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Making Classrooms Interactive Without Breaking the Bank

March 7, 2012 | By Microsoft blog editor

Posted by Kevin Schofield

One of the perennial challenges for teachers is to find new ways to keep students engaged and interacting in class. Some have embraced a new generation of in-classroom technology where each student has a pocket-sized wireless keypad. The teacher can “poll” the class on which answer they think is correct, or whether they feel that they understand the lesson, and instantly see the results on a computer in the classroom. Unfortunately, the equipment to make this possible can be expensive, and is usually well out of the realm of possibility for schools in developing countries.

This week at Techfest, Ed Cutrell and his colleagues at Microsoft Research India are showing a system they developed that can deliver most of the same impact on a much smaller budget. The trick? They replaced the student clicker devices with placards showing 2-D bar codes, and they outfitted the teacher’s computer with a webcam set on “wide-angle” to see the entire classroom. Now when the teacher wants to poll the class, the students hold up placards to vote, and the computer reads all the bar codes it can see and tallies them up. The team has even found that it’s possible to use a smartphone instead of a PC and webcam: simply wave the smartphone camera around the room and it records all the placards that it sees.


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The team has field tested it in a classroom in India, proving that the technology can work, and they look forward to additional trials which will help them to further refine the system. It’s a very clever solution that delivers a blending of physical objects and activity into the virtual world on a small budget.