The lightboard – making magic

The lightboard – making magic Safyr glass; lumo markers; black fabric; LED striplighting – it has all the features of magic making. And it does seem magical when it is in action. Meet our newest teaching tool – the lightboard.

Stats 1000 tutor, Imtyaz Rahim recording a video using the lightboard
Stats 1000 tutor, Imtyaz Rahim recording a video using the lightboard

The ‘lightboard’ is one clever innovation away from the original ‘black or white board’ which suits emerging online teaching spaces. Designed for lecturing to a camera so that the lecturer can be seen front-facing by the audience, it is a massive pane of glass on a metal frame – much like a whiteboard, but transparent. The lecturer speaks to the students (facing the glass and the camera) while making notes onto the glass lightboard. Of course, the writing will appear back-to-front during filming, but during the video processing phase, it gets reversed. Now the lecturer may suddenly appear left-handed (if they were right-handed) but the writing and numbers are corrected for the viewer! Have a look at the demonstration by CILT’s former Head of Digital Media, TinaShe Makwande:

Custom built for the Centre in Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) by UCT’s Mechanical Engineering Department’s construction and electrical workshop in 2015, this lightboard required many ingredients to make the magic happen. With the blessing of Mechanical Engineering head, Prof Knutson, engineering technicians Horst Emrich and Richard Whittemore designed and built the lightboard over several months to specifications supplied by CILT. There were issues around sourcing the correct materials including the crucial decision about what kind of glass would work? (Eventually, specially thickened safyr glass was selected). Other taxing issues included how to stabilize the huge contraption. It weighs over 60kg and stand more than 2m high. (Horst built special stabilising legs.) How to make it moveable since we did not have a large enough studio to store it? (Handles and very sturdy wheels with parking brakes!). How to ensure even lighting across the whole pane of glass? (Glueing the LED strip all around the perimeter).

First created by academics from Northwestern University in Illinois, USA who were making video lectures for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the academics shared the ‘recipe’ online as an open source design. It has been replicated in various online learning environments – here is an example from an Australian university MOOC (you can see the lightboard in action towards the end of the video) – and it can enhance online teaching, especially where students need to watch teachers work through problems step-by-step. UCT’s MOOC Climate Change Mitigation made in 2015 used the lightboard for some lectures and academics from UCT’s Statistics department have found the lightboard to be an invaluable teaching tool. They incorporate it into many of their online course lectures.

In September, the Stats educators filmed additional material for their existing online Stats 1000 course – mainly working through tough test questions which students have been struggling with. Veteran online instructor, Dr Leanne Scott inducted two of her tutors in the magic of how to use the lightboard for teaching.

For all its light and magic, the lightboard is not an impromptu teaching tool – it requires special set up (lighting is quite tricky) and meticulous planning, and practicing how to teach with it takes some time. But watching the results in online courses definitely indicate that for some concepts, the lightboard is an excellent resource for online teaching.

For a demonstration or to find out about CILT’s lightboard and filming rates, contact the head of Digital Media, Nawaal Deane (Nawaal.Deane@uct.ac.za).

Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion – new course launches

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Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion is the latest course to be developed by the UCT MOOCs project. As the title suggests, it deals with themes such as disability and diversity through the concept of inclusive education. Millions of children around the world are excluded from access to education because of a disability – their exclusion robs them of their potential and diminishes our society. Inclusive education is about addressing barriers to learning and participation, and transforming school communities to allow them to really benefit from inclusion.

Presented by Dr Judith McKenzie and Mrs Chioma Ohajunwa of the Disability Studies Programme at UCT, this course aims to help teachers, other professionals, and parents to tackle inclusion – in a practical way – in their own environment. Over six weeks, the course will look at the background of disability, and strategies for creating an enabling environment in the school and community through the following themes:

  • Week 1 – Why inclusion?
  • Week 2 – Education begins at home
  • Week 3 – Creating an inclusive school
  • Week 4 – Community partnerships for success
  • Week 5 – Changing classroom practices
  • Week 6 – Building networks

The promotion of inclusive education has wider implications for inclusion and diversity in society at large. As Judy mentions in her recent blog post on FutureLearn:

“Listening to a school principal who has contributed to this online course, I was struck by what she said about parents at her inclusive school. These parents did not grow up among children with disabilities, as during their childhood those children were either separated from other ‘normal’ children into special education programmes, or not sent to school at all. Parents can therefore often struggle more with the idea of inclusive education than the children themselves. This made me think about how powerful both exclusion and inclusion are in shaping the way we think about our world, and highlighted for me the need to promote inclusion in education if we are to develop a socially cohesive society in which everyone can participate and have a role to play.”

She goes on to explain:

“When we begin to understand how to include disability in our schools and classrooms it will have a knock-on effect on how we deal with other forms of diversity. Let me give you an example: when a child who has a visual impairment has their needs met in the classroom, the teacher might make an effort to ensure that everything that is presented visually is also read out orally, which not only helps this child learn, but at the same time makes it easier for children with low literacy levels and those who do not have a visual impairment but rather a more auditory style of learning. By catering for one form of diversity, the options become wider, embracing an ever greater range of difference.”

The course consists of video presentations, readings, and activities on each of the various topics covered. There is also a strong emphasis on interactivity promoted by the discussion forums on the FutureLearn platform. At the end of each week, Chioma interviews someone who is actively involved in the area of inclusive education. Excerpts from these interviews are included in the course in audio format, to facilitate access for those who may have low bandwidth. Together with the video lecture presentations on the course, these interviews provide insights from people ‘on-the-ground’, fighting for inclusive education.

In the first week’s interview, disability activist Looks Matoto says that “disability has made me an activist”, and does not believe inclusive education involves lowering standards, but rather “creat[ing] an enabling environment so that I may reach the same standard as you.”

Another interviewee, Marlene Le Roux, who is not only the mother of a disabled son but is also disabled herself, believes that “what was my blessing is that no-one had time to feel sorry for me…what was my saving grace is that there was no time for me to feel sorry for myself, because it was survival.”

Teacher Bokatsi Tshegetsang, who was interviewed about classroom practices says “as teachers sometimes we have this mentality that special education is for ‘those teachers’, that is what they are supposed to do ‘out there’, but it is for everyone, and being inclusive is something that you can include everywhere.”

The course message is amplified in the final week interview with school principal Fatima Shabodien who says “a child is not isolated, a child comes from a community, and communities evolve out of bigger structures, so we have to look at society in general when we look at any issue.”

The course starts 04 April on FutureLearn, and you can sign up for free here. Follow the course hashtag on Twitter #FLEd4All.

What is a mind? one of Best Online Courses of 2015

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At the end of 2015, the MOOC aggregator Class Central released their Best Online Courses of 2015 list. We were delighted to learn that the University of Cape Town’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) What is a mind? came in at number six out of their ten best courses. Furthermore, the course ranked second in the psychology category, and third among social science courses. MOOCs are free online courses with no entry requirements. The rankings are derived from learner ratings and therefore reflect learner satisfaction. As one of only three institutions from the Global South to make the “Top Ten”, this was a particularly pleasing outcome.

What is a mind? convened by Prof Mark Solms is one of UCT’s free online courses hosted on the British-based platform FutureLearn and emanates from the UCT MOOCs project – a initiative funded from the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund. This initiative has a number of objectives including sharing UCT’s teaching and learning with a wider audience as well understanding how people can learn in open online environments. This objective is of particular interest to the course design team, and in this post we reflect on some of the design features that we believe have led to engagement and positive user feedback.

How learners experience the course

We have known for a while that Prof Mark Solms’ What is a mind? course is an exceptional learning opportunity, if the learner comments are anything to go by. Learners appear to be intrigued by exploring what a mind is and how one can conceptualise aspects of the mind. Prof Solms’ work integrates perspectives from neuroscience and psychoanalysis so as to include subjective experience in scientific understandings the mind.

Participants are introduced to specific terminology and concepts in exploring four aspects of the mind: subjectivity, consciousness, intentionality and agency.

A combination of Prof Solms’ engaging lecturing style, that encourages dialogue and discussion, and the presence of course mentors to keep an eye on discussions gives learners the opportunity to join a community of peers and engage in rich discussions. As MOOCs are characterised by  open enrollment, diverse people from many backgrounds and contexts join the course, and a design challenge is to accommodate multiple voices.

A learner who was new to the field remarked:

“As a complete novice in this field I found this course really engaging and stimulating. Professor Mark Solms who presents the course is so enthusiastic about his subject, so that the whole complex subject comes across as entertaining rather than dry. I had to go over some sections again to fully understand them, but I was greatly aided by the comments section in the course where you could bounce ideas off each other”. (Review left on Class Central)

An additional highlight identified by participants is the ‘Ask Mark’ feature where Prof Solms provides weekly video responses to four questions submitted by students. This has had two distinct advantages: the course instructor and course designers can see what learners are grappling with and select those questions which garner most likes. As one learner remarked:

“The contributions from participants were particularly stimulating for this course, and the “Ask Mark” feature, where questions from the students were collated and then a few chosen to be responded to was a really good idea”.  (Review left on Class Central)

In addition, we found that learners started answering each other’s questions, which exhibited peer learning and students taking on teacherly roles. Participants also created short writing assignments which were then reviewed by their peers and could check their understanding by taking quizzes.

As course designers, we are pleased when a course is acknowledged by learners, and as we continue to learn about what makes MOOCs work, we deploy new strategies for social engagement and community formation in open online courses. Such strategies include looking for opportunities to connect learners with each other and amplifying the lead academic’s time and presence. Underpinning this is the FutureLearn platform on which the course is built and hosted; the platform is designed to privilege and support social learning and conversations, making it a good fit for this particular course.

Sign up for next run

Anyone with a general interest in how our minds work will find the course a meaningful experience. As one learner urges:

“Students of the mind will find this fascinating. Other mortals will be seduced into becoming students of the mind. Sign up for next time if you missed it!” (Review left on Class Central)

The course will be running twice this year and enrollment for the April run is now open.