Is This What Teaching Used to be Like?

I started teaching right around the time tools like PowerPoint first came on the scene. Since I’ve always liked to try out new technologies, I would give these tools a shot if I thought they would enhance my teaching.

The first presentation software I worked with was a great program called Compel, which I thought was better than PowerPoint in many ways. Here’s a description of Compel from 1994:

Compel is a full-featured graphics presentation product that allows user to produce interactive, on-screen presentations. In addition, Compel automatically generates overheads, handouts, speaker notes, and slides, and it incorporates the latest in special effects and multimedia, including video.

In addition to using Compel, I also embraced the use of our internal network as a way to share files with my students, and then moved on to the Internet and the wonder that was the World Wide Web. I became an early adopter of Microsoft FrontPage as a way to create web pages.

Over the years I transitioned to using PowerPoint, and while many people may criticize its use in the classroom, I find it quite useful.

I like to use PowerPoint mainly as a way to keep me on task and to make sure I cover the material that I’ve planned for. I think the students also find that using PowerPoint makes it a bit more efficient in terms of note taking. I will admit that at times it can get a little “dry” using PowerPoint, so I do try to break it up by using the board occasionally as well as through the use of stories and examples.

Well all of that leads me to today. I teach in a high tech classroom, where there are six computer projection screens around the room, with one of the screens having SmartBoard capabilities, allowing me to use the screen as a whiteboard.

I got to work today about an hour before my first class, and the first thing I noticed was that there was no Internet in the entire building. Since all the screens in the classroom are connected to my laptop via wireless technology, that meant I would not be able to use PowerPoint in class.

So I created a handout that we could work on together in class, but unfortunately, because our network was down, I was unable to print out copies of the handout. So I thought, oh well, I’ll just use the whiteboard and the students can follow along with me.

At this point it was time for class. As I walked into the classroom, it slowly dawned on me that since the whiteboard was really a SmartBoard that runs on wireless technology, using the whiteboard was not going to be an option. And the classroom has nothing else to write on; no simple dry erase whiteboard or an old fashioned chalkboard.

Fortunately, this was an 8:30 class, the first one of the day, so not every classroom was in use. I found an empty classroom down the hallway and my students and I packed up our things and moved to the new room, which had a plain old whiteboard.

Finally, class got started (about 10 minutes late at this point), and it seemed to go fine. It was actually a refreshing change of pace to teach without technology, and I hope the students found it to be an informative class.

I feel like I now have a sense of what teaching was like B.T. (before technology). My main takeaway is that there is not much downside risk to teaching B.T., after all, what could go wrong when all you are relying on is a blackboard and a a piece of chalk. But there’s not as much of an upside. You aren’t able to demo an Excel spreadsheet, to bring up financial statements in real time, or to show the class the latest trending cat video.

So I’ll take the modern classroom, with all its gadgets, any time. But I’ll also try to make sure I’ve got a contingency plan. Like making sure  I have a bucket full of tennis balls in my office so that I can always fall back on teaching my students how to juggle when all else fails…

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