My Absurd Lecture Hardware Setup

- - posted in lectures, teaching

This semester I bring an absurd amount of hardware with me to class every time I teach. It takes a full 10 minutes to set up, and frankly doesn’t even work all that well. I’ll be making changes over the next few weeks, but here’s a snapshot of the current chaos.

  1. Macbook Pro: This is the workhorse that runs Powerpoint, iClicker, Astropad, and the Panopto video recorder. It also plays music before class starts.

  2. iPad Pro: The Astropad app here and on the MBP mirrors the computer screen.

  3. Apple Pencil: When I start annotating a slide on the iPad Pro with the Pencil, the latency is super low, but by the time I reach the bottom, my handwriting looks like that of a monkey who drank too much fermented banana juice. I believe the problem is a combination of inefficient Powerpoint code and high load on the computer from Astropad and Panopto.

  4. Wireless Mic #1: This mic goes to the room PA system, but I can’t capture the input for recording.

  5. Wireless Mic #2: This Revolabs xTag works great when I remember to charge it and press the buttons in the right combination. The signal goes right into the computer where Panopto can record it. But is it ridiculous to have to wear two wireless mic’s? Yes.

  6. Lightning-to-USB cable The iPad to MBP connection is a lot faster when it’s wired, although Astropad does work surprisingly well over wifi.

  7. ioGear USB hub: I’ve got three USB devices to plug in, but only two USB ports in the MBP.

  8. iClicker server: Students use their clickers to answer several questions per class. This is how I get their answers. It plugs into the USB hub.

  9. HDMI-to-miniDisplayPort dongle: It kills me that just plugging the HDMI projector cable into the MBP’s HDMI port doesn’t work. This is ugly, but it gets my slides on the big screen.

  10. iClicker instructor remote: This is how I start and stop polls. It also acts as a Powerpoint remote, though it’s a little slower than I’d like.

  11. iPad Air 2: I walk around the room while I lecture, so having my notes handy is important. I keep both text notes (viewable in Byword) and my slides so I can look ahead.

This system is far from perfect, but I’m a big believer in the value of publishing negative results. It’s just as important for folks to know what doesn’t work perfectly (and why) as it is to know what does. Getting feedback with some sort of clicker system is critical. Annotating my slides with a responsive stylus is critical. I’m not as sure recording these classes is worth the trouble–Only 3-4 students seem to be watching the lectures this way right now. That might change right before our first exam. We shall see. If it doesn’t, and I find that not running Panopto means my handwriting gets better, the whole system gets a lot simpler. Of course, as long I’m using iClicker it won’t get this simple.