Perhaps I'm outside the norm for technical trainers (or perhaps not), but I'm a real "people person." I love to make my training sessions interactive and fun, and I always try to keep my students on their toes by moving around to different parts of the room and making sure that each participant remains engaged and attentive. The most frustrating times for me are the times when there’s a lot of “mousing” to do and I have to tether myself to the front of the room by my computer mouse cord. Whether you're teaching Macs or Windows, applications or operating systems, I’m sure you’ve found yourself in similar predicaments. The mouse-dependent graphical user interface found on virtually all PCs today is a blessing to a user, but it can be the bane of a trainer.
Enter the remote mouse
A remote mouse is a handheld wireless device that has all the functions of a regular serial or PS/2 mouse but remains unconnected from the PC, using radio or infrared technology for signal transmission. The most obvious advantage, in the context of this discussion, is that the user (i.e., the trainer) is no longer restricted in movement, once again increasing spontaneity and interactivity in the classroom.
The Logitech TrackMan Live! is one of many remote mouse devices on the market today. It lists for $149.95, and it’s available through a variety of retail sources as well as directly from Logitech . It comes only in a Windows version and bears the statement, "Designed for Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 98." A technician at the Logitech help desk told me that although Logitech no longer manufactures the Logitech TrackMan Live! for the Mac, there are still plenty of the older Mac models available through retailers. Since this is a product review and not a lab test, I'll focus on three factors: ease of installation, ease of use, and ability to improve training.
System requirements (Windows version)
To use the Logitech TrackMan Live! (Model 4324), your computer system must have the following:
- Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT 4.0
- 3.5" floppy disk drive
- Available serial or PS/2 port.
Ease of mouse installation
Because most computer trainers use laptops for their presentations, I installed the device on two different brands of laptops, under Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT.
The device comes with both a serial connector and a PS/2 serial adapter. This way the user has the flexibility to use a standard mouse as well as the remote. The TrackMan Live! comes with two 3.5" floppy disks for installation. The installation screen gives you two choices: Express and Custom. I chose the Express setup mode for most of the installations that I performed, and the setups went without a hitch. The only interruption to the installation process was under Windows 98 and Windows NT, where a driver file already on the computer was newer than the corresponding file on the installation disk. In those cases, a dialog box prompted me to choose a course of action: overwrite the newer file by installing the older one, or skip the disk's file and leave the existing, newer file intact. Choosing Skip File allowed the installation to proceed unhindered. Disk 1 took the installation process about two-thirds of the way through, and Disk 2 finished the job. After a restart, I was ready to mouse and roll.
Ease of use
The TrackMan Live! is easy to use once you are familiar with button placement and manipulating the trackball. The handheld unit is contoured to fit comfortably in your right hand. Now, I'm as natural a lefty as you can get, but for some reason I've always used my right hand to control a mouse, so the adjustment to the remote was easy for me. Users who are used to mousing with their left hand may have a slightly more difficult time adapting to the feel of the unit, if only because the contours are not quite as comfortable.
Button placement takes a little getting used to, but once you do, you’ll find the button positioning convenient. As you look at the unit from the top, you see three buttons, two small and one large (from left to right). The right button on the TrackMan Live! corresponds, by default, to the left button on a standard mouse . The center button, by default, was set to "CyberJump" on all of the units I reviewed. Each button can be reassigned through the Mouse icon in the Windows Control Panel, with a drop-down menu that gives you 52 options for each of the three buttons.
For normal presentation use, I achieved the most convenience and versatility with the following settings: I left the left and right buttons at their default settings (context menu and click-select, respectively) and changed the setting of the middle button to DragLock. DragLock functions exactly like clicking and dragging with a standard mouse. It "locks" onto the object you have selected so that you don’t have to hold the button down. This feature allows you to use your right thumb to move the trackball to adjust the selected object's position.
The trackball itself seemed "loose," as the pointer moved a lot when I moved the trackball just a little. This effect was more pronounced in the up-and-down movement than in side-to-side movement. In both cases it was easy to adjust my thumb movement to compensate. I found that I had better control over pointer movement if I pressed on the trackball slightly harder than normal. After sufficient practice I was able to move the pointer precisely enough to hit toolbar and control buttons with a minimum of excess motion.
Effectiveness in training
The TrackMan Live! gave me a great deal of freedom in the classroom. In a hands-on training situation, I was able to stand next to students who were struggling and give them some one-on-one attention while still making changes on my projected screen. In heads-up training, I was able to come out from behind my laptop-projector combo and eliminate the physical barrier that separated me from my audience. Even if the effect was imperceptible to the participants, I personally felt better able to establish and maintain a rapport as well as keep my classes energized by not being anchored to a single spot. And when I have better rapport and energy, I know my classes are smoother and more interesting.
A remote mouse is a useful device for increasing your effectiveness as a technical trainer. While there may be other brands or models that do more, cost less, or have more bells and whistles, the TrackMan Live! is a reasonably priced device that gets the job done. I plan to make it a standard part of my personal training toolkit.
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