Note: This was not intended as a separate post but, rather, as a response to a comment on the previous one. As usual, I rambled and decided to just put it as a post instead of as a comment.
Regarding displays, you’you’ve got me thinking, now, especially the ones needed in large, post-secondary classrooms. Here’s my perspective:
The first 18 years of my teaching career my mainstay was the chaulkboard. All of the classrooms in my school had them right across the front. Around 20 feet wide and set around 3’ above the floor, then around 5.5 feet high or so, reaching pretty much as high as anyone could. I taught around 10-11 courses per year and used the board for each one. For its time it was effective but it was also very, very messy. Each evening I’d be so full of chaulk dust I could not even run a comb through my hair! Chaulk does not like hair! What’s more all my clothes would be completely dusty. If anyone patted my back, a huge white cloud would rise! Besides, the yellowish-white chaulk did not make a good contrast with the green board and, as such, was often hard to read at any distance.
Then there were the overheads. I used them from time to time but didn’t really like it. I much preferred the broad expanse of the chaulkboard for much the same reasons as you mentioned but also because it kept me moving. I could, of course, prepare my overheads in advance but the students did not really like that—more in THAT in just a bit.
Ordinary whiteboards—the ones with the markers—were just coming on stream when I got seconded to the Department of Education. I didn’t use them much but did not like them anyway. First, they were far too stinky for most students. In any class I had there would be a student who found the smell a problem—allergies or asthma meant that using them was irresponsible. Second, though they were—and are—bloody hard to wipe. In k-12 you have to clean your own and, let me tell you, it’s very hard to do well. Then, of course, along came the water-based markers but they were still stinky and just as hard to clean. Oh, and then there’s that foul substance marketed as whiteboard cleaner. It’s nasty.
Now, in the midst of all of this I got seconded to the DOE to be one of the first two DE online teachers of physics. That was 1992 and, despite not having Internet, we still had a digital telewriter and audioconference. I wrote on my electronic tablet in St. Johns and my writing appeared on all of the 20” CRT displays in all of our remote sites. It worked. First I used to just write freehand but I that first year O took the time to prepare slides using a paint program (that was before PowerPoint) and we installed the on the hard drives of all of the remote computers. I thought it was going to be brilliant but, alas, the students thought otherwise. All of those students who had me the previous year asked me to go back to doing it the old way. The pre-done screens were too intimidating; too boring. I settled back and redid them all, meeting the students part way. The new slides had diagrams (or partial diagrams if they were complex) and I would write in the solutions an derivations live. That worked well and, in fact, we continue to do much the same today. But that’s the online, virtual class and cannot be done in the large classrooms.
So, for those we still have chaulkboards and ordinary whiteboards.
But we also have most classrooms with projectors, screens and computers with PowerPoint. Instructors can show very nicely prepared slides to the students and they can follow along (or hop online). It’s okay but t suffers from the same issues my students warned me about back in 1993 when I tried it using slides done with paint software. They are boring and intimidating. I really don’t like them for anything but a formal “lecture.” For class I really don’t like this.
Then there’s Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) such as Smartboards. They are clean, easy to use and erase. What’s more there are great simulations online, when needed. The software that ships with them is much better suited to classroom use than is PowerPoint. Besides, students love interacting with them. Unfortunately, they, too suffer from several major flaws. First, they are extremely expensive. A typical classroom setup will set you back around $7000 when you count in the board, computer and installation. Unbelievable! Let me do some quick math: $1200 for s decent ultra-short throw projector, $600 for a PC, $450 for installation (assuming 2 people, each for a half-day labour). The boards are mostly based on simple, resistive technology and, in truth, cost around $500 to make. Now, let’s add it up…let’s see, I get less than $3000 any way I look at it. You know, Dave, that means someone is pocketing around $4000 profit from each installation. Good Gravy!
But that’s not the only issue, the large ones around 8’ wide by 4’ high. That’s great for a HS classroom but minuscule by lecture theatre standards. No good for classes bigger than 40 if everyone is expected to actually view it. Now, that said, there’s another issue. IWBs work better when you let the students use them so we really need several in a classroom to make it work. There’s no way any educational institution can afford that.
I should note that I am coming at this from the perspective of HS and Post-Secondary. Let me also say this: any classroom below grade 9 that does not have at least one IWB can consider itself deprived. I should also admit that I would not want to teach in a HS classroom without one either.
As for large lecture theatres, though: forget it; too small.
OK then there’s the interactive Podium style of machines. These are large touchscreens that face the prof and which are mirrored on a MUCH larger display at the front of the room. They’re sort of like an IWB that uses a stylus. At my former work I had the chance to borrow one from the guys down in the shop for a few weeks as it was lying around for a while before they could get to install it. I spent quite a few hours experimenting with it and found it not bad. I could not get used to writing on the vertical screen bot found it tolerable when mounted more-or-less horizontally. There was one BIG problem, though, that I just could not get past.
In a class, when you are leading, students will tend to look where you are. You can have some real fun with this. Next time you are in a large class, just take 5 seconds to look intently at either one of the walls on the side or at the ceiling. Out of the corner of your eye, observe the class. You will find that the ones who are not shopping online or doing Facebook will be looking at exactly the spot on the wall or the ceiling that you are looking at. So this is fine with whiteboards, chaulkboards and such. Obviously you are looking at what you write and so are the students. With the stylus and touchscreen, though, you are looking at one place and expect the students to look at the big screen. This creates a permanent disconnect between you and your students that is very hard to get around.
Then, of course, there’s one more thing that does not really exist very well yet (yes, it can be done but it’s clumsy and hardly worth the bother at this point)—an IWB that automatically mirrors to tablets and laptops in the room. Yes, it can be made to work but, think about it (a) it suffers from the same problem as does the podium just discussed and (b) besides if you really wanted to run a class this way, why not make it a distance class, go get a license to use the very excellent Blackboard Collaborate software and just tell everyone to participate from home.
So there it is. Here we are, well into the 21st century and, at least in my opinion, there still does not exist an excellent display device that is well-suited for larger classrooms and lecture theatres.