News & Features

FVCC Introduces New Technology to Improve Online Learning

New technology comes as number of online students rapidly increases

Distinguished colleges and universities across the country, including Notre Dame, Columbia, Stamford and now Flathead Valley Community College, are adopting a new technology called Lightboard that is improving online learning. And while FVCC may seem like an outlier in that distinguished list, the Kalispell-based college is no less excited about offering classes using the new video system.

The technology is part chalkboard and part projection screen that creates an online learning environment that simulates face-to-face teaching, according to Assistant Chemistry Professor David Long, who helped bring the system to FVCC. Prior to coming to college three years ago, Long taught at the University of Colorado and Montana State University.

“In a classroom, I can make gestures to students and look them in the eye. Now we can do that online,” Long said. “Nonverbal communication is important because you can emphasize things with your body language.”

Michael Peshkin at Northwestern University developed the Lightboard system a few years ago. A Lightboard uses a glass panel as an invisible chalkboard, which allows instructors to teach in front of a digital video camera. After the lesson is shot, the instructor can overlay images and graphics that appear to float in the air.

Long said the technology creates a more realistic online experience and is better than just watching an online power point presentation.

“I have a very interactive style of teaching and I was afraid that it would be lost if I was teaching online,” Long said.

Studies have shown students tend to do better in a classroom environment than in an online class, but Long hopes Lightboard can improve that discrepancy.

The entire Lightboard system, which is set up in a small classroom in the Occupational Trades Building, cost about $7,000 and was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistant Community College and Career Training Grant Program.

FVCC instructors first used Lightboard at the beginning of last year and have now made nearly 40 different videos covering everything from chemistry to math. Long said that as more instructors use the technology the better it will become.

FVCC administrators said improving their online offerings is an important goal as more students take classes via the Internet. In 2005, 166 students took at least one online course. Now, more than 600 students take an online course every semester. Some students don’t even live in the valley and have taken classes from California and Alaska.

For more information about Lightboard, visit www.fvcc.edu/academics/online-education/lightboard.html.

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