Fluorescent markers replace chalk in lectures using lightboard

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Senior multimedia specialist Sean Ryan and biology Adjunct Thomas Yingst demonstrate the lightboard Feb. 9 in Moody. Sergio Medina

Biology teachers test the technology with positive results.

By Sergio Medina


A lightboard will be a resource for faculty at this college to present class material in a new way after ongoing development in the creative multimedia department.

Unlike a chalkboard and dry erase board, the lightboard is made of architectural glass and framed with extruded aluminum and LED lights.

“You use fluorescent markers,” senior multimedia specialist Sean Ryan said in an interview Feb. 7. “You stand behind the board and write on it just like you would on a chalkboard or dry erase board.”

He came up with the idea to follow the footsteps of faculty at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who created a lightboard for instructional use, Ryan said.

Using open-source instructions from faculty at Northwestern University on the website lightboard.info, Ryan built a lightboard for the creative multimedia department from scratch.

“I took elements from many of the open source contributors and compiled them to create my own version of the lightboard,” he said.

While the 8-by-4-foot board has been built and is ready to use, its implementation is still in development.

The overall concept is to record instructors giving lessons on the lightboard.

These recordings will then be made available to students through Canvas modules or this college’s Mediasite catalog.

“(Mediasite) is a lecture-capture system that captures audio and video of the lecture,” Ryan said. “It allows the student to watch it on-demand wherever they want.”

The media site catalog for this college is available at sacms.alamo.edu.

For recording, the lightboard is housed in the creative multimedia department’s studio in Room 632 of Moody Learning Center and is used in conjunction with the studio’s cameras, microphones, speakers and studio lamps.

The lightboard’s utility stands out because of the way sessions are recorded.

Instead of an instructor standing between the board and the camera, similar to a classroom setting, the instructor stands behind it and faces the camera.

This is where instructor-student engagement benefits.

“It eliminates the fact that when you’re in a big classroom, he (the instructor) is typically standing in between you and the blackboard,” Ryan said.

“So by the time he finishes all the writing and work and discussion, you don’t get to see what he’s writing until he moves. This eliminates that problem. You have an unobstructed view of what he’s writing. Plus, he’s also looking right into the camera so when you watch the presentation, it really feels like he’s engaging you.”

Furthermore, lightboard sessions are recorded with a Canon XA10 camera that horizontally flips the live feed, otherwise students would be looking at writing that is backwards.

“There’s only two cameras we could find in the open market that will actually flip the image horizontally,” Ryan said.

In recent months, the lightboard has already had users.

“We’ve had a couple of early adopters,” Ryan said. “They use it often.”

Biology Adjuncts Laura Mery and Thomas Yingst are two of them.

Mery instructs BIOL 2420, Microbiology for Nursing and Allied Health, a hybrid course offered in Flex 2.

In an interview Feb. 8, Mery said she first heard about the lightboard at Project Tenaces’ 2017 STEM Faculty Summer Institute, which was at this college May 29-June 1.

It was there Ryan first showcased the lightboard.

“It was the first time that I publicly presented the lightboard to faculty to demonstrate how it worked and provide examples of how they could integrate it into their teaching methods,” Ryan said.

Mery said she found it interesting. “I became accustomed to the lightboard by first recording five-minute lectures,” she said.

Mery sees advantages in recording her lectures as she’s able to be concise.

“With the lightboard, I could actually stand there for five minutes, give them (students) examples and map it out for them without getting bogged down with other marginally related material,” Mery said.

“Now I’m comfortable doing a whole chapter,” she said. “I’m averaging close to 30 minutes.”

Mery agrees with Ryan about not obstructing the student’s view.

She said recording lectures in the classroom is not comparable to recording lectures in the lightboard studio.

“To me, there’s no comparison (to the chalkboard) because you walk and you turn. It’s not a very good visual experience,” Mery said.

Currently, Mery has not used the recordings for the online portion of her course. She said she will begin implementing her recorded sessions for Flex 2 in March.

Additionally, she shared enthusiasm for using the recorded lectures for future face-to-face classes as her current hybrid classes meet only for labs.

“I’m definitely going to use some of my videos and just post them as supplemental (material) because students can go back over the concept,” Mery said.

Similarly, Yingst, who teaches BIOL 2401, Human Anatomy and Physiology 1, and BIOL 2402, Human Anatomy and Physiology 2, sees advantages to being able to revisit recorded lightboard lectures online.

“That’s the biggest advantage,” he said in an interview Feb. 9. “You can revisit it. This is all memorization.”

He shared his students’ positive feedback.

“They’re happy with it,” he said. “If somebody misses a class, it’s there for students.”

For Ryan, the ultimate goal is to create a virtual classroom.

“One of the things I’m proposing is a virtual lightboard classroom,” he said.

The idea is to have a two-way communication system installed in both the classroom and the lightboard’s studio. “They (students) would be looking at the output of the camera, which is already flipped, on the (classroom’s) projector screen,” Ryan said.

Similarly, a camera would be placed inside the classroom, with output visible to the instructor back at the studio via a monitor, he said.

Both instructors and classrooms would have a microphone to communicate back and forth.

“The classroom would be looking at the projection and asking questions real-time to the professor who’d be standing behind the lightboard,” Ryan added.

To begin making this a reality, creative multimedia department Chair Barbara Knotts said they are refitting a room to function as a studio solely for the lightboard.

Knotts approved department funding for the lightboard project.

Ryan said $3,500 was allocated for the budget.

Ryan sees this resource benefitting STEM and language instructors most, as these courses demand a lot of note-taking.

“They have to do a lot of diagrams and equations. Even in the languages, they write sentences and diagram sentences, and those all require kind of old technology,” he said.

Ryan then referred to the lightboard as a bridge between the old and the new and how that worked as inspiration.

“My biggest inspiration was to figure out a way to join these two technologies, to convert analog (writing) into a digital environment and improve the student’s experience,” he said.

Ryan estimates the full services of the lightboard will be ready by fall.

“We’re hoping that we can have the construction done on the actual facility by the summer,” he said.

Knotts commented on Ryan’s project in an interview Feb. 7.

“He took the challenge of wanting to incorporate that as something our professors could use,” she said. “It’s a visual way of enhancing the student’s learning.”

Call 210-486-0597.


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