February 20, 2018

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.