Visualisers are growing in popularity as an educational tool. It’s fast becoming one of the most useful assets in a teacher’s armoury, helping to enhance learning not only in the classroom but for remote learning too.
But what is a visualiser, how are they used in an educational setting, and what should you look out for if you’re in the market for a visualiser? In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know.
Visualisers are a type of digital camera. Attached to a flexible arm and sturdy base, the camera is able to connect to other technology like interactive whiteboards, monitors, laptops or projectors. Once connected via Wi-Fi or USB connection, the visualiser does what the name suggests – it visualises physical objects and displays them on the connected screen.
Visualisers can take individual images or project live video, allowing teachers to display a single object or small area to an entire classroom. Connected to video conferencing software, visualisers are also handy for teachers during remote learning or online tutoring. Rather than fiddling with a small and poor-quality laptop camera, visualisers provide a crisp and clear picture that can zoom right in on physical objects.
Consider your resolution
Depending on your intentions, the resolution of your visualiser’s camera can be of more or less importance. The higher the resolution, the better the image quality. Typically, visualisers can range from 1024×768, 1920×1080 (or Full High Definition) all the way up to 3840×2160 (or 4K Ultra High Definition).
If you plan to hook your visualiser up to a projector, or your classroom is especially big, you might want a larger resolution to ensure the detail of your image is projected all the way to the back of the room. Plus, if the items you want to project contain finer details (like words on a page), you might need a greater resolution to render the image well enough.
If you only plan to use your visualiser with a monitor, for remote learning, or with less detailed objects, a smaller resolution will be fine.
Look at frame rates
Frame rates are another quality-based consideration to make. The higher the frame rate capabilities of the camera, the smoother your video will be. If you plan to visualise a technical demonstration with lots of movement on camera, a higher frame (of 40-60 frames per second) might be useful to ensure the highest quality picture and avoid and stuttering video.
For most teaching settings however, a typical frame rate of 30 FPS should be more than enough to create a smooth video learning experience.
Digital zoom vs optical zoom
High-end visualisers will come with a better-quality lens and an optical zoom rather than a digital zoom. An optical zoom will result in a more refined image when you zoom in on an object, magnifying the desired area and maintaining the resolution.
A digital zoom will merely expand the existing image, capturing fewer pixels and producing a blurrier image.
How are you saving imagery?
If you’re planning on saving any imagery you take or videos you record, you’ll need to be able to transfer those files onto a computer, laptop or a digital storage device. For that, look out for more than just a USB connection, like an SD card reader. Some visualisers will come with internal memory too.
Look for additional extras
There are lots of additional extras that come with visualisers that could be more or less useful to you in the classroom. Look out for:
- A microphone for capturing audio as well as video
- More port options (such as HDMI and VGA)
- An LED light
- A larger scanning area (A3 or A4)
- A remote control
- Wireless visualisers
Work within your budget
As you’d expect, the greater the technology the greater the expense. Higher resolutions, frame rates and more features will generally equal higher cost, so balance what you need with your budget.
Most visualisers sit within a £40-£120 price range, although high-market options can cost upwards of £400.
When referring to displays, the resolution is the number of pixels that make up the screen. Resolutions are typically explained as horizontal pixels x vertical pixels. Using 1920×1080 (or Full HD) as an example, a video displayed in this resolution has 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels. Broadly, the more pixels within a display the better the quality of an image.
In video, frame rate refers to the frequency in which an image is displayed on a screen. For example, if a video has a frame rate of 30 frames per second (FPS), 30 images will appear in the video each second. A higher frame rate means more images per second, resulting in a smoother video.
One of two ways of zooming in photography, digital zoom magnifies the area of an image in order to make it larger. With this method, the quality of an image is compromised, as the zoom stretches the image rather than adjusting the lens to it.
The second method for zooming in photography is optical zoom. In short, an optical zoom will physically adjust the camera’s lens, moving away from the image sensor and increasing the focal length. This brings the object closer to the camera without sacrificing on image quality. You can find out more about the differences between digital zoom and optical zoom here.
Abbreviated from Secure Digital, an SD card is a type of small, square flash memory used in portable devices like smartphone and cameras. Inserted inside the device using a small slot, they are capable of storing video and audio files which can then be transferred between devices. Think floppy discs or USB drive but a lot smaller in size and a lot bigger in capacity.
Model an activity or study an object
Rather than having the whole class try and peer over each other to watch you do a demonstration or look at an object, use the visualiser so the class can see clearly from their desk. This is perfect for activities like using a protractor correctly, teaching an art or craft technique, or conducting a science experiment. It’s also a great way to model writing, without the constrictions of a whiteboard.
Class reading with limited books
If you don’t have enough books to share amongst the class, a visualiser can be a great way to amplify the text and reads through it as a class.
Share and improve pupil’s work in real time
Visualisers are great for annotating images or documents clearly in view of the entire class. For example, when projected via a visualiser, you could share, mark and feedback on an individual’s work with help from the class. Just annotate straight onto the whiteboard. Not only do you give immediate feedback, you engage the rest of the class by making them think of ways to improve the work.
Not necessarily an educational benefit, but a visualiser could help you to become more organised and use less paper. With a visualiser, documents that previously might have been photocopied for the whole class can be shown on a big screen. Plus, if you take a picture of important documents and pupil’s work, you can keep digital files of everything you need.