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Phone Based Lectures

Early this month at a LUV meeting I gave a talk with only my mobile phone to store notes. I used Google Keep to write the notes as it’s one of the easiest ways of writing a note on a PC and quickly transferring it to a phone – if I keep doing this I will find some suitable free software for this task. Owncloud seems promising [1], but at the moment I’m more concerned with people issues than software.

Over the years I’ve experimented with different ways of presenting lectures. I’m now working with the theory that presenting the same data twice (by speaking and text on a projector) distracts the audience and decreases learning.

Editing and Viewing Notes

Google Keep is adequate for maintaining notes, it’s based on notes that are a list of items (like a shopping list) which is fine for lecture notes. It probably has lots of other functionality but I don’t care much about that. Keep is really fast at updating notes, I can commit a change on my laptop and have it visible on my phone in a few seconds over 3G.

Most of the lectures that I’ve given have involved notes on a laptop. My first laptop was a Thinkpad 385XD with a 12.1″ display and all my subsequent laptops have had a bigger screen. When a laptop with a 12″ or larger screen is on a lectern I can see the notes at a glance without having to lean forward when 15 or fewer lines of text are displayed on the screen. 15 lines of text is about the maximum that can be displayed on a slide for the audience to read and with the width of a computer display or projector is enough for a reasonable quantity of text.

When I run Keep on my Galaxy Note 2 it displays about 20 rather short lines of text in a “portrait” orientation (5 points for a lecture) and 11 slightly longer lines in a “landscape” orientation (4 points). In both cases the amount of text displayed on a screen is less than that with a laptop while the font is a lot smaller. My aim is to use free software for everything, so when I replace Keep with Owncloud (or something similar) I will probably have some options for changing the font size. But that means having less than 5 points displayed on screen at a time and thus a change in the way I present my talks (I generally change the order of points based on how well the audience seem to get the concepts so seeing multiple points on screen at the same time is a benefit).

The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has a 5.5″ display which is one of the largest displays available in a phone. The Sony Xperia X Ultra is one of the few larger phones with a 6.44″ display – that’s a large phone but still not nearly large enough to have more than a few points on screen with a font readable by someone with average vision while it rests on a lectern.

The most obvious solution to the problem of text size is to use a tablet. Modern 10″ tablets have resolutions ranging from 1920*1080 to 2560*1600 and should be more readable than the Thinkpad I used in 1998 which had a 12″ 800*600 display. Another possibility that I’m considering is using an old phone, a Samsung Galaxy S weighs 118 to 155 grams and is easier to hold up than a Galaxy Note 2 which weighs 180g. While 60g doesn’t seem like much difference if I’m going to hold a phone in front of me for most of an hour the smaller and lighter phone will be easier and maybe less distracting for the audience.

Distributing URLs

When I give a talk I often want to share the addresses of relevant web sites with the audience. When I give a talk with the traditional style lecture notes I just put the URLs on the final page (sometimes using for people to copy during question time. When I use a phone I have to find another way.

I did a test with QR code recognition and found that a code that takes up most of the width of the screen of my Galaxy Note 2 can be recognised by a Galaxy S at a distance of 50cm. If I ran the same software on a 10″ tablet then it would probably be readable at a distance of a meter, if I had the QR code take up the entire screen on a tablet it might be readable at 1.5m away, so it doesn’t seem plausible to hold up a tablet and allow even the first few rows of the audience to decode a QR code. Even if newer phones have better photographic capabilities than the Galaxy S that I had available for testing there are still lots of people using old phones who I want to support. I think that if QR codes are to be used they have to be usable by at least the first three rows of the audience for a small audience of maybe 50 people as that would allow everyone who’s interested to quickly get in range and scan the code at the end.

Chris Samuel has a photo (taken at the same meeting) showing how a QR code from a phone could be distributed to a room [2]. But that won’t work for all rooms.

One option is to just have the QR code on my phone and allow audience members to scan it after the lecture. As most members of the audience won’t want the URLs it should be possible for the interested people to queue up to scan the QR code(s).

Another possibility I’m considering is to use a temporary post on my documents blog (which isn’t syndicated) for URLs. The WordPress client for Android works reasonably well so I could edit the URL list at any time. That would work reasonably well for talks that have lots of URLs – which is quite rare for me.

A final option is to use Twitter, at the end of a talk I could just tweet the URLs with suitable descriptions. A good portion of the Tweets that I have written is URLs for web sites that I find interesting so this isn’t a change. This is probably the easiest option, but with the usual caveat of using a proprietary service as an interim measure until I get a free software alternative working.

Any suggestions?

Please comment if you have any ideas about ways of addressing these issues.

Also please let me know if anyone is working on a distributed Twitter replacement. Please note that anything which doesn’t support followers on multiple servers and re-tweets and tweeting to users on other servers isn’t useful in this regard.

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