Building a Crystal Clear Whiteboard


[Michael Peshkin] teaches mechanical engineering at Northwestern University. He likes to use diagrams to illustrate his point, but he also likes to face his students when doing so. His solution was to develop this clear whiteboard which ends up unlocking a lot more than just some hand-drawn schematics.

It’s a bit hard to see what he’s written on the board in the image above but squint and see if you can figure out what’s wrong with this style of teaching? Everything he’s writing is backwards. That’s not actually a problem in this case as [Michael] uses flip teaching. He records and posts all of his lectures online. Classroom time is then used for question and answer on the lecture subjects. In order to get the text to read the correct way he just bounces the camera off of a mirror.

The board itself is a huge sheet of tempered glass attached to the metal frame using bolts through holes in the pane. This leave the edges free. He added extruded rail to the top and bottom to embed strips of LEDs. They light the inside of the glass, and excite the fluorescent dry erase marker ink making it much more visible. [Michael] didn’t stop with the board, he  also rigged up a lighting system that gives him a lot of options, and uses a monitor for dealing with digital overlays. He can put up a diagram on the computer, watching the monitor to see where his marker is making annotations. All this happens in real-time which means no post production! See a demo of these features after the break.

This could all be done without the glass at all, but that would make it quite a bit more difficult for the person doing the writing.

[Thanks Kevin]


  1. Wandererereree says:

    So, he likes to face his audience in a video? Rite. That’s important, I guess.

  2. Me says:

    That’s pretty awesome

  3. TM says:

    “Flip Teaching” taken Very literally!

  4. jwrm22 says:

    Writing backwards is not so easy… Nice concept.

  5. fartface says:

    Very cool he gives away how to replicate it instead of keeping it secret and making everyone think he has the natural ability to write in reverse.

  6. jamen says:

    that is one expensive build.

  7. Laszlo says:

    I would love to see some of his lecture videos.
    I think one must be the university’s student to get access.:(

  8. Derp says:

    I blame dan if i get reported.

  9. defaultex says:

    Would likely be a cheaper viable alternative to use acrylic glass in place of the tempered glass. Just have to make sure you buff the surface really well to get that crystal clear appearance.

    • Philip says:

      One notes he makes is that the sapphire glass is more resistant to scratching as markers and erasers are run over the surface over time,

    • colecoman1982 says:

      I’d be concerned about the acrylic staining over time much like what happens to homemade whiteboards made from Tileboard/melamine. While it’s more of an aesthetic thing with the whiteboard, here it would really effect the quality of the production due to the reliance on the clarity of the glass.

  10. Sean says:

    This is totally rad. Its like a high budget instructional video but all practical effects done in realtime. I love this.

  11. pcf11 says:

    What a strange op amp circuit he’s drawn. Why he needs that transistor input, or puts the feedback on the negative side I’ve really no idea.

  12. Philip says:

    This is too cool. As a prof in the mechanical engineering dept., who also teaches electronics, I now need this.

  13. Jason says:

    I watched some of the lectures that Laszlo found, and it seems that the students all got an electronics kit to take home. The heart of the kit is an nscope ( Where, for the love of caffeine, can I get one of those units?

  14. hojo says:

    I was impressed with the concept, but then when I saw the actual video… WOW!

    I’m curious about the drilling though. I was under the impression that tempered glass couldn’t be drilled.

  15. h_2_o says:

    insert comment about glorified weatherman here……

    all joking aside it is a nice bit of work he did.

  16. Hirudinea says:

    Neat, he needs to add augmented reality to replace his powerpoints, but nice.

  17. loling says:

    This is completely brain dead.

  18. Robot says:

    Cool professors FTW!

  19. dan m says:

    one of my favorite profs – he runs the robotics competition :)

  20. Bob says:

    I don’t know why lecturers insist on repeatedly writing things out instead of honing a presentation and talking through it. Just makes it hard to read, no consistent notes to follow, points missed, etc.

    • Chris says:

      Because when you hone one presentation, you get slack and you don’t update it regularly, so your lecture becomes more and more useless with time… See it as the inverse of Moore’s law. I do agree that presentations is often more useful, but not all lecturers have time to make new presentations each time. Also, some people feel using a presentation is more like preaching or just repeating, while when they write, they feel one with the work so they give you their insight. If they do however write on the board from a book or scrap paper, then they are just plain lazy.

    • Okian Warrior says:

      The act or writing can be followed by the reader. It helps the learning process to watch the hand-drawn words.

      Having him “speak” the words while writing triggers more modes in the human brain. Our mirror neurons trick us into feeling the writing process (touch), while reading the words (sight) and hearing the words (hear). By triggering several modes simultaneously, the viewer is more likely to understand the topic.

      (When you explain things, some people will say “I see”, some will say “I hear you”, and some will say “that feels right”. This is a clue to the mental mode they work from, and you can tun your explanation to better trigger that mode.)

      Just showing the text suddenly robs the viewer of some of those perceptive clues.

  21. Kerimil says:

    very few people understand how difficult it is to teach and flip the things you present so that they appear the way they should.

  22. joern says:

    I’ve shown the same style but just using a TabletPC on SIGGRAPH 2011:

  23. joern says:

    Same setup, two years old:

  24. Very cool. Hope something like this is standard. Think Iron Man work lab.

  25. jfsimon says:

    woohoo, $16,133 setup !

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