Create better videos with a teaching lightboard

Create better videos with a teaching lightboard

Cameron from EdTechPro writing on a teaching lightboard.

You might have seen LED lightboards at your local cafe. They are a piece of glass with a strip on LEDs along at least one side. When you draw on them with particular (non-permanent) markers the text lights up. They are usually advertising a muffin /cappuccino combo or the cake of the day in your local cafe. Well, they can also be scaled up and used as transparent whiteboards in teaching videos.

Teaching lightboards are great for people who need to write and explain what they are writing at the same time, so they are ideal for complex and interrelated formulas and diagrams.
You can do similar things by screen recording your pen based device (which I’ll cover in future posts) but that isn’t as dynamic and engaging as watching your lecturer or teacher in action.

Why not just record yourself in front of a whiteboard?

You can. It’s cheap (assuming you have a white board, lights and a camera) and it’s easy.
There are a few things you need to look out for:

  • Audio. You have to turn away from the camera to write on the whiteboard. Which means you have wait unit you turn back around before you start explaining what you just wrote. You can get around this with a wireless mic but it still looks odd and can disengage your audience.
  • Exposure. You are presenting in front of a large white space.
    If your camera is in Auto mode, the exposure (light and dark setting) will chop and change as you move around, and the text can flick from being too dark, to too light.
    If you use a manual exposure setting you will have to compromise to make sure the text is clear which may make you look oddly dark.
  • Reflections. White boards are shiny so you have to be careful where you place your lights. Although to be fair you have to do the same with lightboards.

My mate Lincoln Turner from Monash explains it well.\
2020 Australian Financial Review Higher Education Excellence Award winner – Education Technology

Is it using a sledgehammer to drive a nail?

It can be, it all depends on your needs and budget It’s probably more accurate to think of it like a recording studio vs a webcam. A studio will cost more but quality will be better.
You probably wouldn’t set one up at home (watch this space, I’m going to try) but in a teaching organisation supporting hundreds of staff it’s worth considering, particularly if you already have a studio.

Technically it’s not that difficult to make a teaching lightboard. You have get a sheet of safety glass big enough so you can stand behind it and not write in front of your own face. So, about 160cm x 120cm minimum, plus a bracket strong enough to hold it and some heavyweight casters so you can move it. You can get 12V or USB powered LED strips from Bunnings or Jaycar so you wont need and electrician. If you want some ideas, search for DIY lightboard.

If you have an engineering or woodwork department who can do the work (to an OHS standard) it’ll probably cost you around AUD $2000-$3000.
Off the shelf you’re looking at around AUD $7000-$8000.

Of course that doesn’t include the camera, mics, and lights. You’ll obviously need some editing software to tidy things up and to reverse the image so the text looks the right way around. If you’re recording straight to a computer you can reverse the image using live streaming software like XSplit.

How to follow this and other useful sites with Feedly

How to follow this and other useful sites with Feedly

The easiest way to follow this site is to go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the monthly newsletter. You’ll get a summary of the months posts and activities (like new videos and courses) plus links to other interesting learning and technology articles that I’ve found. The second easiest way is with Feedly

Using Feedly

Feedly is a great tool if you want to follow updates from multiple sites. It’s a free browser based add on that also works on your IOS and Android smartphone. Setting up an account is easy. Go to Click on the login button and create an account with your Google login. You can also create an account with a different email and password.

Once you’re in click on the + button on the left to add a site.

Type in the site URL then click the text field to open the dropdown. Select Ed Tech Pro Feed to see the regular updates.

When the Feed box opens click Follow

If you have added categories (like Ed Tech) select one and click ADD.
You can add a new category at the bottom using the the +NEW FEED button.

Your site will appear in the left hand menu in the selected category.

Click on the site to see the posts


Another thing you can with a site you frequently visit is bookmark it and load it to your Toolbar. I’ll do a post about the ins and outs of bookmarks soon.

It’s pretty easy but if it’s not clear, or you need a hand post a comment. I’ll put together a full “How to” video for Feedly in the near future

We teach our kids not to run with scissors….what about digital safety?

We teach our kids not to run with scissors….what about digital safety?

Digital safety Scissors stuck in a laptop screen

Despite your kids perhaps knowing more about the digital world than you, they are still kids. The same kids that have to be taught not to run into traffic, not to bite, not to eat dirt. The same kids who will drink too young and too much, and date the wrong person (all the while telling you, you are wrong). A kid can be a TikTok expert and be still clueless about important aspects of digital safety.

We can’t protect them from everything but we do have a responsibility to set them up with the skills to give them the best chance. That includes digital safety

If you’re not sure where to start, this article on Engadget is s good place – “A parent’s guide to raising a good digital citizen“. It has links to a range of useful sites and if you’re a teacher is also has a link to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standards.

If you’re concerned it’s worth talking to your kid’s school. They will have plan and can give you some tips. In Victoria they should be working from the Department of Education Cyber Safety page . There are lot of good links here. Three in particular that are worth looking at are:

Good luck.

Let’s talk about webcam backgrounds (and are you really going to wear that?).

Let’s talk about webcam backgrounds (and are you really going to wear that?).

When it comes to backgrounds and their effect on light and exposure, webcams are dumb tools that are easily tricked, but there are some simple things you can do to get good images when you’re talking to your students, clients and colleagues. I’m not going to talk about how to decorate your background other than say tidy up up and make sure it’s appropriate for your audience.

Webcam backgrounds and exposure

First, webcams are fully automatic but not “good” automatic like your smartphone which has a lot of processing going on in the background. Webcams are like your first driving lesson, you’re on the road and getting it mainly right but if things change you’re heading for the gutter, then crossing 2 lanes of traffic before getting it under control. They constantly hunt for the best light setting and will clumsily jump based on minor changes.

They don’t come with clever camera apps like your smartphone. There are some webcam applications for your computer which I’ll cover in future posts but they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The wrong background can under or over expose your image
Now a bit about exposure

Basically exposure relates to the amount of light that hits the sensor in your camera and therefore how bright or dark your image is. It’s not just about room lighting it’s also about how light or dark your background is, what clothes you wear, what your skin tone is. Any large object in the shot can cause problems.
I’m not going to get too technical here (I’ll cover that in future posts and resources) but In most non-webcam cameras and in good smartphone apps you’ll probably see a Manual mode, or Aperture priority or Shutter speed priority. These allow you to manually change how light or dark your image is. Importantly they also let you lock in the ideal setting so you don’t get the brightness jumping around.

Webcams don’t have this. It’s all on you.

Tips for good exposure

I afraid I’m going to cramp your style a bit, at least at first. You may have to trade personality for visibility, but have a play and see what works for you.

  • Use backgrounds with a constant colour and brightness, particularly if you like to move about on your chair. If you move in front of a dark or light object the webcam will try to adjust for the change.
  • Avoid very light or dark backgrounds.
    • You may have to give up on that awesome window view in the background (unless you want to look like a silhouetted anonymous informant on true crime TV).
    • If you have very dark skin you may need a darker background.
    • Adding extra light on your face (like a lamp) can be helpful if you have a bright background. “Bright white” or daylight globes are usually better than “warm white” globes which can look a bit yellow.
  • Avoid very light or dark clothing.
    • If your clothing contrasts too much with your background you are more likely to get over or under exposure of your face, and more jumps in lighting if you move.
    • If you have a fair complexion and dark hair, dark clothes may make you look washed out and aneamic.
  • Avoid clothes with big blocks of different colours and tones. As you move the webcam will try to adjust the exposure.
  • Avoid movement in your background.
    • If you have figured out the lighting to have a window in the background make sure things aren’t moving in it. As well as messing up your exposure it can be distracting.
    • Put your cat or dog or kids in the other room. Even if it doesn’t mess up your lighting it’s distracting and risks undermining your credibility.

Let’s talk about webcam audio

Let’s talk about webcam audio

Webcams in general are fairly blunt instruments when it comes to audio. They are basically tuned to pick up noise that is close by so they are less likely to pick things like road noise, but they love the sound of keyboards and mouse clicks.
They are also omnidirectional, that means the microphone isn’t just pointing at you it’s picking up noise everywhere around you, including any close-by noise like your kids crying or your house mates laughing.

Logitech c920.  A webcam with good audio.

They can pick up the noise from your computer speakers, so you might occasionally get an echo when you’re talking, although this is pretty rare. You are most likely to get problems if you have another person in the room on another computer on the same Zoom call.

At a pinch, you can use them to record from a medium distance like the back of a classroom if you have a decent external webcam (not the one in you’re laptop). A smartphone will give you better video but poorer audio and people tend to tolerate poor video much better than poor audio. I’ll have an online course on smartphone video available in the next few months that will include tips on getting the best audio on your phone.

Getting the best audio from your webcam

  • Find your quietest indoor space. Somewhere carpeted, away from traffic noise and with soft furniture is best.
  • Check your heating/air con setting so they don’t kick in.
  • Let people know when you are online or recording. I have sign I put in the kitchen.
  • If you have the option, schedule a time when people are out or asleep.
  • If you are in a noisy space or sharing a video call, the easiest solution is to connect your phone ear buds to your computer. Plug in earbuds are usually the best option as not all computers are compatible with Bluetooth earbuds.
  • Avoid using your laptop webcam if possible. Laptop microphones aren’t great quality. They will pick up noise from your laptop fan and they are right next to your keyboard.
    The webcam I use is a Logitech C920. I specifically chose this webcam for it’s audio quality. It means I can do quick on the fly “How to” screen recordings for people, without having to connect an external mic.

Let’s talk about webcam lighting.

Let’s talk about webcam lighting.

If you need something like this you are probably doing it wrong.

In general set up facing a window and have a 1100-1500 lumen (75-100 watt) “cool white” globe in the room. If possible try not to sit directly underneath it (to avoid eye brow shadows).

If you need more light (or the outside light is inconsistent) try a desk lamp with a 500-900 lumen (40-60 watt) cool white globe. Position it at about eye level or just above and just to the side (about 30 degrees) so it’s not directly in your eyes. Experiment with distances so you don’t get harsh shadows. Alternatively you can use a stronger globe and bounce to light off a nearby wall this will give you a more even light.

The set up in the picture has a desk lamp with a 500 lumen globe and 2 x 1400 lumen lights (from my workshop). One light is bouncing off the facing wall and one off the side wall. I use it to do tricky things in training.

Working from home (occasionally) – setting up your laptop

Working from home (occasionally) – setting up your laptop

Working from home laptop set up

Working a few days from home is becoming more common but we don’t all have (or want) studies and specialised desks to work from. A lot of us just work off the most convenient table. Unfortunately working for long periods on your laptop is not ideal and it’s important that you get up and stretch regularly, particularly your neck and shoulders.

Ideally raise your laptop screen and plugin a keyboard and ,mouse so you can work without hunching forward. You want your screen at eye level and your forearms level with the table. You may need to fiddle with a few different boxes to get the screen height right. Try different chairs to get your arms right. Gas lift chairs are great but you may not want it living semi permanently in your kitchen or lounge room and they damage your carpet over time. If you have a little bit of spare space and a few dollars you could try a compact mobile computer desk that you can wheel out when you need it.

You can also plug a second monitor into your laptop. This video shows you how to set it up on Windows.

Techy places (like Jaycar) have a range of adapters to connect your old DVI, VGA or DisplayPort monitor to your laptop HDMI port (don’t worry if you don’t know what they are, just take a picture of the sockets on your monitor to show them).

Happy Relaunch Day

Happy Relaunch Day

I’ve been blogging about teaching, learning and technology for a number of years. A couple of years ago my job changed and the old eLearning Meandering edtech blog was unfortunately sidelined.

Well, I’m relaunching the blog on a new site, EdTech Pro. I’ll also post some how to videos on my new YouTube site and work up a few online courses.

There will also be a newsletter which will be a digest of the blog posts, info on any new videos or courses and maybe a couple of extra tips

My focus is more on software than hardware, and more on PD for teachers than infra structure. I’ll throw in some links to relevant stuff that comes through my feeds. So if that interests you come among for the ride.

Feel free to add comments or suggestions.

Shoestring review of some OMR software

We’ve been using Remark Office for a while to mark the MCQ component of our mid semester and final year exams.     Remark is probably the most commonly mentioned program when you go hunting on the net, and for good reason, it is a very good program.  Unfortunately their licence management can be inconvenient if you have numerous computer issues like we have had.  So I’ve had a look around to see if there are options that might be better.

This is what we are after (apart from the obvious i.e. it’s accurate and reliable)

  • Can be installed on a stand alone PC
  • Simple to install
  • Simple to use
  • Less expensive than Remark
  • Quick to correct student entry errors – this is the biggest time suck with OMR
  • Student ID validation – This is the worst of the entry errors.  We have large units 200-600.  We hand out copied sheets and students have to write in their own ID.  Remark Office links to a class list to help ID verification.

I have not done a comprehensive review of features,  I’ve just focused on the features listed above.   Some programs I have dismissed after skimming the website, others I have downloaded and tried out.

Remark Office – cost $1400.

Annoying – Licence management/transfer is a pain.  The initial learning curve is a little steep.

PC OMR – $500.

Deal breaker – If the student makes a mistake filling the square you have to edit the image and reread, you can’t just view the image and insert the correct response in the table.

LaCuritie Assessment OMR – $420

Annoying – No instructions.  You have to put the questions in the program.    You can’t do a bulk import of questions.
Deal Breaker 1 –  There is no verification of student ID against an an external list (ie there is no way to now if the student go their ID wrong or duplicated).
Deal breaker 2 –  BMP is the only accepted image format.  Our scanner doe not output BMP image files
Deal Breaker 3 – Might not pick up entry errors by students

Quexf – Free open source

Deal Breaker – Very complex installation process

TCExam – free open sources-

Deal breaker – needs to be installed on a server

Udai OMR – Free Open Source

Deal Breaker – Insanely user unfriendly

FormScanner – free Open Source

Annoying – very skimpy instructions.
Deal Breaker 1 – Form set set up not user friendly
Deal Breaker 2 – I can’t see any feature for verification of student ID against an an external list

ABBYY Flexicapture

Deal Breaker – Looks like it would get the job done but it’s twice the price of Remark

SmartShoot OMR

I didn’t get a price on SmartShoot, but it’s probably my favourite of the programs I tested.  When they get better English instructions it might be worth a look (assuming you don’t need student ID verification)

Very Annoying – No English instructions
Deal Breaker
There is no verification of student ID against an an external list

KaptureAll – cost $6,000

Deal Breaker 1 The error verification process is a bit awkward.  It produces a spreadsheet of results and a list of files that it detected errors in   The file shows the scanned image with the error highlighted and provides a field below the image to add the correct answer. There appears to be no quick way to check if the program misses an error.  With Remark (and SmartShoot) the document image appears when you click on a student result or correct an error.
Deal Breaker 2 – I can’t see any feature for verification of student ID against an an external list
Deal Breaker 3 – It costs more than Remark Office.

Password management

I have a small truckload of passwords

Keepass is the one that many password managers Tech Geeks recommend

Because the password database is on your computer not in the cloud, Keepass can be a bit fiddly if you use multiple computers.  There is a work around using Dropbox.