Teaching with glass

Adopt this new technique to record lectures affordably and efficiently

Aaron Sams, Jon Bergmann and a handful of other educators first began sharing their experiences creating educational videos about a decade ago. Some other teachers had started using similar techniques years earlier, so there is some debate over the true birth of “flipped classroom.”

While the timeline can be debated, it is a certainty that this teaching modality continues to see new adopters in classrooms across the world. Also certain is the fact that video lectures are not limited to the flipped classroom setting, as they can be very useful in many educational situations.

As educators look to turn more of their lectures into videos that are accessible on demand, they welcome tools and techniques that can improve the process.

The UBTech 2017 session “Teaching With Glass” offered insights into a powerful yet affordable approach to recording lectures in a natural style. This highly informative breakout session was led by Diane Yeoman, director of education technology at Midlands Technical College.

She was joined by President Ronald L. Rhames, Vice President of Institutional Support Starnell Bates, and Director of Online Teaching and Learning Devin Henson.

Midlands Technical College is the fifth-largest college in South Carolina, with some 17,000 students and six campuses in three counties.

Glass as an alternative to black and white boards

Instructors can write as much on a see-through glass board as they can on an old school blackboard or on a dry-erase or interactive whiteboard.

But with glass, there is a very significant difference: The instructor can be recorded while writing and explaining the content they are presenting—while facing the camera. The Midlands team’s setup even allows for the projection of an image onto a section of the glass board.

As the UBTech presenters noted, using glass to create instructional videos combines technology with pedagogy in a way that more closely replicates the classroom experience. It is also economical. Here are some of the benefits and capabilities this solution delivers:

  • Writing on the glass board is as natural as writing on the other boards that many teachers have already used in their classrooms.
  • If professors refrain from explaining while they are actually writing, these portions of the video can be sped up using editing software (like Camtasia), shortening the overall length of the video (and shorter is generally better).
  • Instructors typically use a DSLR camera, but a webcam also works. Note that the video image will have to be reversed. To broadcast a lecture live, many webcams have a “reverse image” function.
  • One can write on projected images. The projector is placed below the board, pointing up, and a piece of plastic covered with inexpensive “Gila” film (and held in place with clamps) enables users to write over images.
  • A separate boom mic captures high-quality audio.  
  • The glass board can easily (and inexpensively) be raised or lowered with bricks or blocks.
  • No special lighting is required (overhead fluorescent lights work fine).

How did they do it?

Simplicity of use and affordability were two clear objectives for the Midlands team in developing this solution. They purchased the glass and a portable stand assembly from Amazon for around $300. They also optimized their recording space. A simple white wall behind the presenter provided a “blank” background.

Experience taught them that poking the camera through a hole in a sheet was a great way to prevent reflections from the glass board. In the photo you can see the boom microphone they set up to capture high-quality audio.

Another affordable yet highly functional innovation the Midlands team worked out was to use bungee cords to demarcate the portion of the glass board that was getting recorded (note the orange bungees at the top and bottom of the screen, and the green ones to the left and right).

In the little studio they set up, they used a remote camera monitor that lets the teacher see exactly what is being recorded. The bungee cords can easily be adjusted if the layout is tweaked a bit. Now teachers can record entirely on their own thanks to the convenience of the system setup and a wireless remote for the camera.

Of course, there is more to this, and fortunately the good folks from Midlands have documented their work and shared it. Note that costs and sourcing information are also included on this site, under the “Setup” section.

Getting the best results

Yoeman and her colleagues offered plenty of great tips for making the best use of this affordable system:

  • Turn off autofocus—it can create problems when you move around.
  • Keep videos short—if you need to convey a lot of information, break up videos into chunks (for example, three 10- to 15-minute videos are simply better than one 40-minute one).
  • Don’t wear logos or images on shirts. These will be picked up and then reversed when the image is reversed.
  • Don’t stand in front of what you are writing. It will display much better if you are off to the side.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t let it throw you off. Just stop, take a breath and redo it (the problem part can be edited out).
  • Create lessons for your teachers on how the system works (Midlands created lots of lessons).

Ideas from educators

Midlands Technical College isn’t the only school where this sort of equipment has been inexpensively built. Other educator shave shared tips on how to assemble an affordable light board (a glass chalkboard pumped full of light).

Here are a few blog posts and videos from teachers who explain how they made an affordable glass light board:

“How to Make a Lightboard for Less Than $100 (Step-by-Step, With Illustrations)” by Steve Griffiths 

“How to Build a Lightboard on a Budget” by Joel Speranza 

“Building a Lightboard” by Kevin Hogendorp

Learning more

A good place to start in further exploring the flipped classroom is the formal definition of flipped learning published by the Flipped Learning Network: UBmag.me/fl. That group is the original not-for-profit online community started by Sams & Bergmann and several other pioneers of the flipped classroom approach.

This site is rich with resources and ways to connect to other flipped educators.  

Kelly Walsh is CIO of The College of Westchester in New York.

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