"Wireless Technologies in Library Instruction"

Christina Woo (UC Irvine), panelist


Session I of the sCIL 2001 Open House, "Wireless Technologies in Library Instruction," served to introduce attendees to some electronic tools both state-of-the-art and tried-and-true. The complete presentation may be reviewed on the Web.

sCIL’s own Chad Kahl, User Services and Community Colleges Outreach Librarian at the JFK Memorial Library, California State University, Los Angeles, set the stage as moderator with some "things to ponder regarding wireless technologies". For example, how will your library’s services be affected by the fact that there are more than 100 million wireless subscribers in the United States, with 50,000 being added daily? In the first ten months of 2000, more than two million handheld devices, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), were sold–is your library ready for students’ use of PDAs? Currently, HTML and WML (wireless mark-up language) do not work in each other’s environments–a PDA cannot read HTML.

Alice Kawakami, Instructional Technology Coordinator for UCLA’s College Library, wowed the audience with her deft demonstration of GyroMouse Presenter, a wireless tool the College librarians started using in instructional sessions in May 2000.

The GyroMouse is a battery-powered (and rechargable) cordless mouse that operates using radio frequency technology–a gyroscope that tracks the user’s hand motions. The instructor can use it to place an arrow anywhere on a screen, standing as much as 60 feet away–and it’s not necessary to be in the line of sight of the screen. Because the GyroMouse also has a conventional mouse ball, it can be used on a desktop, too.

GyroMouse comes with 75 presentation/"special effects" tools; the user can assign up to three "events" simultaneously (and can also change assignments on the fly). Among the more popular assignments: launching a program, opening a browser window, clearing a screen, bringing up a clock, bringing up a keyboard on screen, and drawing on screen with a highlighter in just about any color. The timer that counts off minutes and seconds on screen really grabs the attention of undergraduates!

On the plus side: the instructor can freely walk around, the audience can easily and quickly focus on particular areas on a screen, and the GyroMouse can be adapted to suit differing styles of instruction. On the minus side–a high level of "hand-eye coordination" is required, the GyroMouse can be a glitzy distraction, and it can be confusing to the instructor if he or she does not use it regularly.

Following Alice, Lynn Lampert, Web Development and Library Systems Coordinator at the Pearson Library, California Lutheran University, presented "Elmo and SMARTBoard: Making the Most of Wireless Technologies in Library Instruction". The Elmo Projector, which costs around $1,500, allows the instructor to use just about any kind of print material as a graphic, without having to make any alteration–and images can be saved as slides in a computer for later use. At the same time, there are some important guidelines for use of Elmo: large, sans serif type works best (bold, 24 point size); landscape format is preferred over portrait; do not use ballpoint pens or standard pencils; and do not laminate materials (the lamination produces a reflection from overhead lighting).

The SMARTBoard is an interactive whiteboard that "combines the look and feel of a regular whiteboard with the power of a computer." The SMARTBoard user can save and print notes, collaborate on electronic documents, share information, and run multimedia materials–it’s like having a second computer on the wall.

With the SMARTBoard, the instructor’s finger becomes the mouse–just use a finger (or a pointer) to click on Web links, or to open and close documents. Instead of telling students what to do, and then turning away to type on a keyboard, the instructor can teach and "show" simultaneously, and seamlessly. SMARTBoard "pens" do not have ink–they write on the board using magnetic sensors. (It’s also a bad idea to use "regular" markers on a SMARTBoard.) The widths and colors of the pens can be set to the instructor’s preferences–setting a pen as a highlighter is a popular choice–and be sure never to walk away with one of the pens, because that will disable the board. SMARTBoards currently range in price from $1,400 to $10,500, depending on options and other specifications, including the size of the board, and such choices as rear- or front-projection, and mobile or permanently mounted.

Christina Woo, Social Sciences Librarian and Bibliographer in UC Irvine’ Main Library, concluded the presentations with a discussion of the wireless technology arguably most familiar to everyone–"Sharing the Wireless Mic and Laser Pointer with Any Student in the Room: Getting up Close and Bibliographical". Although the technology may be familiar, Christina effectively "acted out" how to make the most of it in ways that some of us–ever striving for that holy grail of "interactivity"–may have yet to try.

Like the other tools, the wireless microphone and laser pointer free the instructor to roam throughout a room, able to interact with students in a much more natural and less "hierarchical" structure than that of the usual standing-up-front-at-a-podium (or overhead projector)-and-talking-at-them. (The instructor should also remember to have a pocket or belt to attach the mic to, Christina noted.) The student who is handed a microphone after having been asked a question can hardly not respond. Christina has found that the mic actually amuses students (initially, at least, because they’re certainly not expecting it), and they have fun using the laser pointer to answer her questions. No one need be–or is–left out: students in the back of the room, including latecomers, get just as much attention as those in front. With the roving mic and pointer, they can’t hide–everyone gets to star!

Reported by Michael Oppenheim

Rosenfeld Management Library

The Anderson School at UCLA