January 28, 2020

What is the 21st Century blackboard?

In the fall I’ll be back from the FTC and teaching again. I want to draw on the wisdom of FtT readers to help me figure out what technology I should be using to present material to students in the classroom. It’s a lecture class, teaching security and privacy to a class of 175 students, mostly computer science majors.

What should be my primary technology for presenting material?

In recent years I have preferred a technology called a “blackboard.” For those not familiar with this technology, it uses a large flat light-absorbing panel (the “blackboard”), across which I scrape a small cylinder of soft rock (“chalk”), leaving a residue on the board. I like the blackboard because it regulates my pace of presentation, because it allows students to see a lot of material at the same time, and because I can go back and modify / emphasize / point at material I have written. I like the physicality of the board — I am right there next to the board, the lights are on, and I can point at things for emphasis. (But I don’t like turning my back on the students while writing, nor the dust that gets on everything.)

I dislike canned PowerPoint style presentations for lecturing, because there tends to be less material visible to students at a time, because it gives me less opportunity to improvise in response to student questions, because it is less natural to refer to past material or emphasize a point, and ultimately because I think it pushes me toward an overly scripted lecturing style that conveys less nuance and enthusiasm for the material. I used to lecture with PowerPoint but for the last decade or so I have used the blackboard, and I think my teaching is better that way.

But it seems to me that there should exist a higher-tech approach that combines the advantages of the blackboard with the advantages of electronic media. I want something that I can use in an existing tech-enabled classroom, and that will scale up to a class of, say, 200 students.

What should I use? Please educate me in the comments.

RIP Bill Zeller

All of us here at CITP were saddened by the death of Bill Zeller, our respected and much-loved colleague. Bill was a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science here at Princeton, who died last night due to injuries sustained in a suicide attempt.

There has been a huge outpouring of sympathy for Bill, both at Princeton and across the Internet, which is entirely appropriate. But I’d like to focus here on the positive side of Bill’s life.

Bill has made at least two appearances here on Freedom to Tinker, first as the instigator of the Miraculin experiment (Miracle Fruit: Tinkering with our Taste Buds), then later for his research on web security (Popular Websites Vulnerable to Cross-Site Request Forgery Attacks).

Bill always had a new project brewing. His projects ranged from the quirky (the cult favorite Cats in Christmas Trees site) to an early blogging tool (Zempt, which was incorporated into Movable Type) to many useful software development tools (such as jLambda). Tens of millions of people have read or used something that Bill created.

Bill’s sense of humor was much appreciated by his friends. He would sometimes go to considerable lengths for the sake of a joke. Once, for the sake of an office joke, he created a technology package including an online game, an RSS-based miniblogging tool, and a screen saver. Then, later, he shut it all down, as a birthday present for the friend who was the target of his (good-natured) joke.

We have many, many fond memories of Bill, more than we could possibly fit here.

Those of you who knew Bill are invited to add your own fond memories in the comments.

CITP Seeks Visitors for 2011-2012

The Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) seeks candidates for positions as visiting faculty members or researchers, or postdoctoral research associates for one year appointments for the 2011-2012 academic year. Please see our website for additional information and requirements at http://citp.princeton.edu/call-for-visitors/.

If you are interested, please submit a CV and cover letter, stating background, intended research, and salary requirements, to jobs.princeton.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=60250.

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