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.