Just as a mechanic has his toolbox and a doctor has his Gladstone bag, so too does a teacher have his schoolbag filled with the essential tools of the trade. Such a bag will most likely feature a folder with essential administrative documents, multiple pens, a diary and a USB stick. But added to this should be the following: a Smartphone, a portable data projector and a suitable VGA adaptor. These three items will allow you to provide a basic tech-integrated teaching experience in any classroom. If you are teaching in the school environments outlined above it is probable that there will not be funding available to you to purchase these items but it is possible to buy them without spending vast sums. It is likely that you will already have a Smartphone so this will cost you nothing. An Apple Lightning to VGA adaptor, which will allow you to connect your Smartphone to a data projector, currently costs $49 (US) in the Apple Store. An adaptor for a Samsung or any other android phone costs a similar amount and can be found on Amazon. While until recently portable projectors were still rather cumbersome and costly you can now buy one that you can slip discreetly into the front pocket of your schoolbag and have ready to use at any moment. Significantly, because we are now several generations into the portable projector market, it is possible to find high-performance machines for under $300 (US). I personally use the Philips PicoPix PPX2480 which I bought on Amazon for 259 Euro in 2014. To give you a sense of the rate of change in the market, the PPX4010, a newer-generation HD model, has 100 lumens of light compared to my 80 and costs 253 Euro.
- Size and weight – My PicoPix PPX2480 measures 105 x 105 x 35mm and weighs 290g. This makes it extremely portable and it even fits comfortably into the pocket of most jackets.
- Sound – Most portable projectors come with built-in speakers but if you wish to travel unencumbered by external speakers make sure to compare the sound quality of devices before buying. For reference, the inbuilt speakers on the PicoPix PPX2480 give approximately the same sound quality as the speakers on a MacBook Pro. This is sufficient for small groups but it is not good enough for larger classrooms.
- Brightness – Arguably the most important factor when considering a projector is its brightness. My PPX2480 provides 80 lumens of light which is not ideal. I have to teach in a room with blinds or curtains drawn when using my device. In a dark room I have no issues but if you are teaching in a classroom without sufficient shading or if you move from room to room, you will not want to settle for a device with under 200 lumens. You should expect to find a projector that provides at least 200 lumens in the $300 price-range.
- Research – If you are buying on Amazon make sure that you compare the specifics of your favourite models by referring to reputable tech magazines and by looking at customer tests on YouTube with special reference to sound and brightness. To help you begin your search, you will find a helpful review of some of the best affordable portable projectors on the market here.
Once you have your phone, projector and connector you are technologically self-sufficient. However, to overcome issues with Wifi connectivity it is important that you stock your Smartphone with Apps that can provide maximum functionality on- or offline. This requires creativity and adapting your teaching. Working in a classroom with no Wifi, students will not be able to use their Smartphones to participate in class. This makes you the tech-focal point of the lesson and somewhat reduces student input. Here are some programmes that can be used on- or offline:
- Google Docs – You can use Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms offline and automatically sync them when you are online again. This requires a little set-up which is explained here. What this means is that if you are in a classroom where students have personal devices but lack a Wifi connection it is still possible for them to work collaboratively using their own devices and synching them to the cloud at home.
- Prezi has long provided a desktop App to store your presentations locally and a similar service is available for your portable devices. Again, these are fully editable and can be easily synced once you are online again.
- All Apple devices come with iMovie and GarageBand included, which are fully accessible offline. You can easily run tutorials on these using your projector or, if you have several iPhone owners in the classroom, you can create small groups to work on projects.
- Pocket – Pocket allows you to browse articles online and then save them to read, edit and interact with later on- or offline. In a no-tech teaching environment you may find yourself reliant upon textbooks that are dated or uninspiring for teaching. Pocket allows you to save pertinent data and other relevant information to hook your students’ interest, reinforce a teaching goal or to provide up-to-date research materials for student projects. Simply save your articles with Pocket and project them for student learning.
As a final point, I personally am not overly enamoured with Interactive Whiteboards. I have used them, I enjoy them but I have never needed them. In a low-tech classroom you can get the majority of the pedagogical functionality of an Interactive Whiteboard with a data projector beamed onto a standard whiteboard. By projecting video, images, text etc. onto a whiteboard both you and your students can manipulate and edit using board markers and record your findings by taking photos on your iPhone and sorting them in Evernote or a similar programme. If your school cannot afford whiteboards (staying with the theme of this blog) then you can create your own by cordoning off a section of the wall and painting it using Ideas Paint, a paint that turns any surface into a whiteboard.
These are just a few of the programmes that you can use offline to help create great lessons in a low-tech classroom. You can find many more great offline programmes by joining Twitter and asking other teachers to make recommendations. Indeed, I would like to thank @ambartosik for recommending that I include Pocket in this blog. By adding a portable data projector, a Smartphone and a connector to your schoolbag, you can ensure that you are ready to teach in any classroom. Such technology is no longer unobtainable by educators and it ensures that you can deliver lessons that satisfy your own personal and professional expectations, the first, vital step, surely, in satisfying the expectations of your students.