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Liberating the Lectern: Using iPad to Free Yourself from the Front of the Room

When PhD candidate Jason Kotter began teaching FIN 317, he wanted to engage students more than is traditionally practiced when dealing with complex mathematical equations. Such subject matter typically gets taught by flipping through PowerPoint slides in a one-way lecture.

It wasn’t that Kotter didn’t like this traditional approach. He liked using slides, but he also liked the idea of writing out solutions to complex problems long-hand, something that could easily be done with equipment like a document camera. The problem was that using that kind of equipment anchors the presenter to the front of the room, with his or her head down, disengaged from the rest of the class.

“I wanted a solution where I could still use the PowerPoint slides, but that I could be more mobile in the classroom, moving into the areas where students are siting and drawing their attention away from the screen and toward me,” Kotter said.

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Some of this mobility was already possible in the classroom using remote “clicker” technology to advance through slides, but students’ attention is still directed to the front of the room where he’d have to return if he wanted to walk through solving one of the equations in long-hand.

And if he wanted to involve a student by having them do the work, they’d have to make the trek to the front of the room themselves.

“There aren’t too many students who volunteer to come up to the front of the class, and when there is it tends to be the same faces over and over again,” Kotter said. “And if you cold-call someone, it puts them in an awkward position and it can hurt the learning environment because no one wants to feel like they’re being judged that way.”

Kotter began brainstorming solutions. He had been using his iPad and reasoned that there might be a way to remotely control the classroom screen and annotate over it, from his iPad. He was right—after experimenting with various applications and solutions, Kotter hit upon an application called Doceri.


Doceri is an app for the iPad described as an “interactive whiteboard and screencast recorder with sophisticated tools for hand-drawn graphics and built-in remote desktop control.”

What this means is that a presenter can remote control the room’s desktop computer. They’ll see the room’s computer screen right on their iPad, with tools that allow for annotating using a finger or stylus, and just as if they were using the mouse from the front of the room, annotations show up on the room’s projector.

Currently, Doceri only works on iPad, although the website does say Android compatibility is a possibility for the future. The iPad app is free and can be downloaded easily from Apple’s app store, but requires a corresponding piece of software installed on the desktop PC the presenter wishes to control. Thanks to Kotter’s efforts, all Ross classrooms have the Doceri desktop application pre-installed.

“It works quite nicely and is fun to use,” Kotter said.


This gave him the opportunity to do what he envisioned. He could do things like engage with the students without making them come to the front of the room.

“I could take a problem to a group of students and put my iPad down in front of them. It seemed to help the students be more willing to get involved in leading others through problems. They could stay seated and feel a little more comfortable knowing they’re surrounded by peers that could back them up, which started to get more of the interactivity I was hoping for—the interaction between peers that helps solidify these concepts in their mind,” Kotter said.

Example of an exported annotated slide from Kotter

Unlike traditional means of annotation, screenshots can be easily saved and exported to be used or referenced later.

“You can export still frames, and save some of these annotations so you can upload them to CTools or email them out after class. I’d send out PDFs of the annotations that we worked through that they could [reference when] studying,” Kotter said.

Conversely, Doceri can be used to pre-record certain parts of a lecture to play back later. In his case, Kotter could work through annotating a complex equation ahead of time, and use Doceri to play it back at the appropriate point in his lecture.

“If I had a long problem that I knew I wanted to work though [step-by-step] but I knew it was going to be a pain to write down in front of everyone, I’d prepare by writing out the problem [before class], and then later pulling up the saved presentation through the Doceri app; kind of like playing a video,” Kotter said.

In this way, it looked like he was writing in real-time, when in reality he was able to watch students’ faces and get a sense for what they were feeling and thinking as they watched.

“I could get a feel for what I needed to spend more time on, rather than worrying about if it was legible as I was writing it down,” he said.

Doceri has benefits other than annotating. Since a presenter is remotely controlling the in-room computer, they can advance slides, open additional files or websites, or do something like switch applications to play a movie. This all happens over the RossWireless network, so it can be done from anywhere in the room.

This is different from just using a remote control or “clicker,” which only advances slides and nothing else. And because a presenter is holding the iPad right in front of them, it makes it so that they aren’t constantly turning around to see what’s behind them.

"It changed my presentation style in a way I didn’t anticipate, and in a way that was quite nice, I thought,” Kotter said.


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