Saturday, June 18, 2011

Show-and-Tell 21st century style

A small technology revolution has just landed at our school. What initially appeared a minor upgrade to our kit has proven to be a powerful tool to increase learning and engagement in my classroom. Two weeks later,  I'm still amazed at the impact for such a small investment in time, money and training.  As one of my students observed  "You love your new toy don't you Sir?"  Yes I do - the HoverCam is an amazing tool for teaching!

Make your student work the star attraction!
HoverCam image from 

What is a HoverCam? It's a document viewer which allows you to place documents under the camera and instantly display them on a data projector or interactive whiteboard. You can write on the document and see changes in real time on your display, and with one click you can capture the image for posterity.  

Why has this made such an impact? My students can now see - in real time - the work their peers are doing in class. The real secret to getting the most out of the HoverCam is to display student work, not teacher work. The first time I showed some student work, the rest of the class was stunned - and immediately hands went up everywhere "Show mine, show mine!".  Yep - it's really just the old "Show-and-Tell" using modern technology.  As I continued using the HoverCam over the next few weeks, I kept being surprised at the student reaction. Students eagerly completed work, keen to show it to the class. The more I experimented and thought about what our class was "showing" and how we were "telling", the more powerful I realised the tool could be.

The biggest surprise for me has been the effect in more challenging classes. Students in these classes are often disengaged, no surprise after years of being told they are incapable of doing the work, and their written work is often very poor quality. But even in these classes, there are usually one or two students with beautiful written work - although - and here is the catch - most other students in these classes have no idea quality work is being done by their peers. They have never seen it. Until the HoverCam! The effect on the class when they do see this quality work is really amazing - suddenly pens start moving across the page - keen to show they to can do good work.

Here's what I have learnt so far using the HoverCam:
  • Make student work the star attraction. Are you showing your work or your students' work? It's the student work the class is really interested in!
  • Find a (genuine) reason to show work of struggling or disengaged students: Watch how a distracted or disruptive student suddenly gets focused after receiving honest public praise for some aspect their work.
  • Select student work carefully. Search for student work that allows you to develop your lesson goals. Ask students "Does anyone have something like (or not like) this, and would like to show it?". 
  • Give very specific feedback on displayed work: "This is good because ..... ",  "I like how (student) did (this) .... and they could add (this) to make it even better". 
  • Use student work as the source material for your explanations and examples. So much more interesting that your own examples - especially if the lesson activity is generating creative, interesting or fun student output. 
  • Always ask student permission to show their work to the class. Sometimes even though a student has done interesting high quality work, they may not want the attention - be sensitive. If you tell them in advance what you will be highlighting about their work, they may be more willing. And thank students for allowing you show their work.
  • Teacher "Show-Don't-Tell":  Demonstrate how to do lesson activities using the camera - especially for paper based activities. For example, I will show how to grade work during pair marking, how to record dice throwing results, how to mark up diagrams. So much more efficient than trying to explain in words how to do it!
  • Use the HoverCam to record student output. I was able to scan twenty samples of student work in just a few minutes - a fantastic record of student work for the lesson. Something to capture the work for later analysis or to show to parents.
  • Silliness: Students will want to put their hands and face under the HoverCam - you will need to keep an eye on it if you leave it running while you are working with other students.
Will the effect wear out as students get used to seeing their work displayed to the class? I haven't seen it yet - I think so long as lesson activities are interesting and give students opportunities to produce work they want to share, the class will remain interested in this digital take on "Show-and-Tell".

A special thank you to my head teacher for his vision and energy getting HoverCams installed across our school, and to a colleague who encouraged me to try the HoverCam with a challenging class despite my initial skepticism. 

Disclaimer: This post is written as a personal response to my classroom experience using this product. Neither my school nor myself have received any consideration from HoverCam.


  1. Have you used any other document cameras? How would you say the hovercam compares to those?

  2. @Mr. Burk: This is the first document camera I've used in a teaching situation. It works well for me, I like the design, takes me literally a minute or two to set up during a lesson if I don't have it already set up and it's easy to pack away at the end of the day. So ticks my boxes. Only thing I might like is a more powerful light to get brighter images and a direct software link to Smart Notebook.

  3. I have been working on ways to get students sharing and discussing their work more, so these ideas are great. I have a document camera that works pretty well, but I had not yet thought of using it this way. Thanks for sharing.