Learning Glass helps professors connect with online students

By University Communications
April 7, 2016
Julie Zaloudek stands behind Learning Glass while recording a  video lecture. Her writing on the glass can be read by students because  the lecture is recorded via a mirror.

Photo: Julie Zaloudek stands behind Learning Glass while recording a
video lecture. Her writing on the glass can be read by students because
the lecture is recorded via a mirror.

 In a mostly dark studio in Millennium Hall, Julie Zaloudek stood in front of an illuminated pane of glass about the size of a large television.

From a control room came the voice of Ed Jakober, of Learning Technology Services at University of Wisconsin-Stout. “Quiet in the studio. OK. Smile,” he said as he turned on a video camera.

Zaloudek began to lecture for her Dynamics of the Family class for online students majoring in human development and family studies.

Facing a camera that was positioned on the other side of the glass, she wrote on the glass with a brightly colored marker.

Typically, with the camera opposite her, what Zaloudek was writing would appear backward. When the video was finished, however, students would be able to read her writing.

It was the simple magic of Learning Glass, a new tool for instructors at UW-Stout. Words and diagrams on the glass are flipped, using a mirror. The camera isn’t actually aimed at the professor; it’s aimed at the mirror.

Learning Glass is a see-through blackboard with a twist.

Zaloudek and colleagues are excited about Learning Glass, which allows them to face their online students when they record a diagrammed lecture, rather than use only a PowerPoint, audio or a computer webcam.

“None of those methods have the natural feel of being in a classroom,” said Zaloudek, an assistant professor. “With Learning Glass, you can see the instructors’ passion for the content we’re teaching. The student has the perception that we’re looking at them, and we like that.”

Amanda Barnett writes on Learning Glass.

Along with Zaloudek, Assistant Professor Amanda Barnett and Associate Professor Kevin Doll began using Learning Glass this semester. Their earliest HDFS recorded lectures already have been shown to students.

The idea for Learning Glass came from Jamison Patrick, of the Stout Online instructional design team. He saw a video about Learning Glass by a San Diego State professor who created one.

Patrick and Mike Cropp at the UW-Stout Discovery Center Fab Lab designed and built their own Learning Glass last fall using quarter-inch thick tempered glass mounted on a stand. Learning Technology Services created the set for videotaping.

“This provides an opportunity to be more engaging to our students,” Patrick said. “It’s low-cost and the return on investment is high. The possibilities are endless with e-learning.”

Teaching advantages

The professors have been working on the best ways to use Learning Glass. Zaloudek, Barnett and Doll have been recording lectures on theories in five- to eight-minute segments.

“Theories can be hard to understand, so this is another resource,” Barnett said, noting that a theory lecture recorded by a professor who’s an expert in one area can be used by other professors, improving instruction and saving time. “We’re coming together so students can hear different voices.”

Julie Zaloudek prepares to record a lecture in the studio.A Learning Glass lecture on Critical Theory Sample by Zaloudek can be seen here. A lecture on Social Exchange Theory by Barnett can be seen here.

Other advantages of Learning Glass include options to:

  • Review, change and re-record lectures before students see them
  • Use the recordings in future semesters and other classes
  • Use the technology in live classrooms
  • Make the lectures open source, or available to the public
  • Show lectures to prospective students

Professors restrict writing and diagramming to the single pane of glass per lecture because erasing is more time-consuming than on a chalkboard. However, they see that as a Learning Glass positive because it forces them to be more concise and to record in shorter segments.

Once the system is refined, Jakober hopes to provide a turn-key operation for professors. They could turn on the camera in a designated studio space, record and upload their video, clean the glass and leave with no staff assistance.

When finished, the videos are captioned.

Zaloudek and Barnett hope other professors at UW-Stout who teach online courses will begin using Learning Glass. UW-Stout’s Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center hopes to offer a training and support program, a Community of Practice, for professors who want to use it.

Eventually, students and professors will be surveyed to determine the value of and best ways to use Learning Glass.

UW-Stout Online

Online program popularity continues to grow at UW-Stout, one of the leaders in the UW System with 13 undergraduate and 17 graduate online degree programs. Nearly 1,800 students were enrolled in online classes in fall 2015.

Enrollment in the online Bachelor of Science program for human development and family studies, for example, has grown from 23 five years ago to 133.

Learning Glass is another step in the evolution of online instruction. “We take customized instruction very seriously. We want to get rid of the barriers students face,” Zaloudek said.

Learn more at UW-Stout Online.



Second Photo: Amanda Barnett writes on Learning Glass as she records a lecture.

Third Photo: Julie Zaloudek prepares to record a video lecture using Learning Glass.