
Teachers/children can model ‘fine’ or specific techniques such as handwriting
formation, use of a pencil for shading, use of a particular Art medium or
Using the ‘Zoom’ feature, natural/manmade objects can be studied in
phenomenal detail. I’ve seen this done with coins/banknotes, butterfly wings,
skin, shells, fir cones, flowers and extremely effectively with a slice of bread!
Displaying ‘delicate’ texts such as historical documents/maps/photos.
Modelling how to thread a needle.
Modelling how to use a ruler/protractor.
Modelling a particular Design Technology technique. It is especially useful to
have a horizontal surface on which to work when modelling.
Taking a series of snapshot images to create an animation.
Displaying a child’s individual whiteboard.
Modelling the use of a calculator.
‘Flipping’ the camera up to use for video conferencing.
Displaying a worksheet for talking through/annotating prior to completion.
Displaying/capturing/labelling the inside of a child’s mouth for a topic on teeth
Displaying ‘brought-in’ objects for show-and-tell sessions such as swimming
certificates, soft toys, books, photos etc.
Displaying/observing minibeasts such as caterpillars, beetles/ladybirds, slugs,
snails etc.
Finally, as an alternative to Powerpoint. I was recently lucky enough to witness
colleague, John Wasteney, give a very engaging presentation at a Mirandanet
conference on Whiteboards and Visualisers in which he used a spiral-bound
shorthand notebook and a visualiser to tremendous effect.

In Conclusion

For me, the visualiser was an item of ‘kit’ that was only rivalled in terms of
impact by the IWB itself. In my own classroom it would get daily use and the
children soon took charge of the technology (as is only right), often requesting
to share via the visualiser. Also, like the IWB, its use seems only limited by the
imagination of the practitioner.

Every class should have one!

Thanks to Doughall and the WLE Centre of Excellence.