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How and Why am I Making These Light-board Video Lectures

I’d like to address how and why I am making the recent light-board video lectures (please check them out: A/B testing and Simpson’s Paradox, and Bayes’s Law and Odds).


How is the easy part.

There are a number of tutorials on how to do this. The one I found particularly well produced and helpful was Elisa Valkyria’s “How to build your Own LIGHTBOARD”. I really suggest you check it out and press “like!”

Here is a picture of my latest setup.

IMG 1089

The plexiglass (from TAP plastic) looks pristine until you turn on the LED lights. You must have the lights on when cleaning it. The “trick” is you flip the video in post, so you don’t have to learn to write mirrored/backwards. Again, Elisa Valkyria teaches this very well.

What I am working on now is more control of the light levels, color balance, and sound. I had been hoping to use this live, but you need a camera with fairly good manual exposure control.

Nitin Pasumarthy just shared a really interesting survey on live teaching techniques: “Invisible Pen — make any screen a touchscreen without special hardware” that includes his interesting deep learning tracking solution. (One note, Nitin mentions the Apple Pen / iPad solution- I’ve tried that and the A/B testing lecture was actually designed for Logitech Pen / iPad; but it lacks some of the excitement of the live light-board).


The why is two parts:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The need to be disciplined in my professional teaching.

The COVID-19 pandemic

All of us are forced into a lot more isolation, less contact, and more video conferencing than is healthy. Just about any positive variation is welcome. I am researching methods to try and bring variety of presentation to live video teaching.

For example I’ve noticed one can take a cheap USB audio adapter (as shown below) and use a 3.5mm cable to plug the “speaker output” right back into the “microphone input.”

IMG 1090

This allows playing of pre-recorded videos with sound in Zoom meetings. You share your screen, tell your system to play into the adapter’s sound output and tell the Zoom software to take sound from adapter’s microphone port. Hopefully I can use this to share some short fun pre-prepared snippets. There is also software that does this, but I am trying to keep exposure to unknown software minimal.

The Need to be Disciplined in Professional Teaching

I also needed a place to put things that don’t fit into my current live online 8-day “data science intensive.” I’ve been delivering and tuning this course for about 2 years in person, and then during the pandemic remotely. And I learned the following.

  • The teaching has to be targeting a virtuoso performance. I may not always achieve that, but that is always the target.
  • Each topic needs pre-worked examples and backing material.
  • Even in an “8 full day course” you have to remove even small 5 to 20 minute topics. You might be able to squeeze in speaking through them, but the participants can only process so many concepts per day. You have to be ruthless in staying below that knowledge integration limit.

The data science intensive has been great. I have seen the participants develop effective knowledge and skills in days, for topics that took me a semester to master. Their brilliance is often humbling. However, it remains easy to overwhelm the participants and knock them out of their flow. To avoid this I have removed some small interesting topics from the course, and I am landing more and more of them as Win Vector blog articles, and short videos. This way if a participant asks me about these, we can talk a bit about, and recommend some resources; without side-tracking the rest of the group.


I know the solution to video fatigue is not more video. But I am hoping more variety helps a little bit.

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Data Scientist and trainer at Win Vector LLC. One of the authors of Practical Data Science with R.

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