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Why the eInstruction Mobi tablet could be great… but it isn’t quite yet

January 14, 2010

Have just been woken up by the hungry foxes in my neck of the woods (this is no euphemism) and, until I get my hands on a Nokia N900, I thought I may update you on the results of my latest playing with the eInstruction Mobi tablet. Even if they have the very annoying habit of releasing versions for their software more quickly than it takes me to go across campus to our IT team and say “right, there is a final stable version..err..though it may be updated by the time you get back from lunch”, I think eInstruction (formerly Interwrite) has done  quite a lot for electronic voting in the classroom. In my experience their software has been user-friendly (and almost worked everywhere) and their hardware has been use-friendly (and almost worked everywhere) 😉 Now, with TurningPoint and others stepping up their game quite significantly (a full comparison to follow), the margin for error is shrinking quite a lot, though…

So: eInstruction Mobi. Great little piece of kit. RF (radio frequency) dongle goes into computer USB port and bam, you have a wireless graphics tablet. Potential for being the best thing since sliced bread. But it isn’t quite that yet (not too far off, though).

eInstruction Mobi instructor tablet

(image of the instructor Mobi – has a little screen as an extra – from the eInstruction website)

  • accuracy: it’s miles better than its predecessor (the Bluetooth Interwrite Pad); faster, too, and your handwriting no longer looks like that of a 2-year-old. You are now officially in Primary school 😉 Seriously now, you no longer have to stay behind a presenter computer to be able to annotate your slides/anything else you are projecting to the class. Nice!
  • user-friendliness: it is :). The RF dongle clips on the back of the tablet, the battery life is not bad (I got about 4 hours heavy use last) and to charge it you can either stick it into a docking station (together with 3 more if you have them) or use a USB cable. It’s light and easy to hold. It also has shortcut buttons along its top edge to functions in the dedicated software, but they didn’t work on my machine. Shame.
  • independent use: as with (almost) everything else, my first instinct is to use it for anything but its recommended use. The manufacturers have built the Mobi to be used with their proprietary software. However, I just wanted to draw with it, preferably on top of a PowerPoint in slideshow mode. But I couldn’t. WISPTIS.EXE (Windows Ink Services Platform Tablet Input Subsystem) was not going to let me use it and it just kept folding its arms and blowing raspberries at me. The version upgrade recommended on the eInstruction forum didn’t help, either. The last thing I want to try is to bring a Windows 7 machine in and test it then (more to follow today) UPDATE: GREAT NEWS! YEY! I’ve just tried the Mobi on my Windows 7 machine and it just worked!!!! No hassle, no nothing. PowerPoint annotation was possible with the Mobi! Result! Now, how do I get the same result on my XP machine? (sigh… never satisfied, am I?)
  • intended use (by that I mean with the proprietary software): I used eInstruction Workspace which is occasionally mental (does anyone actually use the line-of-apples drawing functionality), but generally very cool. Not only can you annotate your computer screen (draw, highlight, insert shapes, lines, and text), but you can insert the annotated screen back into a PPT, open up MS Office files while you annotate something else, record whatever’s happening on the screen, bring in images, switch between mouse mode and annotation mode quite easily (if only those shortcuts on the tablet worked!) and lots more.
    By far the coolest thing for me is the possibility of splitting the screen into up to 9 areas, handing out up to 9 Mobis to your students and getting them to work independently at the same time. One of the lecturers I work with has used this to get the students to draw a mindmap: he’s given them the 1st level of headings and assigned one to each group and then students took over. It was great fun, interesting to see the progression from I’ll-draw-something-rude-now to -I’ll-do-work-if-I-don’t-want-the-rest-of-the-group-to-lynch-me.
    The secod coolest thing is the integration with eInstruction Response, the e-voting app. What this means is that you can have an ad-hoc or a pre-prepared voting session based on or following some groupwork which uses the tablets. Again, the same lecturer friend got his students to vote after working on the mindmap on the elements which they thought were the most important ones. With the instructor Mobi you get to see on the screen how the votes are shaping up unless it’s a survey question, in which case my screen was no use. In my experience the screen did not always sync with the e-voting software, so I guess a bit more testing would be good…

I think that’s enough for a quick first view. Let me know if it isn’t and I’ll also let you know how I get on with Windows 7 and Mobi. Before I’m off, here’s a tip and a short(ish) clip.

TIP: never try connecting the Mobi, the RF receiver for the e-voting handsets and the old Bluetooth tablets like I did when I wanted to show off all the technology. 4 Win XP machines and 1 Win 7 crashed miserably under the task. Mobi + e-voting seems to be ok, though (fingers crossed 😉

CLIP: how my lecturer friend has been using e-voting and the tablets in his teaching.

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6 Comments
  1. Dr. Harmon Metlick permalink

    Apparently while using the einstruction products you didn’t take the time to receive the professional development. Your article with a slightly negative undertone doesn’t address any other slates for an unbiased comparison.
    My experience differs greatly, the greatest powerhouse einstruction has going for them is Examview and the Mobi. Together any content is presentable and testable with one interactive session.
    Your observations mirror exactly the release notes. Do your homework next time and adjusting the start up sequence of the device manager solves your problem.

    Try a smart airliner sometime you’ll throw it away…….LOL

    • Hi, Harmon
      Thanks a lot for your insight. I am getting back to work slowly now having had some surgery which has left me using voice recognition software and occasionally drawing on tablets (typing is not yet one of the things I can do well). A bit ironic, isn’t it? 😉
      You’re right about the lack with comparison with other slates – I now have a Toshiba Portege M780 which is so far extremely good for handwriting recognition, screen touch capabilities, and all the rest (yes, I do realise it’s a proper tablet PC rather than a Mobi competitor, but sometimes it’s good to go beyond an area to see what you’re missing). I imagine I will personally stick with that in the future due to its many advantages. I also realise that these advantages come at 4 times the price of the Mobi and that’s not too cool, but it can do so much I was personally amazed.
      Now, back to the Mobi. There is a possibility my slightly negative undertones may have been motivated by the fact that I work in a large university, where the installation of a piece of software campus-wide and its preparation for additional remote installations (not to mention its support) is something which is not too easy to organise. Given that, the fact that the early and mid-way versions of both hardware and software from InterWrite/eInstrucions were buggy and not really user-friendly, the fact that we have kept our cool and managed to find creative ways around the problems is quite impressive, I think, but seeing that the policy of releasing a product which is not ideal and then replacing it with something a little bit better shortly afterwards can be a bit counterproductive for early adopters who are keen, but haven’t quite found Alladin’s cave yet…
      All in all, while I will check out the professional development (a recent addition, as I am used to the out-of-date videos and PDFs which were available on the company website when I started out – hence I had to create my own for my colleagues), I still think that the Mobi is cool, but could be cooler. But I really appreciate your feedback and suggestions nonetheless.

  2. I have just tried my Mobi units linked to Windows 7 machines with Classroom Presenter from University of Washington (http://classroompresenter.cs.washington.edu/) and the digital ink (Windows Ink Services Platform Tablet Input Subsystem) works fine. Now fortunately I do not need to buy tablet PCs to use Classroom Presenter, which is both a cost and functionality benefit. My students work in groups of 3-4 and thus I want students to pass the Mobi unit between group members for input while all in the group observe a common monitor.

    • Hi, Geoff
      Thanks a lot for pointing me to Classroom Presenter, as I was blissfully unaware of it. Cheers! You also said the magic phrase – Windows 7! It’s going to take a bit until my institution upgrades to Windows 7, so in the meantime the Mobi seems to be cool on my personal machine, but rather buggy on the lecture theatre XP desktops… 😦 However, as I am a strong believer in the ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ saying, I have been providing a laptop that works for colleagues to take to the lecture theatre where they need the Mobi. It’s not an ideal solution and carting hardware around is not the stuff of university lecturers’ dreams, but it’s working well for the few who see the students’ enthusiasm and increased interaction it as worth the physical effort.

  3. mrbuss permalink

    @Dr. Metlick
    “Try a smart airliner sometime you’ll throw it away…….LOL”

    This is the comparison I am looking for. I have been using the Smart Airliner with Notebook. Are you saying that you would throw away the Airliner or the Mobi? Is the Interwrite software better than Notebook? I have the CPS RF clickers and use Examview.
    Thanks

    • I’ll let Dr. Metlick field this one, Jerry. However, not having ready access to too many SMART boards myself, one piece of tech I have come across and have taken quite a liking to is PaperShow (

      ) – it’s pretty much a poor man’s whiteboard with both advantages and disadvantages. Check it out, it may be interesting – it certainly was for a few of my colleagues…

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