The BIRD (Beacon-Identified Realtime Display) Note-taking System
Department of Computer Science
Human-Computer Interaction Lab
University of Maryland
The BIRD (Beacon-Identified Realtime Display) note-taking system allows
the integration of "live" presentation materials with student notes.
My current work is in pursuing the situation where material is being
projected via a computer. The basic goals are two-fold:
The feature set in the first version of the
BIRD Note and Screenshot client
were selected with the help of students from departments across the Maryland
campus taking HCI-related courses -
Curriculum and Instruction,
Early Childhood Education,
Government and Politics,
One of the main themes with most students was that they preferred fewer
flashy options, and simply desired core functionality of basic note taking.
Discussions of being able to provide feedback to the instructor via the
network were rather uniformly shot down. The ability to grab whatever
was currently on the screen, and take notes on and about it was the most
exciting feature of those discussed.
On the faculty end, there is to be minimal setup time and
few restrictions on what they are using as their presentation
tool. The idea is that they can use their normal presentation
(PowerPoint, HTML, etc) tool without having to make any changes. In
conversations with faculty, the time of adapting their materials for use
with a new system would be a deterrent. The current BIRD Server sends
out a UDP beacon once every few seconds identifying itself and the port
on which it is listening. The current version has the faculty member
set the TCP port on which the server will listen.
Faculty will need to have the .NET Framework installed on their machine.
Once the .NET Framework is installed, install time for the
is the time it takes to download the BIRD Server EXE (~3.5 megs).
Setup time is the time that it takes to launch that EXE and then click
on the button that says "Start Screen Server".
Future versions will be able to search for an unused TCP port on startup
and transmit a text identifier provided by the faculty member to handle
the situation where more than one server is active on a sub-net.
On the student side, the students are able to use either a laptop with
a network card or a TabletPC, walk into the room and start taking integrated
notes. They are be able to pull a current snapshot off the presentation
screen at any time, take text notes with the keyboard and make annotations
to the snapshot itself with mouse or stylus.
The current client implementation allows for automated discovery if the
student and faculty computers are on the same sub-net and only requires the
(one-time per class session) manual entry of the server's IP/Port otherwise.
Students will need to have the .NET Framework
installed on their machine, and then download the
BIRD Notes And Screenshots client installer (~5.2 megs)
and install the software.
If you launch the BIRD Note and Screenshot
client by double-clicking
on its icon, it will begin with a blank document. You can also launch
it with an existing document by double-clicking on that document's
.snt file. In the current version you can only have one document
open at a time. The File menu allows you to begin a new document
[shortcut: Control-N], open an
or save the current document using either Save
or Save As
The File menu also allows you to alter the look and feel of
the application in some ways.
It lets you select different colors for the drawing area behind the
screenshot, the buttons and the splitter between the drawing area.
You are also able to choose the background color of the text notes area,
as well as the the color and font of the text notes.
Note: These color and font
settings are currently application-level settings.
Once you have changed the settings, whenever you create a new document or
view an existing document, these settings will be in use. User feedback
is welcomed regarding whether these should be stored on a per-file basis
Once the BIRD Note and Screenshot client is launched,
you should set the
server address. If the server is on the same subnet as your machine, you
should be able to find it automatically by going to
ServerSettings and selecting Automatically Find
A list of available servers will be displayed as shown in Figure 1.
If it is not found, you can manually set it by going to
ServerSettings, selecting Manually Set and then entering the
URL of the server in the form http://IPaddress:PortNumber
Note: Future versions of the
BIRD system may have more robust server selection as well as the ability
to save settings.
Once the server is set, you can obtain new pages in one of five ways,
all available under the Document menu.
You can get a new page with live screenshot at end of document
You can get a new page with no screenshot at end of document
You can get a new page with a live screenshot right after current page
You can get a new page with copy of current page's screenshot right
after current page
You can get a new page with no screenshot right after current page
You can also decide on the screenshot alignment from the Document
menu. This choice can either be only for the current document or set
to be the default for all future documents.
Note: The current version does
not implement a scrollbar
for the handwritten notes, so it is suggested that you select your alignment
before you begin taking notes. If you change the alignment, parts of your
notes may not appear on screen. A later version may add a scrollbar to
allow you to see all of your handwritten notes regardless of the dimension
of the screenshot area.
The Ink menu gives you the ability to select your drawing tool.
You can select the color of your pen or highlighter from a pre-existing
list or select a custom color of your own choice.
You can select an eraser tool - either a true eraser or a stroke eraser.
You can toggle hiding the ink (this can be useful if you want to see something
from the screenshot on which you have written). You can change the width
of the pen and highlighter. If you change these settings, they will be
remembered on exit.
While the primary audience for this project is academic, these components
should work well in a corporate environment for tasks such as taking notes
during a wide variety of meetings. This realization is thanks to former
students with whom I discussed the project - several indicated that the
system would be valuable to them in their workplace.
The screenshots below (some quality lost in conversion to JPG) are some
examples of the student note-taking client in use.
In Figure 2, a PowerPoint presentation was in progress. The student
grabbed a copy of the slide that was currently on the projection screen
made some annotations to the slide in two different pen colors
(index of difficulty formula),
highlighted one of the lines ("Several variations on the formula exist"),
and took some typewritten notes about what D and W stood
for and what the basic idea of Fitts' Law was to them, as well as a
question that they had about the exact meaning of the variable D.
In Figure 3 we see the same page of notes, but with more room given (by
student choice) for seeing the typewritten notes.
To provide himself more viewable typing space, the user simply moved the
splitter to a higher position, and the page's contents adjusted themselves.
A future, secondary version of the note-taking system will allow faculty to
use a Mimio whiteboard capture device to provide students with presentation
material. There are several challenges as to how the interaction would work
in this version, and it is expected that having a working implementation of
the first version in use in classes will help inform the genesis of the
second version. I have begun doing some experimentation with using the
Mimio device in the classroom to see how it feels for the faculty member.
The Beacon-Identified Realtime Display client and server allow for core
functionality that will become useful in the
TERN project. There is also a sister project to
BIRD called TE-BIRD. TE-BIRD is being designed
for use on the TabletPC in tablet mode where the student will not have a
You can download the
BIRD Notes and Screenshots
Installer (~6.8 megs).
The BIRD screenshot server will not be generally distributed -
if you are a faculty member interested in using this system, e-mail
Evan Golub at firstname.lastname@example.org for
information about the server. The posted BIRD client does have the ability
to import PowerPoint slides "in advance" if you would like to get a
general feel of the application.
I also have two papers discussing faculty use of this software during
"Supporting Faculty Goals During Student Presentations via Electronic
"Using the BIRD Note-taking System During In-Class
Presentations: An Example in an HCI Class
This software is provided for free for use at educational institutions.
If you are interested in using this software for commercial purposes
contact the author, Evan Golub, at
This software is provided on an "as-is" basis, without warranty of any kind,
express or implied, including but not limited to warranties that the software
is free of defects, merchantable, fit for a particular purpose or
User bears the entire risk as to the quality and performance of the software.
Should the software prove defective in any respect, user assumes sole
responsibility and liability for the entire cost of any service and repair in
No use of this software is authorized except under this disclaimer.
This page last modified on Monday, 18-Apr-2005 11:09:54 EDT.