To increase interaction with his students in the classroom, Northwestern University professor Michael Peshkin moved his lectures out of the classroom. His innovative "Lightboard" allows him to pre-record lectures for his hybrid class. This 4 x 8 ft. pane of tempered glass allows him to pre-record lessons for his hybrid classes. Strips of white LEDs at the top and bottom of the frame illuminate the fluorescent dry-erase markers while a mirror corrects the orientation of his notes and diagrams whilst filming.

What led you to create the Lightboard?

Five years ago I swore off giving traditional lectures. I wanted to do something more valuable with my in-class time. I developed an Electronics course, focused on hands-on design and diagnosis. The students have a portable electronics workbench ‘lab in a backpack’ that they bring to class. In class I would deliver brief mini-lectures, but mostly I worked with the students on their circuit designs. That’s a much better use of scarce classroom time.

What role does the Lightboard play in your course today?

The course has been in development for five years; I change it every time I teach it. This year I also started to develop it for online teaching. Not a MOOC! I’m working with Semester Online to offer a class starting in January 2014, called ‘Electronics out of the Box’. It will meet in sections of 20 students, and we’ll work together via video conference. I want it to be as good as an experience online as my on-site students get.

So, these ‘away’ students will have their electronics parts and their portable workbench, and we’ll have live sessions together twice a week. For the mini-lectures that I usually give in class, I built the lightboard, so that I could produce video mini-lectures.

What advantages does the Lightboard offer educators creating video?

It allows you to use your hands and your face as part of your communication. Those parts of communication are very important, and they get lost in classical ways of making instructional videos. But, it also allows you to make videos quickly. A professionally produced video can capture hands and face. But it takes so long and is very expensive. The Lightboard allows me to do this on my own, in one take.

How easy would it be for another Professor to replicate the Lightboard?

Building a Lightboard – or better, a whole studio featuring a Lightboard – is not hard at all. You wind up becoming a bit of a video techie by the time you are through! However it’s not something you can build on your desk, like adding a Wacom tablet and a webcam, which is how a lot of instructional videos are being made. It takes some investment of time and resources. I don’t foresee a lot of individual faculty doing it. It is something that a school ought to build and provide for their faculty, if they are serious about video and online.

Are there any other subjects you feel could benefit from the Lightboard?

It’s especially well suited to technical subjects, because you are talking about diagrams and equations. These can’t be spoken, they have to be drawn. We’ve been experimenting with its use for other subjects. Especially, it’s been fun re-imagining the powerpoint presentation for Lightboard! Your typical bullet-point driven powerpoint talk is terrible on Lightboard (or even without Lightboard, dare I say.) For Lightboard, you make the powerpoint background black, and then you become a character inside your own powerpoint slides. You can point at things in the slide, mark up the graphics with your fluorescent pens, and it’s a lot of fun.

How have others in the Academic community responded to the Lightboard?

People who have come across it online have made a number of useful suggestions, and a lot of funny comments too. I have an “improvements” page on the Open Source Hardware website that describes Lightboard.  

I’d especially like to find fluorescent markers that are easy to erase and don’t squeak. Reducing the cost of the glass and frame and lighting would be good too.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Lightboard, or even considering building your own, check out Dr. Peshkin’s easy to follow construction guide.


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