Time to upgrade the flipchart? Part3

In the final part in our series ‘Time to upgrade the flipchart?’, we reach a technology that will have the most dramatic effect on mediation, bringing efficiencies to case administration.

Technology 3 – Interactive pen + projector

Diagram showing how to setup the U-Board system

The interactive pen and projector solution is by far the most versatile type of technology, combining features of the ordinary whiteboard with digital technology. This enables drawing or writing as you would with a flipchart, combined with other programs which run on the computer. As you can imagine, this requires a degree of computer literacy which will put off some, and attract others.

Following discussions with several mediators, the one thing that emerged as the most time consuming element of mediations, and therefore an area which would benefit most from integrating technology, was the financial summary. To solve this problem, ideally the Interactive Whiteboard needs to integrate with a financial package which can present information quickly and easily. Many mediation services already use Excel for this purpose and therefore integrating with Excel is a key requirement.

After researching different interactive solutions available on the market, one clear winner emerged:- the Pen and Free U-Board. The U-Board enables you to write on a projected screen, capturing your handwriting, and allowing you to interact with Microsoft Office software. Using built-in functionality within Windows7 and Office (2007 and 2010), the interactive pen can be used to write in any Office program. This is converted using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) into characters (letters or numbers).

For example, you could use Excel to calculate a financial summary during a mediation. By defining formula within specific cells, and writing using the interactive whiteboard into  others, you can easily calculate the financial position. Once completed, the clients can sign the screen to indicate agreement. This prevents the need for correspondence after the mediation as both clients can leave with a full financial summary.

Information screens can be prepared prior to mediation and then completed during the session. These can then be used as templates for future mediations. With full integration with Microsoft Office, any documents can be completed directly on the projected image in front the clients or children.

Summary

So we can summarise the main advantages and disadvantages thus:

Pros
– captures handwriting
– interaction with word and excel enabling huge time saving
– OCR (converting handwriting to characters)

Cons
– technical setup required, and training to learn how to use
– requires additional equipment
– cost of equipment

Conclusion

Out of the three types of technology which could be used, this is the most advanced (and therefore complicated) but the most impacting. We’ve demonstrated the use of this system to a number of mediation services, and in each case the mediators have been amazed at how easy it is to use, and how powerful a tool it could be in mediation. By seeing how it can interact with Word and Excel, you will find new ways of carrying out mediations that will save time and effort and therefore streamline the process. Prices start from £465+VAT for the wired version and go to £540+VAT for the bluetooth version.

We will be demonstrating the interactive solution with pen and projector during September. If you’re attending the Resolution conference on the 27-28th September why not come and see the demonstration.

Addendum – Projector choices

Following on from our conference demonstrations, we’ve had a number of questions about types of projectors, and how close they can be positioned from the projection screen or wall. Typically they need to be at least 1.2m. A distance of 1.5m between projector and wall gives a 98 x 61cm (width x height) size for a widescreen image.

However short throw projectors enable you to get much closer, typically 0.5m from the projection screen / wall. This will give a 81 x 46cm (width x height) size for a widescreen image.

Time to upgrade the flipchart? Part2

In Part1 in our three part series of ‘Time to upgrade the flipchart?’, we discussed the merits of the electronic whiteboard. In Part2 we start to see how linking with computer technology, provides some clear benefits over the more traditional whiteboard and dry marker solutions.

Technology 2 – Laptop + Digital LCD screen

Picture 1

The whiteboard and pen are ideal for some scenarios, however by harnessing the power of a computer its possible to access useful features and make huge time savings. In this blog we consider the merits of upgrading the flipchart to a laptop linked with an LCD display. In Part3 we will consider the role of the laptop with a projector.

Picture 2

Most laptops come fitted as standard with a 15pin D-type connector (on the left in Picture 2), some also come with a HDMI connector (shown on the right) – a more recent digital format which links visual and audio to an external display. Depending on the connections available on the LCD display, one of these options will enable you to connect.[1] This will enable you to  display letters, forms, spreadsheets or a notepad to clients. However, interactivity is limited to your mouse and/or keyboard. If trying to replace your flipchart, then attemping a brainstorming session on this equipment with clients would be difficult.

With the addition of a touch-sensative screen, the laptop is transformed into a power interactive tool. Touch screens enable writing or drawing on the laptop / desktop screen which are simultaneously displayed on the LCD display. Few laptops have an integrated touch screen , but plug-in devices are available to simulate this functionality.

Picture 3

The Pen and Free (PNF) Duo pen is one such device – appearing to turn a normal laptop screen into an ‘interactive surface’. An ultra-sonic detector is clipped above the screen and plugs into the computer via the USB port. The detector senses movement of a wireless ultra-sonic pen, translating this back to the computer. This converts the pen movement as handwriting or drawing which is in turn displayed on the LCD screen. You might think it looks a little clunky, however an ingenious magnet sticker stuck on the lid helps the detector click into place.

We recently reviewed several interactive products before selecting the PNF Duo. The digital pen feels like a normal pen, is easy to use, and performs excellently converting movement to writing on the screen. Selling for less than £99+VAT and delivery, it’s excellent value for money. It is also links directly with the Windows7 operating system – a little technical so bear with us…

Microsoft Windows7 (try to avoid Windows8 if possible) now comes installed on the majority of new computers sold. This includes built-in support for touch screens and Optical Character Recognition (OCR). PNF devices are fully compatible with this. As a result, when you plug in the PNF Duo, it works without needing to load special software[2]. The advantage of this integration is shown when you click one of your favourite Microsoft Office 2007/2010 icons, and discover it fully integrates with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook.

So why does this provide such an advantage? In Part3 we explain in more detail why this is so significant, especially for family mediation.

Pros

  • High quality screens can show information easily, and clearer than projectors
  • Can display any documents available on the computer
  • With a compatible touch screen or digital pen this can display handwriting or drawing

Cons

  • Requires dedicated LCD display in each mediation room
  • Requires some technical skill in connecting the equipment before each mediation session
  • Without additional interactive screen or device, clients not able to interact

Conclusion

This is a relatively low cost, high impact solution enabling a laptop to display information during mediation. However, without it does require some hardware and a permanent LCD display mounted in each location. To be more effective, an interactive screen or digital pen connected to the laptop is essential.

[1] If you are buying a new external LCD display, you will want to consider the output connectors available from your laptop.

[2] PNF do provide additional software with their devices, extending the whiteboard style programs with features not available with the standard Windows7 support.

Time to upgrade the flipchart? Part1

The flip chart is thought to have been invented by Peter Kent who built one to help him in a presentation. He went on to found the visual communications group Nobo plc. Since then it has become a common feature in most presentation settings. So what is the key to it’s success?

  • Inexpensive and versatile
  • No compatibility issues – only requires pen and paper
  • Easy to transport
  • Requires little storage space

In mediation, it is a staple feature of virtually every meeting room, providing a quick and easy method of sharing information between parties in a visual way. However, in our ever increasing digital-age when people expect instant information, the humble paper flipchart has drawbacks.

Inspired by discussions from a LinkedIn group, this three part blog series will summarise the various solutions available. Over the next few weeks we hope to provide some practical advice for those asking whether it is time to upgrade the humble flipchart.

Current technology falls into three main technology groups, with a few hybrids added into the mix:

  1. Interactive whiteboard
  2. Digital LCD screen
  3. Interactive pen + projector

Technology 1 – The Interactive whiteboard

We managed to arrange a visit (thanks to Twitter!) to Coventry and Warwickshire Family Mediation service in July and see their plain paper panaboards. Their offices are well equipped – each room having desktop, whiteboard, desks, without even a trace of a flipchart!

The idea is the interactive whiteboard looks and works exactly like a whiteboard – the only difference being an integrated scanner. You can prepare on two ‘sides’ (front and back) in advance, then rotate between sides.

The whiteboard is linked to a dedicated printer, enabling information from each ‘side’ to be printed. Rotating (a little like the old fashioned OHP with film) between sides enables a scanner to read the information and sends it to the printer. Alternatively, a USB memory stick can be attached and on pressing a button, the whiteboard image is scanned and a jpeg file is created on the memory stick.

It provides several useful features such as adding header and footer information to the printed image. This could be the name of the mediation service, or a date and time stamp.

Coventry and Warwickshire family mediation service have now moved to using the interactive whiteboard exclusively. It was interesting to hear from Jenny Lewington, how children like using it during direction consultation with children. Children feel reasured by the ability to to write anything on the whiteboard, then deleting parts which their don’t parents to see.

Variations on a theme

An alternative to this is the interactive panaboards which use electronic pens instead of dry-board markers. They work in a similar way, linking to a dedicated printer or saving to USB memory stick.

Pros

  • This system is incredibly simple to use, even non-techies would be happy using it
  • Just requires a dry-marker to write onto the surface
  • Enables preparation to be done in advance of the meeting
  • Instant printout available enabling clients to take away with them
  • Electronic version of the document available for emailing
  • Two sides can be used for writing information – easy switching between the two

Cons

  • Preparation needed for each meeting as this is lost after each mediation session
  • No link with a computer for displaying printed text
  • Cannot interact with financial packages such as Excel when performing financial statements
  • Not portable, requiring additional interactive whiteboards where outreach locations are used
  • Dedicated printer is required

Conclusion

A brilliant system if you have mediators who are fearful of using technology. No complicated wiring connections between equipment – just power up and go. However, if you are wanting to interact with information from a computer, save time preparing documents, re-use templates, then this is not the best solution.

For more details on the Panasonic plain paper panaboard goto http://www.panasonic.com/business/office/pro_whi_pla2.asp

In Part2 we continue the discussions by looking at Digital screens and how these can be utilised.

Does the digital pen have a future in mediation?

Provoked by Tom Farrells’ experimentation with ‘Digital Scribe’ we’ve been investigating whether the digital pen can become a cost effective replacement for the flip chart in mediation.

At the Resolution and FMA conferences in September this year, Tom demonstrated how the Digital Scribe pen has made a difference to the way he can work as an IFA mediator. He demonstrated how this device could be used to write on paper and then upload it electronically as a word document. What it couldn’t do was be used to write directly on the screen.

Essentially there are several different technologies, all working in subtly different ways:

1) USB receiver – these pens work with ultra-sonic waves needing a receiver to be connected onto the top of paper or on your screen. Some models only provide an ‘online mode’ which require the receiver to be continually connected to your computer. Others work also have a ‘mobile mode’, storing the information in the device and downloading when connected to a computer.

2) Scribe pads – simply write in special dot paper books (which have clickable areas on for controlling your actions), as you would a notepad, and you create a written and digital version. The pens have memory incorporated for capturing the information, which can be downloaded to a computer.

3) Digital white board scribes – these enable you to project a computer screen to a white board and manipulate and the display in a similar way to using a computer white board. The difference being, with a white board you capturing what a marker pen is writing and convert this to an electronic version after you have finished,  with the digital white board scribes you write in a digital format and can manipulate and change what you are writing quickly and easily .

Nearly all the products incorporate handwriting recognition software, however this can be slow and inaccurate. For the purposes of our investigation, we considered only capturing writing without recognition.

Curious to see how this worked, we purchased the PNF Duo pen. This has a ‘online mode’ USB receiver, so you are permanently connected to a computer to record your writing. It’s description claims that it can operate as a pen or a mouse (hence the name Duo). One thing which immediately came to light is that Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Office software has been built with touch screens in mind. We found that little/no software was needed to be installed, as Windows 7 with Office 2010 is already compatible and works straight out of the box. However there are a few useful extra programs which come with the PNF pen.

Our receiver model was specifically aimed at laptops, however it easily could be connected to the top of a monitor. It works well with flatscreen monitors up to 19″ in size, and basically anything you write on the screen can be captured. The nib is interchangable, and can either accept a felt tip for ‘writing’ on the screen, or a ball point pen tip for actually writing on paper. This does seem a useful feature, creating a paper copy as well as creating an electronic version. However the ball point tip is quite short therefore I can imagine it running out of ink under heavy use. A few spares are provided, however I can imagine replacements are expensive so maybe not a long term option.

But is this a nice gimmic or could it become a useful tool within mediation? We demonstrated it in a mediation environment, writing on the laptop screen and projecting to an external 19″ monitor. In this scenario, the pen worked well. However it did require the receiver to be permanently connected to the computer which may prove awkward. It also does require additional equipment to be left setup in the mediation rooms which may not always be practical. It does seem to require pen re-calibration to the screen every time the computer is switched on which can be a little frustrating. However, it’s a quick and easy process once you get used to it.

The software enables you to create templates which are displayed as a blackground. These can provide useful guides when capturing information.

The example shows a quick financial summary template which can then be completed with client details during a mediation.

 

This tool is well suited for mediation over Skype. By acting as the ‘scribe’ during the mediation, notes can be written on the mediators screen which are shared by clients.

Screen sharing.

Skype provides the means of sharing your screen during a call, enabling you to dedicate an area of your screen to taking notes which they can see at any time. Simply click on the button to share your screen.

 

Conclusions

There are many new products which have recently entered the market, which do subtly different things. You need to be clear in your mind how you want to use the digital environment before you purchase. Currently the mobile-mode pen will not work on large areas (like a flip chart), so you would struggle to write in a way that both clients could read. The scribe pads have limited appeal as you need to purchase specialist pads for writing on. In theory the best solution seems to be the Digital white board scribe, however the pen is expensive and requires a quality projector. The cheapest solution at present appears to be the ‘online mode’ digial pen (such as the PNF Duo) which can write to a laptop screen and use an external large monitor or projector to show the images. The technology seems to be constantly improving, so this is an area worth watching to see how it evolves.