Swivl in the teaching room

Prof Chris Szejnmann wearing Swivl 'marker'Update to initial review posted on April 24th: as I type, our first academic user of the Swivl tracking system, Prof Chris Szejnmann, Professor of Modern History, is using the Swivl in conjunction with a Zoom Q3HD pocket camcorder (which we highly recommend for its unmatched audio recording quality) to capture a seminar. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first academic use of the Swivl in the UK.

Chris is wearing the infra-red marker attached to his sweater by a tie-clip. The base unit is set up at the back of the small teaching room mounted on a flight case on top of a desk, although it would have been better to mount it to a tripod. (Next time I’ll remember to take this with me…)

In his next session, Chris will test the Swivl in conjunction with his own iPhone 4S. This will allow him to control the recording remotely, which isn’t possible with the Zoom or any other pocket camcorder, and *may* give even better audio quality as with this setup the marker doubles up as a wireless microphone.

Below is a (low-quality) clip showing the Swivl in action, tracking Chris as he moves around.

Swivl 'personal cameraman' – first UK impressions

Swivl tracking system with Panasonic TA1 camcorder / webcamOur new Swivl presenter tracking system arrived yesterday, to great excitement in this office (well, from me anyway!) Judging by the fact that a Google search brings up no other UK reviews yet, I’m guessing this is probably one of the first in the country – unsurprising as Satarii, makers of the device, are only shipping to US addresses for the moment.

So, what is it? Satarii describe it as a ‘personal cameraman’ allowing you to video yourself and remain in the frame as you move around. Essentially it comprises a motorised pan /tilt base and a wearable wireless ‘marker’ device which the base tracks. You can mount pretty much any lightweight video device in the clamp on the base, such as smartphones, Flip-style mini camcorders, or even webcams. In the pic you can see a Panasonic TA1 camcorder on the base, chosen because it can function as a USB webcam as well. If you combine the Swivl with an iPhone 4 / 4s or 4th gen iPod Touch, there is additional functionality (which we’ve not tested yet) by virtue of the Swivl app available through the App Store. Better still, with these iPhone / iPod variants you also get the benefit of the wearable marker also functioning as a high quality wireless microphone.

But even without these additional features, the basic functionality available in combination with a mini camcorder is pretty darn impressive. It does what it claims to do, with minimum fuss. Within 5 minutes of removing the kit from the packaging, I’d got it up and running and was demonstrating it to colleagues.

The base unit takes two AA cells (supplied) although an AC power supply is available separately. The marker device takes two AAA cells, also supplied, and as you’d expect (!) there is no mains option for this. With the batteries installed, the next step is to attach your video device to the clamp, either directly in the case of a smartphone or standard webcam, or using a tripod mount adaptor (supplied) in the case of a mini camcorder. The base unit itself can be placed securely on any flat surface and its rubberised grip prevents it from slipping – or it can be attached to a tripod as it has a standard socket on the underside.

Turn the base unit and the marker on and these are automatically ‘paired’. The marker can be attached to your lapel via a sturdy tie-clip. If you are using a mini camcorder, you’ll need to press record on the camcorder – or if you’re using a compatible iPhone / iPod Touch with the app installed, you can start / stop the recording remotely from the marker.

Our first trials in this office established that (a) unless you run (!), the base unit does an excellent job of tracking you smoothly, and (b) that the range is at least 30 feet. Of course, we still need to test Swivl in anger to see what glitches might arise in real-world use, but I’m not anticipating any problems.

There are lots of possibilities for exploiting the device in interesting ways in education, including (as Satarii themselves suggest) making it available to students as well as academics. We’ve already tried it today combined with a standard webcam as an input device to the Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing tool, and you can see how this might be useful for hybrid face to face / online sessions, ie to record a presenter moving around the front of a teaching room. We will also be testing it with the software only variant of our campus lecture capture system, Echo360 (known here as ReVIEW).

For a $179 device from a tiny start-up company, Swivl is something of a triumph, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they develop this further.

For further details see www.swivl.com . UK readers should note that Satarii are only shipping to US addresses for the moment so you would need to use a package forwarding service (as we did) to buy one.

I’ll be posting a follow-up review with sample videos in due course.

Perfect Podcasts

I attended a Podcasting Special Interest Group last week (MEL SIG). One of the things which I took away from the event was that podcasts do not need to be perfect before being released to our learners.

I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we create a recording (audio only or a screencast) and worry about editing it to make it perfect. Obviously in certain situations we may need to do this, but there are also some (hidden) merits of releasing a ‘rough and ready’ recording to students.

From one of the presentations at the event, it was found that students preferred a non-polished recording as the surroundings/background was familiar to them. Also, because the recording wasn’t scripted, it was more authentic and real.

So, next time you think about creating a podcast or screencast and are put off by making it professional, don’t be!

HEA activity relating to Internationalisation

Internationalisation image

Colleagues may be interested to know about recent HEA activity relating to Internationalisation:

The formation of a Special Interest Group for staff with an interest in internationalisation: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2012/academyevents/19_July_InternationalisationSIG

and the production of a quarterly newsletter:

Both of these activities complement the HEA’s work on internationalisation detailed at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/internationalisation