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Faculty | Sep 17, 2020 |

Paul Lynch: Reimagining the Classroom Space

By Claire Curry

When Covid-19 struck in March, transitioning from teaching in person to an entirely virtual format in a matter of a couple of weeks was every educator’s challenge. 

Clinical Associate Professor of Accounting Paul Lynch, Ph.D., was in the middle of teaching four undergraduate accounting courses, including a new course he developed and was teaching for the first time, Accounting for Derivatives. 

“The accounting courses I teach are quantitative in nature,” he says. “In class, I derived most relationships on the white board and it became difficult if not impossible to continue that approach online.”

While Lynch turned to Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate to teach classes virtually, there were many limitations. He was determined to find a way to create a more interactive learning experience for his students, anticipating that virtual learning would continue well into the fall.

“I have to keep students engaged,” he says. “So, I got to thinking that there had to be something else out there. I did some research online and I came across this idea for a lightboard.”

Originally designed by Michael Peshkin, Ph.D., a mechanical engineering professor at Northwestern University, the lightboard could best be described as a glass chalkboard. The presenter is on one side of the glass lightboard. A video camera and several large LED monitors are on the other. The video camera reverses what the presenter writes on the lightboard so it doesn’t appear backwards, and LED lights illuminate it from the top, bottom and sides. The result is that viewers can see the presenter as well as what he or she is writing in real time.

Intrigued, Lynch dug deeper and found YouTube videos that explain how to build a lightboard. In just a few days, he created a prototype with $90 worth of supplies from Lowes.

Though his prototype worked—he tested it successfully with a Gabelli School colleague—it wasn’t quite large enough for his purposes and it needed a lot of fine-tuning, a process that would take too long to have the lightboard up and running in time for the fall.  So, he found a company in Iowa that builds and sells a professional turnkey, customizable system, and he bought it.

“I said ‘I need this thing right now, I can’t wait,’” says Lynch, who turned a spare bedroom in his Bayonne, NJ, home into a high-tech studio complete with blackout walls to house the 400-lb. state-of-the-art lightboard system. Using overlays of PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets, students now watch their professor solve advanced accounting problems in real time during Zoom conference sessions.

The first time Lynch used the lightboard, they were mesmerized. “They didn’t know what to make of me,” he says, adding that he appeared from the waist up against a black background as if he were floating in space. “They were asking ‘Where are you?’”

While the classroom experience promises to look different indefinitely, Lynch says that the tool allows him to create a valuable approximation to in-person teaching and learning. “It’s a fantastic instrument and this is only the beginning. I can’t wait to see what technology will be coming down the pike in the future.”

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