Learning Glass

Explain complex concepts while remaining present.

What is It?

A Learning Glass, also called a Lightboard, is a tool that allows you to explain something with writing and drawing and still remain visible to the audience. The concept is simple: Face your viewers and write readable glowing text that they can read. The design is simple: A large piece of internally reflective low-iron glass illuminated by a ring of LEDs. Add on some camera hardware that flips the image automatically and the text becomes readable. The learning curve is short, the usability is familiar, the products are accessible, and the pedagogies afforded are sound. These are some of the reasons why the Learning Glass is an effective tool that is popular with instructors.

How Can I Use the Learning Glass in My Course?

Learning Glass video products are useful in both online and flipped classrooms, and tend to mostly be instructional videos or “lecturettes” no more than 10 minutes in length that explain a specific concept or idea. Many instructors use a Learning Glass video as an introductory “jumpstart” to a course module or week. Those teaching face to face might assign a Learning Glass video to students several days before the class session that will cover the topic, allowing students to come prepared with questions and facilitate a meaningful activity or discussion rather than conduct a unidirectional lecture during class time.

The Learning Glass is also effective at building your presence to students, no matter the topic of the video. Because students can see your facial expressions and mannerisms as you write and speak, they are able to focus on the human side of the interaction, avoiding the often didactic and passive nature of other video formats such as pencasts or powerpoint lectures. For this reason, many instructors will create full course introductory videos with the learning glass as well.

Some of the affordances of a Learning Glass video stems simply from the effectiveness of video. Students are able to watch the video at varying speeds, skip around, replay and review certain sections, and search within the video using captions.

Common Applications

  • Course introductions
  • Short weekly topical jumpstarts
  • Concept lecturettes
  • Responsive explanatory videos (in response to performance on assessments, or frequent questions on a topic)
  • Discussions on a topic with two presenters
  • Fine interaction with an on-screen graphic

Practical Considerations

How-To: Tips for Use

Here are some basic tips for creating fun, watchable learning glass videos, as demonstrated in the video to the right:

  • Restrict your video to a single topic
  • Plan out your video with either a script, or better yet, a visual map of the board layout.
  • Wear solid colors that aren’t too bright or too dark.
  • Don’t wear clothes that have logos or text as these will be reversed in the final version.
  • Small mistakes that can quickly be erased don’t warrant restarting the video. They can actually humanize you as a presenter and instructor.

Image Overlay

An advanced technique in creating Learning Glass videos is to use a live image overlay. Presentation slides prepared with a pure black background can be overlayed onto the presenter and their Learning Glass video in realtime, allowing the presenter to combine naturally written text and annotations with high resolution images, animations, or even video.

The template at right serves as both an example of this technique and a starting point for creating your own overlay slide deck. Find the template in the UA Google Slides gallery or make a copy directly into your Google Drive. PowerPoint also works very well – just make the background pure black.

State of the Research

The Learning Glass is a relatively new tool, and as such, there is little in the way of foundational research. Over the past five years, a growing number of higher ed institutions have been designing, building, installing, and utilizing Learning Glass and Lightboards to support online and flipped course delivery models. A documentation of our own experience in implementing our unit contains a lengthy list of these institutions and efforts that have informed UAF’s implementation.

Further resources into the basic functionality and use of the Learning Glass/Lightboard concept:

In Practice

  • At right: UAF Instructor of Mathematics Latrice Bowman created over 85 Learning Glass videos covering core mathematical concepts which can be used in a number of different courses and sections in UAF’s face to face and online offerings.
  • UAF French and German instructors have created videos to enhance comprehension of grammatical concepts in their online courses.
  • UAF Professor of Mathematics Dr. Gordon Williams created carefully planned, succinct learning glass videos as advance organizers in his online calculus course.

Sean Holland

Sean Holland, M.A., is an instructional designer and instructor in the UAF School of Education.

Sean Holland

Instructional Designer, smholland@alaska.edu