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I've been tinkering with the idea of installing several glass boards in the lab & offices instead of white boards. They look cool, and seem to erase better. But I do not have extended experience using them.

What are the pros and cons of using glass boards compared to white boards in general?

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    Glass dry-erase boards are more expensive, heavier, and may not be magnetic. I guess a glass board with a white, magnetic backing would often be the nicest option – just also the most expensive. (also, safety – make sure it's made from safety glass) – Moriarty Sep 28 '15 at 14:25
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    One major disadvantage of glass boards is that "the kids these days" like to take a picture of the board at the end of a meeting to preserve the discussion, but glass boards are much more difficult to photograph (at least with flash). – potentially dense Sep 28 '15 at 14:39
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    @Fomite: Have you tried that? I'd assume the reflection is coming off the front surface, not the back. That said, a flash is unhelpful in this situation regardless. – Reid Sep 28 '15 at 16:41
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    Is no one going to mention chalk? – Alec Teal Sep 28 '15 at 19:39
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    In the old days, we used to call them windows. – Federico Poloni Sep 29 '15 at 0:05
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When I was a grad student, I mounted a 1x2 meters glass plane in front of a white wall at my place. It was great for scribbling stuff and for large drawings. I also developed the habit of drawing on the glass doors at my previous lab, because the closest whiteboard was in another room.

The big advantage: glass is very smooth, you will never have stains accumulating like on a white board. No matter how zealous you or the cleaning staff is, white boards are a bit porous and the material deteriorates with time (UV radiations, etc.) and becomes even more porous, making it harder to clean up. For the same reasons, if you inadvertently use a permanent marker instead of a white board marker, it's easy to clean it up. Finally, existing glass structures also provide large surfaces for drawing.

The disadvantages: lighting (back lighting, shadows, etc.) can impede reading what you wrote. It helps if the glass is placed immediately in front of a white wall. Also, the cleaning staff might erase your brilliant ideas overnight because they were instructed to clean all windows.

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    +1 I also used the windows next to my workstation to write on for some years and never had any problems cleaning off the dry erase marker 100%. – fgysin Sep 28 '15 at 14:43
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    @CapeCode I'm suspecting there's some personal experience behind that last line. My apologies. :( – tonysdg Sep 28 '15 at 15:47
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    When I was a grad student, we had offices on the 4th floor. We used the windows as whiteboards. One day the departmental administrator came by, saw the windows covered with equations, and flipped out: "Do you have any idea how it costs to hire a crane to wash these windows?" We tried to very gently explain that we only wrote on the inside.... – Corvus Sep 29 '15 at 2:17
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    Permanent marker can be pretty easy to erase if you simply write over it with a good dry erase marker (i.e. one that actually erases as opposed to smears). – 8bittree Sep 29 '15 at 2:37
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    @Corvus: ROFL. Great example of administrative doofus-ness – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 29 '15 at 11:39
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I find actual whiteboards easier to read than plain glass due to the see-through nature of glass. Some places have glass walls that face a hallway or glass windows in their office doors that people use as writing surfaces with dry-erase markers. That can be fine, but the fact that you can see through the surface can be very distracting when writing/reading the "board".

Regular whiteboards can be hard to keep clean and should be regularly wiped with a wet cloth or paper towel, in my experience, and then dried with a clean cloth or paper towel. This seems to keep them readable and usable longer than using a dry-erase board eraser which seem to do a poor job of removing the dry-erase marker dust. This is very similar to what places with good janitorial services do with their chalkboards (i.e., wash them frequently). I don't know about the long-term issues cleaning glass which has been used with dry-erase markers, but I assume the issues of getting the marker dust off are similar. Wash them to clean them.

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    About chalkboards: it is best to have them be "seasoned" by having enough chalk imbedded in them so that new marks go on smoothly and erase smoothly. Except for absolutely-top-of-the-line blackboards, a newly-washed blackboard is goofy to write on, and very hard to erase. So, in fact, not so much washing by custodial staff, is my preference. – paul garrett Sep 28 '15 at 16:01
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    @paulgarrett: You would be unhappy in Germany! The standard there seems to be that there are chalkboards but no ordinary erasers; instead each lecture hall has a bucket of water, a large sponge, and a squeegee. The lecturer is expected to use these to wash the board every time it needs to be cleared. Of course this means the board is unusable for a minute or two until it dries completely. But it never gets seasoned at all, and so you couldn't really erase it properly with an eraser even if you wanted to. – Nate Eldredge Sep 28 '15 at 17:45
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    @NateEldredge, yes, I'd heard about this. At Oberwolfach it did not seem uniformly to be the case, mercifully. :) – paul garrett Sep 28 '15 at 18:15
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    Ad paragraph 2: I've droped those pesky felt (?) erasers you get with the boards and use a microfiber cloth designed for cleaning windows now. When slightly damp, it perfectly cleans even older whiteboards that took some beating. – Raphael Sep 28 '15 at 22:41
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    @NateEldredge At my (German) university, we have a) sinks and b) squeegees in >95% of all lecture rooms. Definitely chalkboards, though. – Raphael Sep 28 '15 at 22:43
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The whiteboards we have are easier to read than the glass boards, even though the latter have a white backing etc. Whiteboard markers do not mark in the same way. I was using both kinds of board today with the same pens. On the whiteboard, the ink is darker. The students could read both, but it was a small group in a small room. Writing on the glass board is more of a struggle than the whiteboards - not horrible, but the difference is distinctly noticeable if you are using one one moment and the other the next. The whiteboard definitely is easier/clearer.

In the newest rooms, we have glassboards on three walls. This creates a great deal more glare than whiteboards would. This can be a bit uncomfortable and colleagues of mine have mentioned getting headaches from the light. This is despite the fact that these rooms also have newer lighting systems i.e. spotlights and panels of diffuse light rather than the older strip lights.

  • I'm curious. Have you tried chalk markers instead of whiteboard markers on those glass boards? – Raphael Sep 29 '15 at 8:50
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    @Raphael No. I don't even know what they are, to be honest with you. We just have white board markers or chalk. – cfr Sep 29 '15 at 13:15
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    They are used by restaurants and such to write stuff on glass. Amazon has some; maybe you want to try? – Raphael Sep 30 '15 at 19:02

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