By Nick Haverhals, St. Cloud State University
While the phrase “active learning” may be relatively new, instructors have long searched for ways to engage their students with the content they are presenting. This is especially true in mathematics instruction and technological advancements have allowed for the proliferation of “flipped” classrooms in which students watch a lecture outside of class and practice problems during class time.
For the last decade or so, I have been using what might be called a “half-flipped” classroom set up in many of my courses. In these classes, students begin the semester with note packets that they will use to take notes throughout the semester. For example, the notes for section 3.1 might look like this in their note packets:
Students watch a video covering about half the notes outside of class and turn in pictures of the completed notes before class begins. Then we work on the filling in the rest of the notes in class via a mixture of group work and further lecture.
For most of my time using this kind of course design, I have used a touch screen laptop or tablet and screen capture software to create videos for my students.
I always felt my lecture videos could be more engaging and I remained on the lookout for ways to improve the videos I was producing. Eventually, I stumbled upon videos featuring lightboards and I knew it was something I wanted to try. For those who are unfamiliar, a lightboard is basically a piece of glass that is placed between the presenter and a camera. The person featured in the video can then write on the glass, putting what is being written or drawn in the same field of vision for the viewer.
Initially, lightboards were too cost prohibitive for me to pursue. After applying for a Small Seed Innovation grant through Minnesota State Educational Innovations, we received the means for campus IT professionals and I to work together to build a functioning lightboard here at St. Cloud State University. While it took a lot of trial and error, we did end up with videos that I enjoyed creating and my students enjoyed watching.
The most obvious advantage for using a lightboard is that they allow for the presenter’s nonverbal communication to come through during the video. Some screen capture software will record the speaker and what is being written separately and display both simultaneously. This can be distracting, though, as the viewer needs to shift focus between two distinct areas of their screen in this scenario.
As one can imagine, much has been written about the advantages of lightboards and best practices for using them. Many great articles are a short Google search away. I would like to instead focus on how we were able to construct the lightboard at SCSU. As I mentioned above, I worked closely with IT staff to get what we needed and put it together.
After a brief consultation regarding what I was looking for, the main staff member I worked with most closely, Kelly Larson, made a plan to make the lightboard happen. These plans involved ordering all the necessary components and coordinating with Facilities Management staff to create the frame for the lightboard itself. There a few things I think bear mentioning about the lightboard itself. One is that it was designed to have wheels for mobility and a shelf to hold much of the equipment required to make the videos. Also, two strings of LED lights were used in the construction of the lightboard: one circled the lightboard frame facing where the presenter stands to provide lighting on the speaker. The other was placed in the frame itself and shines into the side of the glass. This is what makes the writing on the board light up.
While going through all the components necessary for a lightboard would be beyond the scope of this article, I would like to highlight a few key pieces of equipment. One is the Decimator 2, which we used to flip the video horizontally as it was being recorded. Without that, I would have to write backwards to make the writing legible to the viewer. As surprising as this may sound, that is a skill I do not possess and so the video needs to be flipped (this is why the picture above makes it look as though I am writing with my left hand even though I am right-handed). One could use software to horizontally flip the video while editing but, as you can see in the example videos, I write around imposed images. Flipping the entire video would flip that writing as well, which should NOT happen.
This brings me to another important piece of equipment: the video switcher that gives the video creator the ability to impose images on the screen as the video is being recorded. Of course, images can be added during the editing process after they are recorded. The advantage adding the images in real time, though, is that it allows me to see where what I am writing appears relative to the images inserted in the video. These images do not appear on the lightboard itself so I use a confidence monitor mounted below the camera to see what the video looks like as I record. If you watch closely, you can often see me looking down (rather than at the camera or at the lightboard itself) when I begin to write. This is because I needed to check to see where my marker is relative to the images projected on the screen.
Here are some behind-the-scenes picture of what a lightboard looked like while it was in the construction phase:
As you can see, there is a lot that has to come together to make a lightboard work. As I alluded to above, getting into the all the details is beyond the scope of this article. I would, though, like to give you a few pieces of advice if you are interested in having a lightboard on your campus.
- Do a lot of research before diving in. When I started looking into lightboards, I had specific goals in mind (specifically, I wanted the ability to project pictures of the notes onto the board and write around them). There are companies out there that sell more-or-less complete packages that can get you off the ground but they will not necessarily have the features you want. They will also likely be more expensive, which leads me to the next point.
- Be nice to the IT professionals helping you with the project. As I mentioned, there was a particular thing that I wanted the lightboard to do but I had no idea how to make it happen. Working with Kelly and the other professionals from IT was a boon because they had the technical knowledge needed to bring the lightboard to life. Kelly researched what equipment was necessary and he and his colleagues did all the work to put it all together. Buying the pieces individually and assembling it locally also saved money. We ended up spending roughly $3,000 on the project whereas the packages I was considering cost roughly $10,000.
- Be willing to experiment and try new things. Kelly was very patient with me as we tweaked the lightboard to my liking (another reason to be nice!). We ended up making many adjustments (adding a dimmer to adjust the LED lighting and making software adjustments, to name a few) and I absolutely could not have done that without Kelly’s know-how. Smaller issues (e.g., finding the best brand of marker and the best way to clean the glass) also took a trial-and-error approach. One final tip: Ethanol is great for getting the glass to shine between videos so do not be afraid to ask your local chemistry department to contribute to the project.
- Undertaking this project has been a lot of work but it has also been a lot of fun. I have learned a lot about creating and editing videos and ended up with much better and more engaging videos for my students.
I extend my thanks to everyone at Educational Innovations at Minnesota State for supporting this project.
If you are interested in lightboards or have any questions about the project, please reach out via email Nick Haverhals.
This year’s Small Seed and Sustaining Funding recipients will be awarded at the 2022 Shark Tank Open on April 7, where innovators pitching their Large Seed ideas will present live to a panel of experts (the sharks). Learn more and register today!
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