Lightboard: Mirror Magic – Mary Power

I was recently introduced to the lightboard technology and immediately I was hooked.

lightboard image
Open source hardware:

My discovery of the lightboard was timely as CTE colleague Mark Morton and I had just been discussing the mirror paradox, which is so eloquently explained in this Washington Post piece . Mirrors challenge us intellectually – oh you really do have to love physics!  Seeing a lightboard video presentation for the first time has the same effect (or did for me anyway). The first thought that went through my mind was “WOW….he can sure write backwards well!”  Watch this one minute video to see what I mean:

The original Lightboard designed by Michael Peshkin, an Engineering Professor at Northwestern University, allows the creation of videos that are filmed in reflection using a mirror, resulting in the apparition of the skilled backwards writer.  Another option for creating lightboard videos is a post-production digital horizontal flip of the video. I, however, am partial to the mirror model, which in addition to having a “cool” factor allows for the video to be uploaded instantly with no post-production processing.

So whimsy aside, what is a lightboard exactly? How and why would it be useful in teaching?  In most simple terms a lightboard is an illuminated sheet of glass on which an instructor writes with fluorescent markers, as on a  whiteboard or chalkboard. The major difference is that instructor is facing the “audience”. This is absolutely an improvement on the traditional chalkboard where an instructor’s back is facing the audience when writing and often, unfortunately, while speaking. As Peshkin says ” that just gives you a little bit better sense of engagement with your students as you’re talking, and gives them a better sense that they’re being spoken to, rather than somebody just writing.”

Some might argue that these videos are too instructor focused. I would argue however that the presence of the instructor is much of what makes these videos work. In part, it is the human presence that draws the viewer in and helps develop instructor immediacy, something often difficult to attain in online and blended course videos.  The other aspect is the potential for increased learning over a traditional voice-over PPT presentation. By actually watching the physical steps taken to solve a problem, for example, and seeing the visual emphasis placed on specific steps or items learning can be enhanced. A recent study by Pi el al. confirmed this; finding that student attention and learning was significantly increased using pointing gestures in recorded video lectures over non-human (PPT animation) cues or no cues at all (Pi et al., 2016).

I truly think the lightboard technology is not a gimmick, but is rather another great instructional tool that can be used to help explain challenging concepts. I believe that this technology can be used to create rich learning opportunities for flipped, blended and online courses.

I am currently working with our audio visual studio team to determine the feasibility of building a lightboard here at the University of Waterloo. I know a number of faculty already interested in using it and studying its educational value if we build it.  I would love to hear from others interested in using this technology when we have it operational, so please get in touch.


ELI: 7 things you should know about Lightboard

Northwestern Lightboard

UBC Lightboard

Pi, Z., Hong, J. and Yang, J. (2016), Effects of the instructor’s pointing gestures on learning performance in video lectures. Br J Educ Technol. doi:10.1111/bjet.12471


Mary Power

Mary Power

As Senior Instructional Developer, Blended Learning, Mary Power develops programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with faculty liaisons, Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), and Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services (ITMS), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. Mary is also involved in research projects related to the impact and effectiveness of blended learning.

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Thank you, Jane Holbrook, and all the best!

Observers of educational development at Waterloo will know that we’ve had a teaching centre onsite for 40 years. Christopher Knapper was the founder of the Teaching Resources and Continuing Education (TRACE) unit in 1976, which kept the same name until the 2006-2007 academic year, at which point a merger with Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3) and Learning Resources and Innovation (LRI) led to the formal creation of the Centre for Teaching Excellence pretty much as we know it today.

I think I’m feeling rather wistful and nostalgic at this point because our Senior Instructional Developer for Blended Learning, Jane Holbrook, retires this week. We can hardly believe this to be true, but true it is. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge Jane’s work with LT3 and CTE. It’s difficult for me to accept that this marks nearly 10 years since CTE’s inception, and the occasion of Jane’s retirement is cause for reflection about where we’ve come and where we’re going. Mainly, though, it’s an opportunity to appreciate Jane’s contributions to scholarship in the areas of blended learning and educational development, as well as her commitment to supporting our Waterloo teaching community over many years.

Jane back in the day

Jane started teaching courses in Biology here around 1989, but in or around 2001, prepared a report for Tom Carey in LT3 about a new model of support for educators in Waterloo’s six Faculties. The result? Our much-praised and oft-copied Faculty Liaison model. Jane took up one such role, for Science, and others followed soon thereafter. I can remember looking at LT3 first from my vantage point at Trent’s Interactive Learning Centre, and later from Guelph’s Teaching Support Services, with a certain amount of envy — in large part because of this model.

I was very happy to join CTE, then, and to work directly with people whose efforts and processes I’d admired from afar. I was not disappointed. In the 9 years I have worked here as a Senior Instructional Developer, I have relied on Jane as a source of wisdom, especially as I learned the ropes of managing other people and managing multiple projects.

Jane Holbrook Winter 2016
Jane in 2016

Jane is a model of honest, astute, intelligent leadership. She never shies away from difficult conversations, always provides incisive input on university-wide and CTE committees or as a personal mentor, and pulls more than her share of administrative weight at one of Canada’s largest teaching centres. I aspire to emulate her level-headed, savvy, and caring approach towards both people and projects.

Jane Holbrook gestures over a copper pot.
Jane blends stuff

Working on blended learning initiatives, Jane has applied her considerable creativity and scholarly approach in ways that have helped many professors to think differently about their practice, and indeed change that practice in ways that increase learning for many generations of students to date, and many more to come.

Thank you, Jane, and all the best in your own next steps. I am thrilled to be working alongside Mary Power, your replacement in the SID role, and will also miss you enormously.


As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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