Lightbulb moments

Dr Robert Ross talks Engineering Ed-Tech

By Dr Giselle Roberts

Engineering senior lecturer, Dr Robert Ross, has combined his love of teaching with his passion for building gadgets. The result: teaching technology that pushes the button on innovation, quite literally.

We asked Ross about green screens, lightboards, escape games and student engagement.


“I use technology to create engaging learning environments. One of my first forays into this area was experimenting with green screens. I saw a seminar that used this technology, came back to my office, and set one up myself. It allows me to cut out the background and superimpose myself over the lecture notes. Gone are the PowerPoint voiceovers and the cluttered office backgrounds. This simple technique has made my five-minute online lectures a lot more interesting.

My next Ed-Tech idea involved lightboards. Most lecturers write on whiteboards with their back to the class, but a lightboard changes all that. It is a large piece of glass with a camera attached. It flips the image on the glass, allowing the lecturer to use it as a forward-facing whiteboard. Add some neon markers, and a conventional teaching practice is transformed into an interesting learning experience. The Lightboard Studio, available for College use, is equipped with a lightboard, a video camera and an editing suite featuring Camtasia software.”


“Escape games have grown in popularity over the past decade. Small teams are virtually locked in a room with a series of puzzles they must solve within a specified time in order to ‘escape’.

I decided to use this concept to transform team-based work in my engineering subjects. I built a collection of escape room decoder boxes containing a keypad, LCD screen and timer. Teams of students are provided with an immersive storyline and a series of questions and must work together to solve them. When they punch in the required code, they find out if they are correct or not.

The feedback has been incredible. Suddenly teamwork is exciting and students say they have uncovered areas of understanding they never knew they had. Under pressure, some students have realised, ‘Hey, I can actually solve this.’ We have ten decoder boxes at the moment and have just received a $50K grant from Telematics Trust to build more. We have just made it Open Source and will shortly be presenting it at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Conference on Games in London.”

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