The 10¢ Computer

We are often asked why we don't install computers in the classroom podiums. With a computer in the classroom, an instructor could walk into the room with their presentation on a USB flash drive and be ready to go in seconds. Our answer comes down to three words: cost, maintenance, and reliability. Those can be argued, but they are also beside the point.

A large number of people use classroom computers for Powerpoint presentations. But it turns out that you don't actually need a computer for Powerpoint - or to be more precise, you don't need a computer for showing presentations. All you need is a dime and a couple of minutes to prepare.

Obviously you need a computer in your office or home to create the Powerpoint presentation, that much does not change. But here's a little trick - create your first slide, then insert nine blank slides and continue with the content of your presentation on slide ten. The reason for the nine blank slides will become clear later (it's not really necessary but it will ultimately save a little time). Save your presentation as usual.

Now the part that will cost you 2 minutes of time. Click the "File" menu, and "Save as...". Choose "JPEG" as the format. When it's done, go to the folder where you saved it, and delete slides 2 through 9 (these are the nine blank slides). Copy the images to a CD-R and "burn" the CD. The CD-R will cost you approximately 10¢.

When you go to the classroom, don't bring your laptop. Don't even bring your USB flash drive. Just bring the CD. Most of the DVD players in our classrooms will automatically display JPEG images, so you'll use the DVD player to make the presentation (some of the older DVD players may not work; you'll want to verify this in your classroom first). There are two problems: first, the DVD player will display the images in alphabetical order. Powerpoint names your slides "Slide1.jpg", "Slide2.jpg", etc., but alphabetically "2" comes after "19", so slides 2 through 9 will all show up in the wrong place. This is the reason for the blank slides that you delete - those are the ones that show up out of order. If these slides are not blank, you can rename them "Slide01.jpg", "Slide02.jpg", and so on through "Slide09.jpg", before copying them to the CD.

The second problem is that the DVD will automatically "play" your slides, only pausing for a few seconds on each one. To control the speed of your presentation, you must use the "pause" and "play" buttons. This is similar to the way you would click to show the next slide when using Powerpoint, although slightly more cumbersome since you also have to "pause" at each slide. You will need to try this out before class to become familiar with the controls - and don't just dive in - first time through do bring your laptop as a backup.

For the cost of a CD and a moment of extra preparation, most people have exactly what they need a computer for, but without the computer. The university saves a few hundred dollars per classroom (before taking into consideration the cost of maintenance and upgrades). Of course there are disadvantages, without Powerpoint you don't get the neat visual transitions and animations. That's the tradeoff for the convenience of not carrying a laptop. On the positive side, the JPEG images are ready to use on the web.

Ultimately, a CD is no substitute for a computer. It only substitutes for a presentation. People who need the computer for other reasons such as internet access or other software will still need to bring a laptop, or continue to wait until we solve the problems of cost and maintenance.

We are currently investigating other devices that will work better than DVD players. If you have an iPod that can display photos or videos, these work exceptionally well for presentations if you purchase the additional video cable. We are also planning to install Sandisk "Photo Albums" that will allow you to use a USB flash drive instead of a CD, and give you more control over the presentation than the DVD player does.

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This page contains a single entry by Joseph Delaney published on February 5, 2007 3:55 PM.

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