Swivl Robot with phone attached

After an iPhone is inserted into the base of the Swivl Robot, an instructor can start or stop recording without having to interact directly with the phone’s screen.

Two technology pilots to explore new video capture solutions in the classroom are happening at Penn State Berks this semester, including a pilot of the robotic video capture solution Swivl.

“We were fortunate that Paul Esqueda, our senior associate dean of Academic Affairs, was willing to fund these opportunities for us to explore new solutions for teaching and learning,” said Mary Ann Mengel, instructional multimedia designer at Penn State Berks’ Center for Learning & Teaching.

This opportunity, along with a pilot of the web-based video capture tool YouSeeU, is being offered to selected faculty members who submitted proposals in December for potential use of the technology in their classrooms, Mengel said.

According to its website, Swivl is a robotic device that turns a smartphone or tablet into a complete video solution. The purpose of Swivl is to follow an instructor as he or she gives a lecture–it scans a room at command and stops to focus where it is needed.

Joe Mahoney, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State Berks, is currently using Swivl with his iPhone 5 in his resident E MCH 213 Strength of Materials course, and he initially used it in two sections of his resident E MCH 211 Statics course last semester. Before the pilot this semester, Mahoney said he borrowed a Swivl from a colleague to record the problem-solving sections of his lectures and uploaded videos for students to access outside the classroom.

“The University is looking to more and more hybrid–I think our campus is also interested in that,” Mahoney said. “We have a lot of commuter students at our campus, and a lot of students that have part-time jobs, especially compared to University Park. So, there is more and more demand of the students to have less kind of structured time in the classroom and a little more free-form so they can have a couple more hours to work or they don’t have drive to campus every day.”

Joe Mahoney poses for camera

Joe Mahoney, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State Berks.

According to Mahoney, the Swivl remote interfaces directly with his iPhone via Bluetooth after his phone is inserted into the base, and he can start or stop recording without having to interact directly with his phone’s screen. Audio picked up through the remote is routed to the base and recorded by the phone. Mahoney said he takes the extra step of filtering background noise from the video files for high quality audio.

One key feature Mahoney said he really likes is the swiveling device, which tracks the remote microphone as he moves around the classroom. When using a large whiteboard, the device enables focusing the mobile device’s camera to the area the instructor is talking about and follows the instructor to different parts of the board.

The main issue Mahoney has come across is that when he moves around quickly, the device will take a little time to catch up with him. Mahoney said the device also tilts a little too much if he is moving up and down as he is demonstrating a problem.

Mahoney elects to trim and edit the resulting video files before uploading them to YouTube, but in other uses this would not be necessary. According to Mahoney, the hardware is easy to use since Swivl has iPhone and Android apps to help users learn how to use the device.

Below is a section of a lecture from Mahoney’s E MCH 213 course that demonstrates how Swivl captures a lecture.

Mahoney said one purpose of using the Swivl device is for students to be able to play back a section of the lecture they did not entirely understand when they are reviewing their notes. He uploads the videos recorded by Swivl to YouTube and embeds them into PowerPoint, and students can watch the videos to see how he progressed from one step to the next in a problem.

Another purpose of using the Swivl device is to prevent students from falling behind in class. Mahoney said that having videos online helps commuter students who cannot travel to campus during bad weather, such as during the spring semester when there were about five days of classes were canceled due to snow.

A third purpose of using Swivl during engineering lectures is the option to record and post supplemental problems if students want more practice. Mahoney said the videos could also act as a supplement to office hours, especially since his sophomore students are more reluctant to seek him out during his office hours.

A core benefit of Swivl is that there is definitely a net gain on the time investment, Mahoney said. Last semester, he put about 30-35 hours into recording the videos, and his students watched more than 70 hours of video.

Mahoney said that he is exploring making Swivl a test platform to determine whether he can change his courses to a hybrid format. He hopes to get the engineering campuses across Penn State together to extend elective offerings.

“If I’m teaching a 400-level elective at our campus, and then someone at the Erie campus or the Harrisburg campus wanted to register for the course, I would be using it as a synchronous device,” Mahoney said about his future goals for Swivl use. “So they could be participating in the class in real time, and seeing what I’m writing on the board, seeing what I’m motioning to or showing on PowerPoint. It would give the extra dimension that it’s not just a pre-recorded class, but they’re actually part of the classroom.”

“In the coming years, I want to look into how can we offer these multi-site courses,” Mahoney said. “I think the Swivl would be a great device for live streaming for other campuses to participate live.”

Students have given a lot of positive feedback to the use of Swivl in the classroom. According to last semesters’ SRTEs in Mahoney’s course, students said the videos gave them the supplemental instruction they needed and were helpful if they had to miss a class.

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