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Making Videos with a Lightboard

Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Making Videos with a Lightboard

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There are many ways to make engaging and highly effective videos for education, including live action, voice-over imagery, animation, stop action, and others. The newest entry to the list is the Lightboard, invented by Michael Peshkin at Northwestern University. This format uses a studio shot of the instructor speaking while writing on a board, similar to a live class with a blackboard. But the twist is that the instructor does not turn his or her back on the audience to write. The instructor writes on a glass pane between himself or herself and camera, allowing the instructor to speak directly to the audience while writing. The effect is quite engaging.

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There are many ways to make engaging and highly effective videos for education, including live action, voice-over imagery, animation, stop action, and others. The newest entry to the list is the Lightboard, invented by Michael Peshkin at Northwestern University. This format uses a studio shot of the instructor speaking while writing on a board, similar to a live class with a blackboard. But the twist is that the instructor does not turn his or her back on the audience to write. The instructor writes on a glass pane between himself or herself and camera, allowing the instructor to speak directly to the audience while writing. The effect is quite engaging.

But shouldn't the text appear backwards to the viewer? The genius of the Lightboard is that the text on the glass is reversed by shooting the image of it off a mirror set 45 degrees to the speaker, which reverses the incoming image, or by shooting straight at the speaker and reversing the video afterwards in editing. Either way, the final video shows the text correctly to the audience. Take a look at this overview of the format from Peshkin: https://youtu.be/N1I4Afti6XE.

While the technique is ideal for formula-driven classes, such as science or math, it will also work well in any course using imagery or drawing because an editor can insert imagery onto the glass pane. An instructor who wants to discuss the decision making that went into the Civil War can project images of the major players while circling them or adding text. An instructor in an art class can use the Lightboard to demonstrate drawing techniques to the students.

While the technology sounds complex, it really isn't. Your institution likely has a studio set up to shoot marketing videos, and if not, any large room will do. Peshkin provides detailed instructions on how to design the studio for best results at https://sites.google.com/site/northwesternlightboard/home. This site also has information on where to get the material to build a studio and how to make the Lightboard and other equipment needed.   

If you would rather purchase a complete studio in a box, Matt Anderson of San Diego State University created Learning Glass, a company that sells all of the equipment needed for creating a Lightboard studio: http://www.learning.glass. Penn State University has also created a site with all of the directions and free software needed to develop a studio that is operated with a single button: http://onebutton.psu.edu/. If you might have trouble convincing your institution to set up a studio just for you, show the above-mentioned video demonstration of the system to your colleagues and see if you can get a critical mass of instructors interested in using it.

If you already have a studio outfitted with microphones, lights, and camera equipment, you need only add the glass Lightboard itself and fluorescent markers to write on the glass. As noted, the image reversing can be done with a mirror positioned in front of the camera, and Peshkin provides drawings to demonstrate how this is done. If you would rather shoot straight at the speaker and reverse the image in editing, most video editing software has this capability, and your instructional designers should have access to some software. My favorite system is Camtasia Studio, which is available to educators for around $100. It can also be used to insert images into the video after the shoot. Another option is to use free video editing systems to do the reversal, including Open Broadcaster Software (https://obsproject.com) and MPEG Streamclip (http://www.squared5.com).

It is also possible to use the Lightboard in a live broadcast. This adds a new layer of complexity because the reversal needs to be done in real time, as will adding graphics or other imagery. This is done with a piece of software called a “switcher,” which is designed to integrate video from different sources during a live broadcast. Again, your institution most likely has switching software in its studio, but if not, you can purchase Telestream Wirecast for the purpose: http://www.telestream.net/wirecast/overview.htm.

As with all instructional videos, it is best to shoot them in short segments of 5–15 minutes each. This is about the limit of our tolerance for watching content on the web. Longer videos overload our working memory with content, causing information to be lost. As mentioned, you will need to use a fluorescent marker to show up well on the glass, which can be hard to erase, and so you will likely want to erase between shoots, not during shoots. That means that you will want to end each video once you fill up your glass Lightboard space with drawings.

Peshkin's website lists more than 50 institutions that are currently using the Lightboard, and it might become standard practice in online teaching within a few years. So get ahead of the curve and try it now to create more engaging content for your online courses.