About Charles Barbour

Charles Barbour is an Educational Technologist in the Academic Technologies within the Office of Information Technology. Charles investigates, evaluates, and explores new instructional technologies. He also works with faculty to choose appropriate tools and products to help them achieve their teaching goals. Most recently he has been deploying a lecture capture system and creating spaces and systems that allow faculty and students to easily create digital video content. These include a limited deployment of Echo360, a Lightboard for the College of Science and a One Button Studio for the Hesburgh Library.
Contact: cbarbour@nd.edu / 574-631-2386

3D displays? No glasses? Impossible! Or not…

A few months ago the DDMC at Duke took a look at a 3D display from IZON. What was so special about it? You didn’t need to wear glasses to see content in 3D. They were extremely impressed by it. IZON was on their way to the NAB show in Vegas and they were nice enough to stop here on campus to demo their displays.

They brought 2 displays with them to demonstrate how it could be used either for digital signage or with more traditional content. We had quite a few people show up to look at the displays and the general consensus was that the tech was pretty impressive.

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Left: Titanic 3D – Right: Digital Signage

Background

IZON has been doing 3D conversions and content creation for the film industry for quite a few years. In fact they have created their own software to do 3D conversions. What they have done is take that software, and put it on a chip that can be installed in displays. They use a lenticular lens on the front of the display that can be tweaked with the chip to work most effectively at certain distances. (The default is 9 – 12 feet.) IZON buys the 4K panels from a large OEM and assembles the displays themselves in Florida.

As you move around the room, the intensity of the effect changes. (If you ‘re looking at the display while you’re moving, the effect can be a bit disorienting.) The viewing angles are very impressive. As you move from 90° from the display towards the side, the effect gradually diminishes until you get to about a 25° degree angle. Then it just stops. You’re not left with a blurry and unwatchable picture though. It’s now just a 2D image that still looks as good as most displays at that angle.

Joey 3D glasses

It’s coming right at me!

The process couldn’t be easier. Any 3D content (DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D-Camcorder, etc) that you feed into the display is processed in real time and the effect is impressive. If you give it normal 2D content, you just get 2D content as you would expect.

JAWS 19 coming soon!!!

I never felt as if I was going to be eaten.

This is the holy grail of 3D acceptance really. Insert content, press play, enjoy. No glasses. No lighting restrictions. No limited seating positions. Just high quality 3D content.

A few observations about each application:

Digital Signage
  • The content was extremely attention grabbing and some items appeared to come off the screen
  • The quality of the effect is entirely dependant on the quality of the content.
  • The displays currently only do 3D in landscape orientation
  • Gave me a headache after looking at it for 2 hours
Consumer Content
  • Titanic looked great for a movie that wasn’t filmed in 3D
  • Wasn’t distracting or headache inducing
  • I really wanted to see Avatar after this
Camcorder
  • This was the least impressive but it’s consumer grade hardware doing real time processing. Better to err on the side of caution and restraint
  • Very dependant upon the device and the environment (distance to objects, lighting, focal length)

We had one person from Architecture that really wanted to view some of their 3D renderings on the display. We tried on both a MacBook Pro and a Lenovo laptop to get this working but were unable to figure it out. Basically you have to get the computer to output content in side by side mode and we couldn’t figure that out on either system. Not all video cards and drivers are capable of doing this and laptops are probably the least likely to be able to do so. I’m sure a nice desktop video card could do this easily.

Implications

It wasn’t hard to think of a few ways that these displays could be used on campus.

  • Viewing 3D renderings and walkthroughs of buildings and rooms
  • 3D video production and editing
  • Digital signage
  • Video game design
  • Creating and viewing models, samples and scans of scientific or artistic objects (pottery, bones, fossils, etc.)
  • Displaying molecules
  • New data visualization techniques

What’s next?

The two biggest things standing in the way of this technology aren’t new. Content and price.

Content: Where do you get 3D content? Sure you can get a lot of movies in 3D but once you expand beyond that, your options shrink. ESPN-3D is shut down for the time being. This would be amazing for digital signage but you’d have to have someone make the content for you. I’m sure there’s no shortage of places that do this, including IZON themselves, but how much will it cost you to have it produced? The inability to use it in portrait mode is also limiting. They’re working on this but they have a long list of other things to work on as well.

Price: The list price on a 50″ unit is over double what you would pay for 4K 3D TV that requires glasses. Later this year they will be shipping a 65″. Considering the capabilities of these units (3D and 4K capable) the prices aren’t horrendous.  10 years ago a 50″ plasma would have cost you about the same. I’m sure as production increases, competitors emerge, and licensing deals are struck, prices will drop quickly.

This isn’t for everyone. Certainly not in academia. But if you want to have a group discussion and display content in 3D, right now you really don’t have any good options. Unless you’re happy with everyone wearing glasses or an Oculus Rift. With one of these displays, it’s very doable. I can definitely see one of these in an architect or engineer’s office or conference room.

I have to say that the most drool worthy thing I saw was their pre-production 3D tablet. (They were carrying it in a Pelican hard shell case and bubble wrap.) It’s a 10″ Android unit and the effect was amazing. They played a movie clip with some of the head’s up display from Ironman and… WHOA!!! It is truly Tony Stark’s tablet. Jaw droppingly awesome.

Many thanks to IZON for making the trip and showing us what’s just beyond the horizon!

Making it easy to create video

There’s a growing need for faculty to create video content quickly and easily. There are a lot of potential use cases.

  • Flipping your class by having students watch a video before coming class
  • Answering student questions in a visual medium to enhance understanding
  • Creating content for distance education
  • Making training videos

Unfortunately right now this is a pretty complex process. It requires studio space, a videographer, complex editing tools, specialized lighting, etc. Additionally the turn around times can be lengthy. Right now there’s no good solution and no good system in place to help us provide this service to faculty. So we built our beta lightboard back in March with the hopes that people would see it and get excited about it. We Love Bright Ideas! It had the desired effect. The College of Science was all over it. We’re in the process of helping them build a full scale version and we hope to have it operational by July 1. Unfortunately that may not meet the needs of everyone. It’s also not currently the most user friendly setup and will require some handholding for users.

Enter the Penn State One Button Studio!

  • You plug in a flash drive and the system turns on.
  • You hit a button and the system starts recording.
  • You give your presentation.
  • You hit the button when you’re done.
  • The file is automatically saved to the flash drive as an mp4 which you can upload to Sakai, YouTube, Kaltura, etc.

We’re starting to take a look at this now because we feel it meets most of the requirements for video creation. It’s one of those 98% solutions. It may not be perfect for everyone but if it’s good for you, it’s really easy and really good. Look for more later this summer! http://onebutton.psu.edu/

Is email the best way to communicate with students?

Students don’t read their email. Or at least not on a timely basis. Or not as quickly as faculty and administrators would like. That’s the perception anyway. Despite the differing expectations, the reality is that sometimes faculty need to send something to students and ensure that they receive and read it almost immediately. Email is just not guaranteed to be received, seen, or read on your desired timeline.

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11111 unread emails? Not sure if that’s typical.

We live in Indiana and winters are not pleasant, like a root canal is not pleasant. That being said the campus almost always stays open. Prior to this winter it’s only closed once in the previous 10 years. Recently our local community declared a snow emergency. Yes that’s a thing and it’s every bit as pleasant as it sounds. It’s illegal to be out driving unless you’re “essential personnel”. Offenders can get $2500 tickets for violating the order. Notre Dame closed for a day and a half plus they had another snow-day. Doubtless many more classes have been cancelled due to faculty not having child care or being unable to get to campus.

Wouldn’t it be great if a professor could ensure that students actually received the communication about class being cancelled?

We started a small proof of concept to allow faculty to send texts to their students. It’s completely opt-in and students that don’t participate are not at a disadvantage. (Students can also opt-in to receiving the same communications via email.) It’s simply an easier and faster way to hear from the professors. Faculty also made it clear that students would only receive 1-2 texts per week so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed with texts. It can also be used for class cancellations, mistakes that need to be clarified, reminders about deadlines, etc.

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After doing some research, we decided to direct a few faculty to remind101 and have a few faculty use the in-house system of blackboard connect.

Remind101 was dead simple. We pointed them to the site and told them to sign up for an account. They were asked to figure it out on their own since it’s designed to be a self service system. It’s proven to be just that. Self service. (Those may be the greatest words ever typed.) Their site has great tutorials and the system is very easy for students and faculty alike.

Using this system faculty never see the students cell numbers. Reminders can be scheduled to go out at future dates and times but it’s not currently possible to set a repeating reminder. The biggest complaint is that you can’t use the texting app on your phone. You have to use either the web-site or an app on your phone. We see that as a feature so you don’t accidentally text your class something that was meant for your wife.

Blackboard connect was more of a challenge. On our system, there’s not currently a way to have students enroll themselves. That means faculty would either have to enter them manually or we could do some sort of import. Obviously we chose the latter. To collect the student information we created a google form where students could enter their name, email and cell phone. Then we imported that file into blackboard. Pro-tip: On Office 2011 on a mac there’s a difference between a csv and a windows csv. Once will import into the system and the other will result in you feeling badly about your skills.

After the numbers were imported we had to create some pretty thorough documentation to walk them through the process of sending a text. It’s not exactly intuitive since it’s designed to allow multiple forms of communication. Email, SMS, Voice, Pager (Really?), Facebook, Twitter, RSS and CAP. All of that flexibility adds confusion.

The initial feedback on Remind101 has been great.

Remind101 is awesome.  If I want to send from my phone it is a simple click.  If I go to the web interface it is user-friendly and takes me exactly to the place to write and send the message… I’d love to use Remind101 every semester.  Importantly, I’m seeing great results from the students in both class.  The number of ‘late’ assignments and “I’m sorry, I forgot all about this homework” has dropped considerably.

That’s pretty encouraging for a project that:

  • Only has about 8 hours of time invested.
  • Has cost nothing.
  • Has no formal project charter.
  • Few people in IT even know about.
  • Should have very minimal support costs.

We’ve gotten sign-off from the registrar, info-sec and are awaiting a contract review from General Counsel. Hopefully that is approved within a few week.

Texting a class isn’t for everyone. But if you want to ensure that your students get the message, there may be no substitute.

We love bright ideas!

We love it even more when someone else has one and lets us use it.

Often times you want to make a video to illustrate a point. Ideally it would feel like a discussion. You’re facing the viewer and explaining something to them. You’re not facing a chalkboard or a whiteboard and turning your back to them. It feels natural.

lb640

Let’s state right off the bat that this is not our idea. It’s called the light board and it came from Michael Peshkin at Northwestern University. The Lightboard Home Page is really incredible and gives you all the details you need to make your own copy. Parts list with numbers and links, diagrams, technical details, etc. It’s open source hardware so he encourages you to make your own, experiment, etc. Just share what you’ve done.

We’re kind of space constrained and there’s very little available space on campus. While we think this is a great idea, we’re going to need to be able to show people how this works in order to get the funding and square footage required to make it a reality. Instead of making a 4×8 board, we made one that was 3×4. Still big enough to be useful but small enough we can find a place to demonstrate it. It’s also cheaper than a full size unit.

Ordering the glass is pretty easy due to the well detailed specifications. To build the frame we worked out a design and ordered a bunch of 80/20 aluminum. Assembly took a couple hours.

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The box actually said it was an erector set for adults.

We were too excited to worry about the crappy lighting!

We were too excited to worry about the lousy lighting!

There are LED lights underneath the edge of the glass that cause the text to really pop out of the glass. Since it was a 16 foot roll, I had about 12 feet extra. Part of the challenge in this project is to illuminate the presenter and not add glare. I took the extra 12 feet and stuck it on the glass.

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I’d say it does a great job of illuminating the instructor.

I also took a few accent lights we had laying around and used them as a key light.

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Obviously we need to work on the ambient light…

Not bad for a beta test!

Not bad for a beta test!

Overall, we’re thrilled with the effect. It’s really much more pronounced than it appears here. We still have a lot of tweaking and testing to do but I think we’ve established the feasibility of the system.

Now we start showing this thing off and we’ll see if we can get a 12×15 room to really do this right!

Thanks to the following people:

  • Michael Peshkin at Northwestern University. Obviously!
  • Our colleague David Seidl for bringing it to our attention. He’s really interested in that whole maker-space culture thing. Apparently he saw it as a post on Hack A Day.
  • Tim Cichos in Notre Dame Learning Spaces who helped us engineer the frame.