Monday, February 26, 2007

The write-on thing on the wall.

Over on Scary Monster's blog is a post a Zen master would be proud of. It's called 'What to do with a pristine blackboard' and it's blank. It's the sort of thing that forces brain cells to do what they're paid for.

Trouble is, I'm in the UK. You can't have a 'black' board because it's racist. (You figure it out. I never could). When I started lecturing, the blackboards gradually vanished to be replaced by green ones. The PC crowd clearly hadn't met Scary or green wouldn't have been allowed either.

We had to refer to it as 'chalkboard'. I called it the greenboard, as a minor act of defiance.

Enter Health and Safety, in pinstriped bubble-wrap suits. Chalk dust is dangerous, despite the fact that everyone who's studied chemistry knows that calcium carbonate is inert. So no more chalkboards.

They were all replaced with whiteboards, which are, curiously, not racist. Again, I hit upon another minor act of defiance and referred to it as 'The write-on thing' because surely no PC cretin could ever find anything to object to in that term. Perhaps it's some oblique slight on the illiterate, but since they can't read this, how can they be offended?

The death-dealing chalk was replaced with dry-wipe marker pens which produced copious quantities of (presumably safe) dust when dry, and exposed the lecturer to (presumably harmless) organic volatile solvents. Throwing a dry-wipe soft cloth at a student was far less effective than throwing a wood-backed board-wiper, but they'd already banned that anyway.

A few years later, and these whiteboards were deemed old hat. By now you're starting to wonder who's paying for these wholesale changes. I wondered the same thing. Now, lectures are put up on computer-driven projectors at a speed no student could ever match with note-taking.

When we had blackboards (there, I said it--but I'm not racist, I know several people who are boards) the student's rate of writing had only to match the lecturer's. The transfer of information was slower, but it was at a pace that the human brain could assimilate. Even with the transition through greenboard to write-on thing, this was still true. The overhead projector with Powerpoint-driven graphics delivers information at a rate only a Dalek could assimilate.

By the time I left lecturing, students no longer took notes because it had become impossible to do so. They dozed through lectures and downloaded the Powerpoint files from the university website later.

Not in my lectures. I still used the write-on thing. I also insisted on the continued use of something that has fallen out of fashion. Speech.

Students are bombarded with information now. Their brains are full before they're halfway through their courses. Students are dropping out and burning out. They have no time to absorb and digest one lecture's worth of information before the next info-blast comes along.

A few things for today's lecturers to consider: Faster does not always mean better. University education cannot work on assembly-line principles. Student brains are not fitted by Intel.

Give students time to think. That's what you should be training them to do.


Scary Monster said...

Romulus appy polly logies for not returning sooner and continuing the conversation about the vampire lady. Me has just finished reading your rejoinder and you made some really excellent points. Me also wants to thank you for the notice on me blank board piece (they not always be blank.

Information be not knowlege. Me has met dozens of students who can spew out all sorts of facts and figures with appropriate statistics to back them up, but they don't understand how the info relates to the world around them.

Slow can be a good thing. It seems that many have forgotten that.

Romulus Crowe said...

Appy polly logies? Do I sense the influence of a certain clockwork orange hereabouts?

It's true that the whole world seems to want to move ever faster these days. I expect, when a lot of the currently-young reach the end of their alloted time, they'll look back on their lives and think 'Damn! I missed it!'

There's now a nominated 'go home on time' day in the UK. In most places of work - and universities are prime examples - excessive working is not only encouraged, it's expected. Those who arrive on time and leave on time, effectively working only the hours they're actually being paid for, are seen as lazy. Someone worked out how much money's-worth of free work UK employers were getting out of their work force these days. I can't remember the actual figure, but it ended in 'billions'.

I recommend self-employment. You stop paying, I stop working.

Southern Writer said...

More ignorance, prejudice, and a Baptist preacher:

Romulus Crowe said...

"If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated," said Pastor Ron Saunders

This guy must have mixed up Jesus with Hitler, from what I've read. So much for the compassion of Christianity. With Pastors like this it's no wonder church attendance is in decline.

I don't see why surgery, even surgery as radical as this, bars anyone from any public post or from religion. Surely religion is concerned with the soul, and no amount of surgery can alter that, can it? The issue of the job should be concerned only with ability, not appearance (unless it's the job of catwalk model, in which case the less appearance, the better).

People are not like sheep. Sheep would not reject one of their own over something so trivial.

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