Victor Cervantes was searching for a solution. As IT director for COBAEP, a public high school system in of the Mexican state of Puebla, he was committed to introducing digital technology into the system’s 37 high schools. Cervantes firmly believed that the use of technology would both improve students’ learning and prepare them for the tech-heavy demands of college and the modern workplace.
The problem was finding a technology solution that was pedagogically sound and user friendly—and that wouldn’t bust his budget. He considered interactive white boards, but was put off by their high price tag and the steep learning curve for teachers. He was already exploring the potential of Kinect for Windows when he learned about the educational promise of Ubi Interactive, an innovative, Kinect-based system that turns virtually any surface into a touchscreen.
He contacted Anup Chathoth, co-founder and CEO of Ubi, and arranged for a month-long trial of the product. Cervantes soon realized that Ubi was just what he was seeking. The product would allow teachers to project teaching materials onto their existing classroom whiteboard, turning it into a fully interactive touchscreen. Teachers and students could then page through the content with simple, intuitive touch gestures. Moreover, by using an Ubi Pen, a specialized stylus that runs on the Ubi Annotation Tool software app, students and teachers could mark up materials right on their giant touchscreen and save their annotations to the digital file.
Cervantes recognized that the immersive, fun experience of Ubi would engage students and draw them into the learning process. And he liked the simplicity of the product; the fact that it uses intuitive hand gestures and the familiar action of writing with a pen meant that teachers could master the system almost effortlessly. Moreover, he appreciated the broad applicability of the application. It could work on any digital materials, including published educational products, materials created by the teacher, homework submitted by the students, websites, and any Microsoft Office documents.
Finally, he loved the price: the only hardware requirements are PCs running Windows 8.0 or 8.1 and projectors (both of which can be used for other purposes), and Kinect for Windows sensors, which he found remarkably affordable. When combined with the cost of the Ubi software licenses, the total system costs—hardware and software—were far lower than the price tag for interactive whiteboard systems. Moreover, since the Ubi solution can work with any Windows-compatible or web-based educational materials, it was much more flexible than an interactive whiteboard system.
So last fall, Cervantes bought an Ubi license and set up a pilot in one classroom, testing the interest of students, teachers, and administrators. Teachers found Ubi easy to use, and they liked the fact that Ubi could handle both new and existing teaching materials. Students were intrigued by the technology and excited by the prospect of having a supersized “tablet” in the classroom. They began urging their teachers to use Ubi more often.
Bolstered by the endorsements of both teachers and students, Cervantes received approval for a wider deployment in April 2014. He decided to place Ubi in each of the 231 classrooms and 10 computer labs at 20 of COBAEP’s schools, in time for the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year. Each classroom setup consists of a computer running Windows 8.0, a projector, and a Kinect for Windows sensor, and, of course, the Ubi software and pens. The entire installation process took only a month, and was finished in July 2014.
The following month, 500 COBAEP teachers attended workshops where they were trained on Ubi, using their own teaching materials. “The teachers found Ubi very intuitive,” says Cervantes, “and the workshops gave them the opportunity to explore how to use the system in their classroom.” With the start of the new school year in September, some 18,000 students began using Ubi. “Ubi Interactive is working smoothly for both teachers and students,” reports Cervantes. “It makes learning truly dynamic,” he adds.
Cervantes’ enthusiasm for the Kinect-powered software comes as no surprise to Ubi’s Chathoth. “Ever since our product was released last year, educators have been some of the most enthusiastic adopters. We already had schools in more than 80 countries using Ubi, so we knew that the product is educationally sound and popular with students and teachers. What’s really exciting to us these days are the enhancements we’ve been able to make to Ubi by using the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor and SDK 2.0.”
“The Kinect v2 sensor gives us more precise image resolution, which allows us to recognize more gestures and makes Ubi even more responsive,” said Chathoth. “For instance, with the new sensor, Ubi can now recognize a person’s fingertip—something we could not do with the original sensor—and it gives us the ability to better understand depth relationships. With new Active IR images from the Kinect v2 sensor, we are also able to enable seamless switching between pen and hand interaction.”
Chathoth also notes that the Kinect v2 sensor also enabled a new Ubi feature: a simple way to control any Windows application by using gestures. “A user can turn toward the Kinect sensor and control the interactive display by simply waving their hands in the air,” he explains. “If the user hovers over a spot and makes a fist, Ubi will tell the Windows application that the user is touch-activating that interactive part of the onscreen display. This is especially useful for teachers, allowing them to roam more freely while presenting a lesson.”
All of which makes Cervantes eager to deploy Ubi in the remaining unequipped classrooms. “We’ve had great success with Ubi, and we plan to put Ubi and Ubi sensor in the classrooms at our other 17 schools over the coming year. This has been a great partnership with Ubi Interactive.”