TWU student Dave Garcia demonstrates a lightbox (Jacob Pettigrew/special to Langley Advance Times)

How students at Langley’s Trinity Western University came up with an inexpensive way to write in the air online

Low-cost transparent lightbox for instructors was developed as part of a student jobs program

Some Trinity Western University (TWU) students in Langley have developed an inexpensive version of transparent lightboards used for see-through writing in online instruction.

Computing science students Jacob Pettigrew and Dave Garcia spent $200 to build a prototype that allows an instructor to write things out on a transparent display that appears to hang in the air.

It is considerably less than the $2,000a commercial table top lightboard can cost, while a complete lightboard and recording system can cost up to $12,000.

It is party of a TWU summer job created by Computing Science professor Dr. Herbert Tsang to give students hands-on learning experiences during their time at TWU.

“The biggest motivation for me is to create much needed work-integrated experiences for students,” Tsang said.

The jobs were created with cooperation from several departments, including the University’s I.T. Department, the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and the COVID-19 Technology Support Task Force.

Through a matching grant from ECO Canada, Trinity Western hired the two students, to build lightboards – a glass “chalkboard” that is fully lighted and transparent, useful for lecture recording and remote teaching.

Pettigrew and Garcia started work on the project on July 20, and are committed to building two lightboards, more if they are able.

Pettigrew hopes to help other students succeed in their studies this fall, “I am excited about building the lightboards because I believe that the transition to online school in the fall will be difficult for many people, and the use of lightboards can make this transition easier.”

“Lightboards add a human element to online learning, as the instructor can interact with the students by looking directly into the camera while drawing and illustrating points on the lightboards,” he says.

Garcia adds, “As a student, I’m excited to interact with my professor instead of looking at a slide with texts.” With the lightboards, Garcia anticipates improved engagement between professors and their students, which will motivate students to learn.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Former TWU soccer player Paul Hamilton named to Canada West Hall Of Fame

“I hope that our work will improve the quality of life and atmosphere in our online classes for both students and professors,” Garcia says. “And lastly, I hope that the familiarity the lightboard offers will alleviate the stress that professors may have when shifting from a physical classroom to an online one.”

The team recently completed their first prototype and are now in the process of debugging. “We are still working out some of the details, but it seems to be working well,” says Dr. Tsang.

A lightboard is especially useful for recording video lectures and for online teaching, modes of education that are increasingly prevalent in the time of COVID-19.

For professors, lightboards provide a larger surface to write in a more natural manner. In this way, they are not limited to using pre-made slides and presentations, or to digital writing platforms.

For students, the lightboard allows them to watch the instructor’s face, as she writes and lectures, and not only her back.

READ ALSO: TWU professor honoured for Dead Sea Scroll research

Dr. Tsang remarks, “Delivering education online requires good tools and pedagogical skills. It is not just videotaping everything and putting it online.”

To ensure the well-being of students, staff, and faculty, Trinity Western is following the guidance of Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health to implement health and safety measures for the use of classrooms and labs.

TWU campuses are open and some experiential courses will be taught face-to-face according to health & safety protocols.

Due to the need for social distance and restricted gatherings, the majority of fall classes will need to be offered online.

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