Pharyngula

Blackboards vs. Whiteboards

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I got a query about this old article of mine, which stirred up a good bit of discussion back in the day, since it is on a subject truly important to academics…so I thought I’d resurrect it and see if my more recent and larger audience can be driven to equally passionate arguments pro and con.


Yesterday’s Star Tribune has a front page article on the University’s steady abandonment of blackboards.

When Prof. Lawrence Gray enters a math classroom at the University of Minnesota, his teaching tools are his brain and a stick of chalk.

He stands at a blackboard and chalk flies over the smooth black surface, spreading strings of equations like weeds. He turns and gestures to his class, taps the board with the chalk for emphasis, swipes a spot clean with an eraser and races on.

Replace Gray’s blackboards with whiteboards or, worse, a tablet computer that projects numbers onto a screen, and you might as well tie his arms or gag him. He’s among an army of professors who want to keep their blackboards despite the university’s push to eliminate flying chalk dust that can foil today’s expensive classroom technology.

Eh. I don’t have a lot of sympathy. There is a tactile difference to chalk and dry erase markers, but I think it’s largely more a matter of familiarity and personal comfort and obstinate resistance to change that’s fueling the opposition, not anything necessary to teaching. And math in particular—it’s strings of symbols on a surface. Dry erase markers produce higher contrast, bolder lines; I would think that they would be superior to chalk, once the instructor gets used to them. I can use either, and tend to favor video projection, anyway.

Although…there is one place where I would favor the chalkboard. One of my pleasantest memories of my undergraduate education was my comparative anatomy course. I and many of my fellow students would always show up early for class, because Professor Snider would come in 10 or 15 minutes before it started, armed with his own personal box of colored chalk. And then he would start drawing. He’d sketch in these elaborate diagrams—skull bones of reptiles, birds and mammals, a hindlimb with the muscles pulled apart to show their attachments, a time-series of kidney development. One thing you can do with chalk that is impossible to do well with a dry erase marker is shading, and he’d carefully color-code all the parts he was planning to talk about that day. It was like watching a good sidewalk artist at work. And all of us students would be sitting at our desks with our collections of colored pens and pencils, filling in the pages of our notebook before he started talking, because we knew that once he started explaining things there wouldn’t be time to draw.

And at the end of class, he’d take an eraser and quickly destroy all of his work. It was a marvel. The ability to blithely obliterate a beautiful creation because one can create it quickly and at will is a real talent.

There aren’t many people around who do that kind of thing anymore, but I’d be willing to fight for the retention of blackboards to protect them.

The other thing he did that I’m really trying to work towards is that he would only have at most a half-dozen of these diagrams on the chalkboard, and that would be his whole lecture, taking apart and explaining each one in depth. In these days of easy, instantaneous page flipping with computers and video projectors, I’ll easily zip through 20 diagrams in the same amount of time. I don’t think I’m teaching better for it, though, and it’s always a struggle between teaching students one thing very, very well or teaching them a dozen things rather more superficially…which you would think should be a no-brainer decision (depth of understanding is always to be desired!), except that I’ve got a list of a thousand things I’d like them to leave the class knowing, and chopping it down to a dozen is painful enough.

Comments

  1. #1 G. Tingey
    October 26, 2006

    No.

    As an ex-schoolteacher, trying to get maths/physics/chemistry information into minds aged between 12 and 18, there is NOTHING like a big roller-blackboard.
    In a good double-period I could get two-and-a-half times right around, easily …….

    Whiteboards only work if they are humungously large, or if you have more than one of them.

    The OHP, and its modern replacement, the touch-sensitive interactive board are all very well, provided you can stop the more lightfingerd of you students from nicking or sabotaging the delicate apparatus.

  2. #2 Qalmlea
    October 26, 2006

    As someone who has used both a whiteboard and a blackboard to teach math, either one works well. There are some things for which a whiteboard is much, much easier (graph theory comes to mind). However, our department is pretty much useless at keeping working markers around for the whiteboards on our floor, so if I want to be able to use them I have to bring my own markers. Chalk we have aplenty, and it’s very easy to tell when it’s about to run out. ;^)

  3. #3 Rob Knop
    October 26, 2006

    I would think that they would be superior to chalk, once the instructor gets used to them.

    I prefer them greatly to chalk except for one thing….

    The pens in the classroom are ALWAYS dry or near-dry. Chalk can get short, but if there’s a stick, it doesn’t run out. When the pens are all too faint to be easily seen, it’s a pain in the butt.

    For a while, I was always bringing my own pens, but then they went dry too….

    In big classes, I’m mostly using a computer presentation. In smaller classes, it’s mostly boardwork supplemented by computer presentation for things that are better suited to that.

    I should just get new pens, but I prefer dry-erase markers. I can live with either.

  4. #4 Michael Kremer
    October 26, 2006

    I don’t officially teach math, but I do teach logic (in a philosophy department), and at higher levels this is a lot like teaching math (in fact it just is teaching math sometimes). For this purpose I would bet 95% of math instructors would agree that chalk is better than whiteboards. For one thing, I am quite capable of going through several whiteboard markers in a period, and there are just never enough of them in the classroom — and I either cost the university a bundle in replacement markers or cost myself a bundle if they aren’t supplied. For another, I don’t like to breathe the fumes (though the chalk gets all over my clothes and chalk dust is probably not good for me either). And finally chalk just seems to work better for this sort of thing — constant writing with whiteboard markers makes for irritating squeaky noises, seems to me to take longer, and you can’t tell when the markers are going to run out until they just do (whereas you can visually see when you’re going to need a new piece of chalk).

    Just my two bits. Maybe I’m just stuck in my ways.

  5. #5 Bardiac
    October 26, 2006

    Do you think you learned something valuable from making the drawings in your notes yourself? Did it help you retain information better, for example?

    I find that when I make a little sketch or something, I retain information a lot better than if I’m handed a handout, or if I just look at a slide (even if I can go back and look at the slide again). (That goes for my experiences in bio and art history type classes.) I often found it difficult in anatomy type classes to move from the sketches to identifying real anatomy in the lab; that’s where a combination of sketches and real pictures would have helped a lot.

    There may be some value for learning in slowing down and working more fully with sketches that students actually reproduce themselves, perhaps?

  6. #6 The Ridger
    October 26, 2006

    Having only taught with a blackboard briefly many years ago I can’t imagine preferring it. Clothes covered in chalk dust? No thanks. The white board allows me to write quickly, erase quickly, use different colors – I have a 12 color set, and several 4 and 8 sets with different tips, and that’s all (much more) than I need.

    Smart board technology allows me to put the sentences up on the board – the whole text, in fact – and then write on it, and then capture *that* and save it and print it with all the diagrams and arrows and notations that show which words are governing other words and phrases and just where the subject is hiding in the flexibly-syntaxed Russian sentence…

    Blackboards don’t come close.

  7. #7 Grumpy Physicist
    October 26, 2006

    I’ve used both, and greatly prefer the blackboards. Part of it is the reliability; how often do you have sticks of chalk, superficially looking okay, run dry? How often do you discover that it takes a special spray (other than H2O) to erase a blackboard that has been sitting too long with stuff on it, or where ‘bad’ chalk was used?

    For contrast, white on black works better than black on white. Your irises adjust to the black background, making the white stand out more. BTW, this is also true for powerpoint: dark backgrounds with light letters wash out less.

    Helps classroom discipline too: “better behave or I’ll use my fingernails on this blackboard….” We, of course, are immune by now.

    And finally, it’s one of the great traditions of humanity: teaching the young by making marks on one piece of ROCK using another piece of ROCK. It doesn’t get more basic than that!

  8. #8 Mena
    October 26, 2006

    I have a student’s perspective only so for what it’s worth: I don’t like either. My preference is when teachers have the projector and they write on the roll of plastic. There’s no erasing so they can reference something they talked about earlier when questions are asked and it’s easy to see because it’s nice and big.

  9. #9 CCP
    October 26, 2006

    Professors of comparative anatomy used to be able to take a piece of chalk in each hand and use them simultaneously to construct detailed bilaterally symmetrical diagrams. A lost art. I just project the powerpoint slide and say “this one’s on p 347 of your textbook”…

  10. #10 oxeador
    October 26, 2006

    In order to properly teach math (at least at college level and higher) one needs a lot of board space: 3 large blackboards for instance. The rolling ones that go up and down are great. This is because of the nature of the material, that requires to constantly go back and review all definitions and results that have been explained during the lecture. If a lot of the material can be kept in display, it is better. I hate it when I have to lecture with an AV system, because I can simply not do that. And I very much prefer blackboards to whiteboards (I have taught with both), though I cannot explain why.

  11. #11 Carlie
    October 26, 2006

    Chalk dust comes off of clothes and hands. Dry erase dust and marks do not. Dry erase markers also smell a lot worse than chalk.

    Here’s an idea – have schools who complain about chalk and technology spring for smart boards in all the classes. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about any of it. (Not that the schools would see it that way.)

  12. #12 Wilfred
    October 26, 2006

    As a math-student I greatly prefer chalk. It always works, the teacher can’t write too fast, so you have time to digest the material.

  13. #13 jeffk
    October 26, 2006

    Dry erase markers produce higher contrast, bolder lines;

    I disagree. That can’t possibly be the case, particularily on a nice black blackboard.

    I rarely argue tradition for its own sake but blackboards are just so sweetly old school. I’m a graduate student in physics, and I attend my lectures and watch the professors work and can’t help but think, this is the way Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan probably taught their students. I recall reading once about a 50s-era physicist who would use two pieces of chalk, one in each hand, so he could go through the equations fast.

    I think if you took a survey you’d find the math and physics people, for whom there is really no other teaching tool at the upper levels, are more attached to the chalk.

  14. #14 April
    October 26, 2006

    As much as I love the look of an old chalk board, I hate chalk. The feel of it on my skin drives me to wash my hands obsessively after touching it, which I avoid under any possible circumstance.

    My vote goes to blackboards as long as I’m not teaching the class.

  15. #15 craig
    October 26, 2006

    Whiteboards hurt my eyes. Sometimes high contrast is not a good thing, especially with a bright background.

  16. #16 Stephen Erickson
    October 26, 2006

    I prefer chalk to dry-erase, on both sides of the classroom, but I freely admit that it could be mere sentimentality.

    Powerpoint lectures, however, are the bane of education.

  17. #17 Dr. Brazen Hussy
    October 26, 2006

    I wear a lot of black. Chalk bad.

  18. #18 harlan
    October 26, 2006

    How many dry erase markers would the average teacher consume in a lifetime? What would be the cubic footage in a landfill per teacher? How many teachers are there?

    I ask this question because I stopped using disposable razors after tearing out the stud-bay behind an old medicine cabinet to reveal a huge pile of old razor blades*–extrapolating from that pile, I decided that my lifetime contribution of disposable razors in the landfill was unexceptable…I now smile every time I insert a double-sided razor blade into my grandfather’s old razor handle.

    *–there used to be slots in the back of medicine cabinets to safely dispose of spent razor blades, a quaint memory like winding one’s watch.

    harlan.

  19. #19 Jeff Keezel
    October 26, 2006

    I’m the A/V Guy at a graduate school and am gratified that so many comments back up our experience here: the smell, the lingering image, the “dry or not” quandary.

    They were going to put all white boards in the meeting rooms in our new library in the mid-90s and I convinced them to put both. The white boards are smudging up and getting grungy. A wipe-down with the damp towel and the chalk board is as good as new.

    Regarding chalk dust and technology, dry erase creates its own weird dust – and in general, I have bigger problems with equipment and good, old fashioned dust bunny dust than chalk dust.

    (Side note to comment about dark backgrounds for PowerPoints. I always recommend light backgrounds. It puts more light on the screen making the overall environment brighter and more alert. Think about how sleepy you get at some conference on your third, dark, PowerPoint presentation. Dark or light – DO NOT USE RED LETTERS ON A DOS BLUE BACKGROUND…nuff said.)

    The biggest advantage chalk has over dry erase is that the chalk works so much better when my kids are drawing on the driveway. The colors are vibrant, and the rain washes it away. The tips on the dry markers just shred…thekeez

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    October 26, 2006

    The only definite comment on this issue I can recall comes from a physics professor I had in the fall of Twenty Aught One. Think back to the atmosphere of those days: national unity, Sudden Reality Shock Syndrome, talk of anthrax on every TV channel.

    The lecture hall had rolling blackboards with lots of up-and-down enjoyment potential, while the little rooms where we met the TAs for “recitation sections” (asking about homework problems, etc.) had whiteboards. One day, the professor himself was teaching a recitation, and he mentioned how much he preferred blackboards. Why?

    “If you’re ever bored, you can sweep the chalk dust into an envelope and mail it to somebody.”

  21. #21 squawky
    October 26, 2006

    OK, my experience is pretty limited (TAing for geology labs or recitations from a large lecture), but I’m a big whiteboard fan. Yeah, I have to bring my own pens (and balance them all point down so I get the best use from each), but the contrast is so much better….poorly erased blackboards (or the old green ones) can be hard to see at distance (and good erasers harder to find). Colored chalk was always as much of a commodity as dry erase markers, so there was little chance I would find some to use. I hated teaching in the room with blackboards, because I’d end up feeling dirty and dehydrated afterwards…I didn’t mind the black smudges all over my hands from spot-erasing markers as much.

    Of course, neither actually prevents the biggest problems I had with math/physics profs — either accidentally erasing their notes by leaning against the board to discuss, or frantically crawling back through boards of derivation to find a missing negative sign or factor of pi.

  22. #22 Dichosa
    October 26, 2006

    As a student who earned a CS and an MBA degree, I’ve found all work well. As a nerd and trig student in high-school, I loved wiring two diodes back to back and plugging them into the switched power socket of my teachers overhead projector. He’d walk in, turn the projector on and we’d get a bright flash of light along with a KA-BOOM, the girls would scream, he’d jump then we’d all laugh. The only bad thing was you could do it day after day and he’d never check–it became boring after a while.
    I suspect it’s much cheaper to use white boards. One professor in MBA school had six of them on wheels and could flip them and write on them so quickly that one could never keep up. I don’t miss that.

  23. #23 AgnosticOracle
    October 26, 2006

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the one thing I found annoying about both blackboards and whiteboards. In both cases the lecturer is standing in front of what they are writing. If you are sitting on the wrong side of the classroom you spend a good part of the period with the writing obscured by the professor’s body.

    This is especially a problem if they are writing a lot. You wind up with the situation where what you can see is out of sync with what the professor is saying. Count this as a vote for projectors.

  24. #24 DouglasG
    October 26, 2006

    Good to see the chalk crowd out here! In the old days, there were several math ‘tools’ that were designed for the chalkboard. I remember a chalk compass. This type of thing would not work on the fragile surface of a white board. Scratch scratch! Perhaps they don’t do constructions in geometry class anymore. For me, white letters on a dark background is far easier to read. Go chalk!

  25. #25 dileffante
    October 26, 2006

    Whiteboard for the office and home (to save the windows). Blackboard for teaching (I love the sound of chalk).

  26. #26 Markus
    October 26, 2006

    I remember learning electrical theory from an overhead projector. Nothing from with old school tech.

  27. #27 Gerard Harbison
    October 26, 2006

    I don’t regret the demise of white/blackboards at all. I’m a physical chemist, and we’re among the worst eaxmple of a discipline that stereotypically spent its back to the class, scrawing equations of the board.

    With a little preparation and imagination, you can do through a detailed derivation in PowerPoint using the animation features, even showing how terms cancel, etc.. You can face your students, and actually discuss the material, rather than spening most of your time merely writing it. It takes a lot more time to prepare the material the first time round, but then you have it forever.

    The biggest problem in PowerPoint is learning to get down to 8 -14 slides in 50 minutes, which IMO is about optimum (maybe with less quantitative material you could go higher). In a 50 minute seminar, in comparison, I’d typically use 30 slides.

    Having one whiteboard (preferably) is useful for handling discussion questions, spontaneous side issues, etc., Using it also breaks the monotony a little and is a nice change of pace. But the days when it was the primary tool are long gone, and I don’t miss ‘em a bit.

  28. #28 KevinC
    October 26, 2006

    Both work well, if I have a choice I use the whiteboard. But I have to agree with Mena, the overhead is still the best. My college chemistry class was taught by a professor that had a binder full of overhead sheets with partial equations and questions. She was able to go over 20-30 problems in depth and just had to fill in a few blanks. All in a 50 min lecture. Dont’t worry about turning off half the lights, students can write in the dark.

  29. #29 mike
    October 26, 2006

    In elementary schools, the teacher would pick one boy and one girl to clap erasers. Never being a believer in cooties, I enjoyed the time to refine my technique with girls.

    The down side of course was teachers throwing erasers at you for talking in class, but I suppose that’s possible with dry erase too.

  30. #30 Avery
    October 26, 2006

    I was also thinking like Harlan about the environmental impact… Where does chalk come from? Are we at risk of running out… Has anyone looked at the environmental effects of whiteboards? The plastic for the board, the plastic for the markers(all petroleum by-products), the chemicals for the ink, etc… Apart from the effects of chalk dust (isn’t there ‘dustless chalk’?) what are the environmental effects of blackboards?

  31. #31 dr. dave
    October 26, 2006

    For me the only question is whether I prefer white crap all over my clothes (I also wear a lot of black, something that was mentioned above) or black crap all over my hands. (I tend to use the heel of my hand to correct small errors in lieu of reaching for the eraser.) But in general, the bold color contrast of the wipe-markers works well for me when drawing physics diagrams.

    And as for the drying out problem – yes, it’s endemic here. I bring a teaching “go-bag” to class with all my AV cables, my presentation remote, and my OWN collection of Expo markers wrapped with orange masking tape for easy identification and collection after class.

  32. #32 CJColucci
    October 26, 2006

    Remember green blackboards? I remember hearing some 30 years ago that a study had been done to determine the best chalk/chalkboard color combinations for visibility. It turned out that yellow chalk on green board was by far the easiest to read, and lots of schools installed green blackboards. Then, and only then, did they notice that yellow chalk was considerably more expensive than white chalk. Guess what combination was LEAST readable?

  33. #33 andy
    October 26, 2006

    From the perspective of someone who has to read off the boards… Blackboards have the major advantage over whiteboards that they are not shiny. With a whiteboard you have a narrow range of angles from which the writing is visible, otherwise it just gets overwhelmed by reflection from the lights/windows/whatever.

  34. #34 toucantoad
    October 26, 2006

    Blackboards. Like your anatomy professor, PZ, I do colored chalk drawings. Many of our lecture rooms have wraparound blackboards, some sections of which are never used. I have done colored chalk animal portraits that have remained on those boards now for over 15 years. The students like them and it’s a fun thing in the room.
    Technology can be wonderful – so long as it works and you have a technician on retainer who can fix what screws up within minutes of the need.

  35. #35 Stogoe
    October 26, 2006

    Speaking as a lefty, white-boards don’t smudge as easily, and I always hated the way the chalk felt in my hand. Pure disgust.

    Of course, if you’d consent to switching the language so we wrote right to left, then I wouldn’t smudge as much and you could keep your stupid chalk. I still wouldn’t use it, though. Terrible feel in the hands. Just absolutely god-awful.

  36. #36 Kitty
    October 26, 2006

    My anatomy professor in grad school was one of those amazing old-school guys who drew incredible layered and shaded diagrams on the chalkboard with both hands while lecturing. He said that drawing made him pace his explanations appropriately – students could copy his drawings and make notes at the same time he did. He had actually switched back from using powerpoint after finding that students didn’t retain as much information from studying the slides as they did from copying drawings.

    His decks were beautiful, too – multicolored, multilayered and very well designed. The slides had obviously taken a great deal of work to put together, and it must have been a difficult decision to abandon them.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of smartboards.

  37. #37 argystokes
    October 26, 2006

    When I was a student I definitely preferred the blackboards. I found the click click click of chalk somewhat pleasant, and the incessant noise did a little bit to keep my attention. The hissing of the dry erase marker just never did it for me.

  38. #38 toucantoad
    October 26, 2006

    A new thought. I recently served (as the token biologist) on a search team for a chemistry position. We interviewed 3 applicants, all of which had to present a lecture on an assigned topic to an undergraduate class. All three used powerpoint. We hired the one who presented the least poorly. He simply had 4 or 5 slides that illustrated what he was actually lecturing on at the blackboard. The other two had massive slide sets that they whipped through at breakneck speed. They were not teaching, they were rather speaking to an audience. They couldn’t teach their way out of paper bag, but they thought powerpointing was teaching.
    Every time I have asked a group of undergraduates which they prefer, fully 70 percent prefer board lectures over powerpoint. Near universally they cite as the reason the tendency for professors to try to go too fast and present too much with powerpoint. Writing on the board makes you slow down.

  39. #39 King Aardvark
    October 26, 2006

    When I was a student, I found blackboards to be the best (unless the boards hadn’t been cleaned in a while). The whiteboards tended to be hard on the eyes, and markers always died quickly. I cannot learn much from Powerpoint – I need to be copying things down in order for it to stick in my brain.

    When I actually had to teach stuff as a TA, I loved blackboards. They made me feel important, so I guess it’s psychological. But I didn’t mind the chalky feeling, and I’m an engineer surrounded in concrete dust, so keeping my clothes clean-looking wasn’t an option anyway. You really do need at least 2 or 3 boards, preferrably more.

    White boards always made me feel like a money-grubbing commerce major. Ewwww.

    For powerpoint, instead of using a white background, you can use a faint light colour, like yellow/orange or grey/blue with a slight gradient, just to give it a little colour and texture but still keep the background light. But I’d use Powerpoint only for presentations and seminars, not for actual teaching.

  40. #40 Gerard Harbison
    October 26, 2006

    Every time I have asked a group of undergraduates which they prefer, fully 70 percent prefer board lectures over powerpoint. Near universally they cite as the reason the tendency for professors to try to go too fast and present too much with powerpoint. Writing on the board makes you slow down

    That’s my experience, too. You have to adopt a completely different style in teaching a class using PowerPoint, than you do in giving a seminar. It’s a useful tool, but too many people use it badly.

  41. #41 Zeno
    October 26, 2006

    Chalk dust comes off of clothes and hands. Dry erase dust and marks do not. Dry erase markers also smell a lot worse than chalk.

    Carlie has it exactly right. Chalk dust on my clothes? Don’t care. I can slap it off easily. Dry erase dust is nasty stuff, leaving fingers and clothes and book pages smeared with indelible dyes. People who think whiteboards are neat and tidy must not be doing a lot of writing on them. And when do we ever have enough working marking pens when we want to send students up to the boards? Not unless you take a pocket full of fresh ones to the class yourself.

    I also bridle whenever the computer folks around my school say we can’t use technology in chalkboard rooms. Is this evidence based? How can the gray-black dry erase dust be any better for electronics than chalk dust? Chalk dust you can at least blow off. Vacuum the classrooms more often then.

    Whiteboards are great in theory and I do enjoy the ability to use colors pedagogically (much better than colored chalk), but in practice I ahbor the nasty, dirty things.

  42. #42 GP
    October 26, 2006

    One thing no one has mentioned is the accessbility aspect of using either chalkboard or whiteboards. How many of us write on the boards and talk over our shoulders? If you happen to have lip-reading students in the class, this is a problem for them.

    There is a lot wrong with PowerPoint and presentation technologies in general (I use S5 myself), but it at least allows you to face your audience.

    I’ve never been a fan of writing on overheads on the fly – they’re too hot and too blinding…

  43. #43 Barb
    October 26, 2006

    I have to chime in on the chalkboard side, too. Aside from the never-working marker issue that has been mentioned more times to count in this thread, I found the chalkboard entertaining from a students’ side of the room. There was the ubiquitous line of chalk across many profs butts, which gave even the most boring class a bit of levity. I had one particular arse for a teacher (physics) who would lecture at us with his hand stuck down his back pocket. So, in addition to the line of chalk across his butt, he frequently had a cloud of chalk dust around his back pocket.

    A note on projectors – I probably prefer those to either chalkboards or white boards. However, I once had a math teacher who would use a projector with the scrolling plastic. Often, she would do a “proof by spit” where she would start with an equation, then alter it on the plastic by spitting on her finger and erasing things. That was rather difficult to reproduce that in my notes.

  44. #44 Steve LaBonne
    October 26, 2006

    Another disadvantage of whiteboards is that sooner or later some nitwit will come along and use a regular non-erasable marker on them, leaving behind an annoying and messy cleanup job.

    Ditto CJColucci on the remarkable illegibility of white chalk on greenboards- unfortunately that was the usual situation, unless you remembered to bring your own chalk, at the college I once taught at. Ugh.

  45. #45 Carlie
    October 26, 2006

    Here’s another thought – my handwriting is much, much worse on whiteboards than on chalkboards. I’m not sure why, but it probably has to do with the amount of friction. On whiteboards the pen just slides all over. I save powerpoint for pictures and diagrams at the end of the lecture, because if I started doing text in powerpoint I’d go so fast there would be no way the students could keep up. This way I’m at least limited to as slow as my own writing speed.
    Side note – TWICE, during separate job interviews, the powerpoint died. Both times I calmy picked up some chalk and started sketching diagrams of what everyone was supposed to see, and managed to thereby impress the search committees (not necessarily enough to get the offer, but still).

  46. #46 Carlie
    October 26, 2006

    Oh, and in most of the rooms here the boards are black or blue/green, but in one classroom they’re a cross between mauve and terra cotta. What’s that about?

  47. #47 yagwara
    October 26, 2006

    Some mathematicians are also masters of blackboard art; see A Topological Picturebook by George Francis.

    I’d be willing to concede that my hatred of whiteboards is just sentimentality when 1) someone invents a whiteboard that erases properly, 2) we are provided with a big box of fresh markers in each room, and 3) each classroom has 4 foot high whiteboards installed the length of the room – with 4 or 6 rolling boards in big lecture halls.

    I find that classrooms are increasingly being designed with the ideas that professors don’t write anymore. I’ve frequently taught in big lecture halls with a fancy digital projector, a big automated screen, and a tiny tiny poorly lit blackboard obscured by the podium. For other disciplines maybe this works, but for math and physics it is crap.

    As for powerpoint, I think everyone who teaches must be forced to read Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Power Point. I won’t go on a rant here but I’ll point out the worst feature of powerpoint: how on earth can you remember the notation from slide 6 and the problem from slide 13 when the lecturer presents the solution on slide 37?

  48. #48 Linz
    October 26, 2006

    So what happens if you get a teacher who – like me – is allergic to white board pens (I get migraines from them)??? At school and uni I couldn’t sit at the front of a class if the teacher/lecturer used a white board pen alot.

  49. #49 Interrobang
    October 26, 2006

    When I was teaching, I used a combination of chalk, overheads and PowerPoint. We didn’t have whiteboards at the college. I hated using the chalk — it would suck all the oil out of my fingertips and leave me with “prune fingers,” on top of all the dust on my clothes (and in my lungs? What’s the permissible occupational exposure level for chalk dust?). I hate the texture of blackboard chalk, as well.

    I liked using the overhead projector the most, since I could write on the overheads using a marker and it wasn’t as dauntingly complex as the A/V hookup in the classrooms. I could also upload the same documents from which I made the overheads to the school’s online learning setup so my students could download them and bring them to class and make their own notes on them.

  50. #50 Rosie Redfield
    October 26, 2006

    I go to a great conference (Analytical Genetics) where only whiteboards are allowed – no Powerpoints, and no transparencies. The dynamics of the presentations are wonderful, and taught me the importance of body movement in teaching.

    With a white- or blackboard, the observer’s eyes are led directly from the body-arm-hand of the person creating the visuals to the visuals themselves. The visuals are an extension of the person. This helps the observer form a mental connection to what is being drawn, because our brains are much better at attending to people than to abstractions.

    In contrast, with any kind of projection, the presenter and the visuals have no physical connection. Using a stick pointer rather than a laser pointer helps, as the stick leads the eye from the presenter’s arm to the part of the graphic being described.

    Watching the visuals being created is also a big help for the learner. So writing on the board or overhead is better than showing a finished graphic or table or notes. Similarly, gradually assembling a complex image in sequential Powerpoint slides or an animation is better than just showing the final graphic.

  51. #51 nukular
    October 26, 2006

    Having used both, I greatly prefer blackboards for teaching math and physics. Mostly because I hate ruining my notes, student papers, textbooks with the dry-erase board ink that always seems to find its way to my hands.

  52. #52 Rosie Redfield
    October 26, 2006

    About chalk dust in our lungs: I’ve been told that chalk dust particles are sufficiently large that they get trapped in our upper respiratory tract where they’re easily cleared, and don’t enter our lungs.

  53. #53 Harald Hanche-Olsen
    October 26, 2006

    I am definitely a blackboard type of person myself. I even have one in my office. As several people have pointed out, whiteboard markers are always dry or nearly so. Chalk dust? This is probably a uniquely Norwegian (or Scandinavian?) habit, but we use a wet sponge to erase the board. It cuts way down on the flying chalk dust, but you have to allow time for the board to dry before continuing. If you have a big enough board, the trick is to be a bit ahead in erasing, so the board is dry when you get to it. Some of my colleagues even bring one of those rubber thingies that window washers use (what the heck are they called, again?) to wipe excess water off the board. Works like a charm. Too bad there isn’t one already in each auditorium.

  54. #54 CCP
    October 26, 2006

    Powerpoint is for visuals…pictures. If a word or term is new or important, I write it on whatever surface is provided.

  55. #55 speedwell
    October 26, 2006

    I teach courses in the database application I support, in a big oil company. I absolutely could not do it unless I had my laptop hooked up to the projection unit.

    That said, our training rooms are lined in whiteboard. We always have good markers, but I always want to alter something above the line I just wrote, and I wind up rubbing everything out with my sleeves. So I gave that up in favor of preprinted handouts.

    Chalkboards? I hate chalk. Brrr. Nasty, dusty, dry, gritty, makes me cough and sneeze, and I sneeze like a champion (five to seven times in a row and loud enough to shake the rafters).

    What would my ideal be? I’ll tell you. Huge pads of unlined paper and BIG SATURATED COLORED PENCILS. Flat like the kind we used in shop class, big as butcher knives.

  56. #56 Tlönista
    October 26, 2006

    As a student: blackboards all the way! PowerPoint is always badly done and puts me to sleep. And whiteboards must be massively inconvenient what with having to keep expensive markers in stock.

    Of course, I’m a philosophy student, and my professors only use the blackboard for scribbling down crude diagrams and maelstroms of ancient Greek, so don’t take me seriously.

  57. #57 kai
    October 26, 2006

    My handwriting is so bad that I have used LaTeX-generated (beamer rules!) overhead slides ever since I started teaching and when technological progress so allowed, transferred to direct projection from a laptop. Videos without having to bring and set up a separate video player, yay! But for thinking I need a whiteboard, a large one. Chalk dust on the other hand gives me asthma and wet chalky sponges give me eczemas :-(

    It seems many of the perceived problems with whiteboards could be solved with better design, say using a transparent stripe along the side so you can tell when the colour is running out. Many pens are already refillable, so that shouldn’t be a problem either.

  58. #58 wheatdogg
    October 26, 2006

    A few comments from a high school physics teacher:

    I used blackboards for several years in my classrooms and managed OK. The chalkiness never bothered me, and only once in awhile would I feel compelled to augment the white marks with colored chalk. Then I started to outfit my room with computers and associated lab sensors. Believing (probably incorrectly as it turns out) that chalk dust would be bad for the equipment, I used some of my department budget to purchase a whiteboard, the first one in the school, though I had used one only infrequently at conferences and workshops.

    Setting the pseudo-problem of dust aside, it turns out that I lecture better with a whiteboard than with a chalkboard. I have no supporting evidence, but it just seems easier to use the colored markers (for vectors, vector components, free-body diagrams, etc.) than to rely on a single color of chalk to illustrate matters.

    The only real downside to losing the chalkboard was losing the easily obtained cloud of dust to show laser beams.

    Chalk breaks, so you end up with many tiny, useless bits of chalk. The dust seems to settle everywhere, yards away from the board. Markers run dry, but they do so gradually (if you keep them capped), so you can plan ahead. They don’t typically break. Their dust seems to settle closer to the board. Perhaps there is an ecological cost, but I suspect much less than our reliance on disposable diapers, foam-plastic coffee cups, and giant plastic cups for fountain drinks.

    Don’t like the feel of chalk? Get one of those metal chalk holders. It keeps your fingers clean, too.

    Have a dingy whiteboard? You don’t need a special fluid. When the board cleaner pump bottle runs dry, fill it with 50-50 mix of water and ethanol. Use a terry cloth towel to wipe the board, dry or wet. You can wash the towel in the clotheswasher. Board erasers, in contrast, hold onto the dry erase residue and are a pain to clean effectively.

    Good whiteboards are not plastic, but enamel-on-steel. Get the steel kind; the plastic ones are nearly impossible to keep clean. You can use magnets to hold things in place, too.

    Allowing students to give PowerPoint presentations was a big fad in schools for a while. Most were no better than what I have seen some adults give, which means they were mostly awful. Kudos to the institution that hired a teacher who used as few slides as possible. With PowerPoint, quality varies inversely with the frequency of the slides, and audience frustration varies geometrically with the presenter’s insistence on reading every damn slide.

    And while we bitch and moan about white/green/black/smart boards, keep in mind that in some countries, there might be only one tiny slate for an entire school. So count your blessings.

  59. #59 Susannah
    October 26, 2006

    You need a poll.

    My vote goes to chalk.

    Whiteboards don’t come close.

    (I taught English.)

  60. #60 TheBlackCat
    October 26, 2006

    I have used both extensively. I don’t know whether the boards are newer or the pens are newer, but we tend not to have that much of a problem with whiteboard ink not coming off. If there ever is a problem, there are always spray bottles and paper towels handy, as well as special marker that somehow remove permanent marker. There also does not tend to be much dust, especially if you are careful to wipe the board towards an edge to trap the dust. And I don’t have problems with the marks coming off my fingers, they usually just rub right off.

    I personally prefer whiteboards myself. Having multiple colors always available is a big advantage to me. I usually only use one color at first, but then us another color when I go over the equation or drawings again in order to highlight changes or corrections or other important factors.

    I also much prefer the larger pens with whiteboards. Chalk may last longer, but it is so small even initially but especially towards the end so it is no where near as comfortable for me to handle. Markers are always the same size even until just before they run out, you don’t have to hold them funny ways when they are down to a centimeter long. Whiteboard markers also don’t break, I tend to break chalk (and wooden penciles, that would be another good debate BTW).

    Whiteboards have the advantage of the marks coming off easily with your fingers, trying to erase small mistakes on a blackboard with your fingers leaves and awful smudge. As I said, I don’t have much of a problem with the ink not coming off.

    Also, whiteboard marker don’t change their shape as quickly. They tend to be very uniform in the shape of the mark they use, as well as being able to use several different sizes depending on the angle. I prefer thinner marks personally. Chalk, however, continuously changes the size of the mark as you write, making it impossible to have any regulariry to the size. Chalk marks also tend to have larger sizes, which I guess is good because of the lower contrast but is not a problem to being with for whiteboards.

    All in all I prefer whiteboards. The advantage of chalkboards is having the multiple boards on sliders, but in rooms where that is not possible I prefer whiteboards.

    Powerpoint vs boards depends on what you are doing. Equations, especially solving them, definitely requires a board. Simple diagrams, especially for sequential things, a board may be better unless you are clever with animation. Detailed images, complicated diagrams, anything that can benefit from animations, anything that can benefit from depth, or anything where extreme precision is necessary (like plots, especially frequency spectrums) is much better on powerpoint. Ideally you would use a combination of the two depending on which suits your puprose at the time, and most professors I have do that. They will show something on powerpoint, then draw a diagram or write an equation on a board next to it. And having copies of the powerpoints to give to the class is a must. Generally having simple slides with not very much information on each and spending a few minutes on each, more using it as a visual support for what you are describing in words as opposed to actually being the focus of the lecture itself, seems to be the best way. Then students can add notes and marks to the handouts to take into account what you are saying and writing on the board. That seems to be the ideal way to do it, combining the best aspects of all three teaching tools (powerpoint, board, and speech). Then I usually have lined paper handy for things that are not done on powerpoint or are not directly related to any slide. More often than not that seems to be the technique used. For instance in my own presentations I can spend 10 minutes on 5-slide presentation or 40 minutes on a 5-slide presentation. It all depends on how much detail is needed, how much background my audience has, how much information is appropriate for each slide, whether it is just background or whether they will need the details for something important.

    Personally I do not use powerpoint unless it is something that absolutely cannot be done on a board in any reasonable manner.

  61. #61 Scott Hatfield
    October 26, 2006

    I installed two long whiteboards in my class and they work just fine. In between the two I have one of the original chalkboards, which is often covered by a projection screen but which I will occasionally use for just the purpose PZ recommends.

    I like Power Points very much, but I feel that to really get a lot out of them, you need to make your own and it needs to closely match material in student’s texts and your own handouts. Their effectiveness is greatly enhanced when you can add video or animations. Again, to really make this an advantage over straight presentation, you need to customize them for your needs. Generic Power Points are of little value, typically.

    BTW, some of the best Power Points that I’ve ever seen are the ones Ken Miller makes to accompany his talks. He is skilled….SH

  62. #62 pluky
    October 26, 2006

    My HS biology (Miss Grace Miriam Kinner, may she RIP) insisted that our lab reports contain detailed drawings of the subject du jour. That contributed to the course’s reputation as one of the toughest in the school, and her reputation for being a little bit of a witch! However, when I took Bio100S at Cornell, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much of the lecture and lab material was a review of what Miss Kinner had taught me. More amusing was that sometimes Cornell’s coverage was less rigorous than hers!

  63. #63 TheBlackCat
    October 26, 2006

    Sorry, I meant AAAS, not AAS. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  64. #64 Greg
    October 26, 2006

    I must disagree with you, PZ. Whiteboards do not provide better contrast. The problem is the glare from bright fluorescent lights make whiteboards in some rooms all but unreadable.

    The friction of chalk on a board is very important for me. With a slippery marker on a whiteboard, my usually neat handwriting becomes an atrocious pile of slop.

    Gimme my blackboards!

  65. #65 steve
    October 26, 2006

    good chalk and high quality slate

    Some years ago the research organization I was with moved to a new building. White boards were ripped out and really nice slate was installed for anyone who wanted it. The company that installed it said most of their business was “with physics and math departments”

  66. #66 Captain Sunshine
    October 26, 2006

    I have a set of sliding whiteboards in my room (for chemistry), and I like them better than the chalkboards they put the laminate over. Easier to clean, higher contrast, less airborne crap (I buy the low-odor markers, and I don’t notice any solvent smell), and I can buy my four colors in bulk and not spend too much more than chalk. I have a projector too, that puts the image on an angled screen to the left.

    There are problems with the setup, though:

    1) They don’t make thick-line whiteboard markers. That would be nice.

    2) It’s almost too easy to erase the boards. I can lean against one and my nice orbital overlap diagram, that I have put on the back board and guarded all day, is suddenly in 3-D on my back.

    3) The worst, though, is sharing my room with a couple of older faculty who used chalkboards for twenty or more years. They pound the marker tips into uselessness much faster than they would dry out or run dry.

    I find that students write more neatly at the board with markers than with chalk. More like using a pen, I guess.

    We have some of the projector-based smartboards on a trial run. They’re too small, and the full-sized ones I would want (4′ x 12′) are too expensive. Maybe someday.

    Last thing: There’s always the idea floating around that giving every student a laptop would be a solution for notetaking (Note-pushing, really) and in-class work. With tablet laptops that might work out, but with regular laptops there’s no way to draw anything quickly. For my class laptops would be counterproductive. I want them to draw the diagrams, not hand it to them.

    CS

  67. #67 cserpent
    October 26, 2006

    I too greatly enjoyed comparative anatomy and classical embryology for the same reasons concerning the use of illustrations. A couple of years ago, I purchased a TabletPC. It allows me to write and draw on the screen, in many different colors. It is suited to teaching in any room with a LCD projector. Moreover, I can switch between applications (OneNote for writing and drawing, PowerPoint for slide shows, Firefox for internet, Flash players, and so on). It is a phenomenal teaching tool. I can prepare documents in advance, embed images, animations and video in applications and annotate them on the screen while the students watch. In short, it is a dustless, stainless, odorless digital whiteboard that allows me to save every lecture and convert them to other accessible formats with ease. If I want, I can have it convert my chicken scratch to standard text. It kicks ass. A few days ago, the cable to our projector went out in one of my classrooms. My skills with the chalkboard were maintained by my using the tablet and was able to switch to the old medium easily, although I wasn’t happy about it.

    Anyway, for those who teach and lament the loss of blackboards, and looking to upgrade their laptops, a tablet is definitely the way to go.

  68. #68 The Ridger
    October 26, 2006

    I forgot to add – we have tablets we can pass around to the students and they can write on the Smart Board. A ceiling projector keeps the shadow problem nonexistent. Four whiteboards in the room mean you can put up diagrams and leave them up – and they do make fat-tipped whiteboard markers. They also make special markers for those who are sensitive – a student who’s been in several of my classes is.

    The objections to Power Point seem to be objections to the manner of its use, not to it – nothing beats the ability to put long sentences up one after another for syntactical/grammatical discussion, and combining the projector with the Smart Board technology means you can annotate the slides as each class needs them.

    I don’t understand the objection that “I learn better when I write notes” – you can’t takes notes during the PP lecture?

    But if blackboards are what you want, I hope you have them.

  69. #69 Buffalo Gal
    October 26, 2006

    Chiming in late as a (sometimes) student – blackboards are best overall. I had a genetics class with a prof who was terrific with PowerPoint, even he used the blackboard to supplement. Whiteboard has the glare problem bigtime. Also, I don’t see how all that plastic is good for the environment. Chalk dust? A mark of your profession – be proud of it.

  70. #70 rosebud
    October 26, 2006

    Of course you wipe “destroy” it. The whole point is in the making of it–the process. Once made, one destroys the product so as not to reify the object and forget the process of creation. Process over product. Navajos have been doing this for a long time. The moment the sandpainting has been “finished,” they begin destroying. The final weave is never finished so that the rug is always in process. Not surprising to find that Navajo is a verb centric language. English focuses on the noun. Navajo is a pronominal argument language. Nouns are adjuncts (at best).

    I enjoy the white board with color markers. I draw my phonological rules and then I wipe them away. The joy is in the writing of the rule, not the rule.

  71. #71 Dave Godfrey
    October 26, 2006

    The perspective of a former Geology/Biology student

    When I was at uni, graduating about 5 years ago now,
    powerpoint was just taking over from slide projectors, and lecturers were using it in this way, zipping through images illustrating the animals they were talking about. I can see why going from this to powerpoint you’d discover all these neat things you could do and overwhem you audience.

    Complex diagrams were drawn on OHPs, key terms on blackboards or white boards- whiteboards are better in subdued lights, blackboards better if the lights are on.

  72. #72 Xanthir, FCD
    October 26, 2006

    Not surprising to find that Navajo is a verb centric language. English focuses on the noun. Navajo is a pronominal argument language. Nouns are adjuncts (at best).

    Strong Whorfian hypothesis are most *definitely* not accepted at large at the moment. There’s no proof of correlation between language and culture at the level you’re talking about.

    Back to the topic at hand… My preferred method for teachers to use (when they can) is projected PowerPoint stuff on a whiteboard. Several of my CompSci lecture rooms have this setup, and it’s wonderful. It lets the teacher throw down a bunch of code or setup all at once without taking 5 minutes writing it all down, and then draw all over it as he teaches. It keeps the professor in front of the room, talking to us, so he’s not hiding behind his slides, but it also allows him to operate more efficiently.

    This semester I have a professor with a tablet that he uses to mark up his slides, rather than using the whiteboard itself. It’s an interesting approach, but I prefer the prof being up in front of class marking stuff up himself.

  73. #73 Ed Darrell
    October 26, 2006

    I like a nice scented marker on flip chart, too — especially useful in a leisurely botany instruction in the field (though mine have all been rushed in the past few years). Great in leadership courses, with some good art.

    White boards in higher education and last year, but chalk board this year: Do you know how difficult it is to find colored chalk in some places? How did all those little marine creatures get colored, anyway?

    And, please: Where is Professor Snider today?

  74. #74 j
    October 26, 2006

    I like learning from blackboards but writing on whiteboards. Chalk texture freaks me out.

  75. #75 BB
    October 26, 2006

    As a student, I prefer chalkboards immensely over both whiteboards and any sort of projector system. I prefer chalkboards over whiteboards because the white on black is easier to see than black on white, in addition to the fact that there is no glare on chalkboards as there is on whiteboards (making it impossible to read parts ofit) and chalk doesn’t “fade” like markers do when it starts to run out, meaning it is always easy to read. And, as an added bonus, the sound of chalk on blackboard is much preferable to the sound of squeaking markers on whiteboard.

    I also prefer blackboards to projectors or powerpoint because with a blackboard, the prof can never write faster than I can take notes. With a projector, even if it includes nothing but words, the prof will pretty much always whizz through them faster than I can possibly copy the info – with diagrams and whatnot, it becomes even worse. If the prof has to spend the time to draw out the diagram himself, though, it also gives me the time to do it. All in all, projectors are just a pain in the ass to take notes from, whereas a blackboard is ideal (and better than a whiteboard).

  76. #76 BB
    October 26, 2006

    As a side-note, I did have one prof a year ago for Differential Equations that would quite impressively write on the blackboard with his left hand while erasing the blackboard in front of him with his right. He would basically just write, erase and talk non-stop all the way down 3 blackboards, then stand back and take a look at everything, and start over again at the left end.

  77. #77 Claire
    October 27, 2006

    I prefer blackboards, but having seen the insides of computers in offices with chalkboards and in offices with whiteboards, the chalkboards-are-bad-for-computers thing seems to be real. My guess is that the chalk dust flies around more (maybe the dry-erase goo sticks to the erasers better or there’s some static attraction that keeps it from going as far).

    Someone mentioned the chalk chucks, but there are also alternatives to the (nasty smelling) dry-erase markers — I have some special crayons meant for whiteboard use, which, I have to admit, I have not really given a workout. (I had to move a bunch of boxes today to get to my whiteboard for the first time in a couple of months; we’ll have to see how long that access lasts.)

    My brief experience is that they write fine (although the ones I have aren’t terribly large, so it would probably be hard to read from classroom distances, nevermind lecture hall distances). I’m not sure about the best way of cleaning them off the board — my feeling is that the wax would gum up an eraser worse than the dry-erase markers do.

    If they work out, though, the crayons have many of the advantages of both markers and chalk. They don’t dry out, they come in different colors, and you can see how much you have left. Plus they’re nontoxic and not dusty. Obviously there’s something wrong with them, or everyone would use them.

  78. #78 Alon Levy
    October 27, 2006

    I went to a college that used whiteboards exclusively and am now in a blackboard grad school. So far I’m finding the blackboards more unwieldy – the chalk dust brings me back to my elementary school days, it’s quicker to write on a whiteboard, and I’ve had more problems reading equations from obtuse angles on blackboards than on whiteboards.

  79. #79 elspi
    October 27, 2006

    Forcing someone to teach math on a white board is against the
    Geneva Conventions. PZ should be sent to Gitmo.

    I know you wanted a rational response, but having taught on both THAT IS THE RATIONAL RESPONSE.

  80. #80 rosebud
    October 27, 2006

    It is not a “strong Whorfian” claim to point out that Navajo is a verb centric language.

    First, the distinction between a strong and weak Whorfian view is false. Whorf never suggested the kind of trvial language determines thought, that is often associated with “strong Whorf.” We can trace some of this to Joshua Fishman’s article concerning Whorf. Pinker’s hit piece on Whorf is simply bad scholarship.

    Second, the question is what do Navajos make of the verb centric nature of their language. That is, how do they use it. Here of course we have what Paul Friedrich has termed “linguaculture.” Where we need to think about collapsing the old dichotomy of language and culture. As we know, Navajos make much of the verb centric structure of their language. Where they make use of it is in poetics. Which connects us back to Edward Sapir. If we are to understand linguaculture, we need to understand the ways that linguistic devices help create, articulate, and achieve aesthetic, social, structural, and feelingful ways of orienting to the world. Namely, the iconic, indexical, and symbolic ways that language creates social, aesthetic, structural, and feelingful contexts or potential contexts.

    This of course ties into the work of Dell Hymes who built off of Sapir, Whorf and Hoijer concerning ways or fashions of speaking. Genre signatures, for example, allow speakers to recognize that a particular form of discourse is about to occur. As such, they follow Jakobson’s model of the poetic function of language (one should also note that Jakobson and Pierce in their ways are arguing for or about linguaculture).

    Now, once you get past the bogus assertion concerning a “strong” or “weak” Whorf, the relationship between language and culture is quite an active research agenda in linguistic anthropology as well as in European linguistics (witness the Redwood approach to cognition, or the Max Planck research led by Levinson). I now that I certainly to teach theory of linguaculture and ethnopoetics in my courses on intro to ling anth (undergrad and grad). I also teach about linguistic ideology, Silverstein’s amplification of the Whorf concern with the limits of awareness. Most linguist still make the covert/overt distinction begun by Whorf.

    Whorfian perspectives are most definitely being taught at Universities. The best of the current language and culture writing is concerns these issues.

    So it is not surprising that Navajo is a verb centric language. That many chants, stories, songs and metaphors use the verb centric nature of the language for poetic reasons. When we factor in that Navajo is also an aspect language, we see another way that Navajos can use the verb centric and aspectual system for poetic reasons. But then, following Whorf, we need to note a number of inter-connecting fashions of speaking besides the verb centric system. I suggested the fact that Navajo is a pronominal argument language and verb centric. I would add the use of aspect. Word order is interesting with relation to the verb. As is the yi-/bi- alternation. As well as the classificatory nature of the verb stem. Combine these in actual speech, in how Navajos talk about and imagine the world and how they talk about that talk through poetic forms and I think we can begin to discuss Navajo linguaculture.

    Yeah, Whorf is still read and respected. His work still inspires new work. John Lucy’s two books from Cambridge spring to mind. It is most definitely still an active research agenda and taught at universities. I know I teach it and I know I was taught it.

    References available upon request.

  81. #81 rosebud
    October 27, 2006

    And I forgot Lakoff’s Women, Fire and Dangerous Things.

  82. #82 rosebud
    October 27, 2006

    Some recent work on the language and culture interface.

    Basso, Keith.
    1996. Wisdom Sits In Places. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
    Enfield, Nick.
    2002. Ethnosyntax. Oxford: Oxford UP.
    Friedrich, Paul.
    1986. The language parallax. Austin: Texas UP.
    Gumperz, John and Levinson, Stephen.
    1996. Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
    Hanks, William.
    1996. Language and Communicative Practice. Boulder: Westview Press.
    Hymes, Dell.
    1987. “Tonkawa Poetics: John Rush Buffalo’s ‘Coyote and Eagle’s Daughter.'” In Native American Discourse: Poetics and Rhetoric. (Eds. Sherzer, Joel &
    Woodbury, Anthony). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 17-61.
    Jourdan, Christine and Tuite, Kevin. (eds.)
    2006. Language, Culture, and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
    Lucy, John.
    1992a. Language diversity and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
    1992b. Grammatical categories and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
    Mithun, Marianne.
    1998. “The significance of diversity in language endangerment and preservation.” In
    Endangered Languages. (Eds. Grenoble, Lenore and Whaely, Lindsay).
    Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 163-191.
    2004. “The Value of Linguistic Diversity: Viewing Other Worlds Through North
    American Indian Languages.” In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. (ed.
    Duranti, Alessandro). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. 121-140.
    O’Neil, Catharine; Scoggin, Mary; and Tuite, Kevin. (eds).
    2006. Language, Culture, and the Individual. Muenchen, Germany: Lincom.Europa.
    Rumsey, Alan.
    1990. “Wording, Meaning, and Linguistic Ideology.” American Anthropologist. 92: 346- 361.
    Silverstein, Michael.
    1976. “Shifters, linguistic categories, and cultural description.” In Meaning in Anthropology. (Eds. Basso, Keith & Selby, Henry) Albuquerque: New Mexico
    UP. 11-55.
    1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology.” In The Elements. (Eds. Clyne, Paul; Hanks, William; and Hofbauer, Carol). Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
    193-247.
    1981. “The Limits of Awareness.” Sociolinguistic Working Papers. No. 84. Austin: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
    Woodbury, Anthony.
    1993. “A Defense of the proposition, ‘When a language dies a culture dies.'” Texas
    Linguistic Forum. 33: 101-129.
    1998. “Documenting rhetorical, aesthetic, and expressive loss in language shift.” In Endangered Languages. (Eds. Grenoble, Lenore and Whaley, Lindsay).
    Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 234-258.

    On the verb in Navajo.

    Faltz, Leonard M.
    1998. The Navajo verb: a grammar for students and scholars. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
    Midgette, Sally.
    1994. The Navajo Progressive. New York: Peter Lang.
    Neundorf, Alyse.
    2006. Navajo/English Dictionary of Verbs. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
    Smith, Carlota.
    1996. “Aspectual Categories in Navajo.” IJAL. 62(3): 227-264.
    Willie, Mary Ann and Jellinek, Eloise.
    2000. “Navajo as a Discourse Configurational Language.” In The Athabaskan
    Languages. (Eds. Fernald, Theodore and Platero, Paul). Oxford: Oxford UP. 252-
    287.
    Young, Robert.
    2000. The Navajo Verb System. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
    Young, Robert and Morgan, William.
    1987. The Navajo Language. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.

  83. #83 rosebud
    October 27, 2006

    On Navajo poetics.
    Astrov, Margot.
    1950. “The conception of motion as the psychological leitmotif of Navaho life and
    literature.” Journal of American Folk-lore. 63(247): 45-56.
    Dinwoodie, David.
    1999. “Textuality and the “voices” of informants: The case of Edward Sapir’s 1929
    Navajo Field School.” Anthropological Linguistics. 41(2): 165-192.
    Farella, John.
    1984. The Main Stalk: A synthesis of Navajo Philosophy. Tucson: Arizona UP.
    1993. The Wind in a Jar. Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
    Faris, James.
    1990. The Nightway: A history and a history of documentation of a Navajo ceremonial.
    Albuquerque: New Mexico UP.
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  84. #84 rosebud
    October 27, 2006

    Please excuse the typos as well. Early morning. Classes to prep for and all of that.

  85. #85 Unhindered by Talent
    October 27, 2006

    I want to echo yagwara’s plug for Tufte, extending it with a particular plug for his excellent pamphlet: The cognitive style of PowerPoint. While it’s (sort of) true (as The Ridger suggested) that “The objections to Power Point seem to be objections to the manner of its use, not to it”, Tufte makes a powerful argument that PowerPoint makes it actively difficult to convey rich, detailed information in many contexts. Instead of encouraging us to make the wonderful diagrams that PeeZed described above, it promotes flying through 20 slides.

    My personal goal is to have an entire conference talk be a single diagram/graph that is so rich and elegant and informative that I can talk meaningfully about it for 20 minutes. The best I’ve managed so far is nearly 10 minutes on a single graph. Patience, patience…

    As to chalk vs. whiteboard, I have a tactile fondness for chalk, but have grown pretty accustomed to whiteboards and don’t miss the white marks on my shoes. As a rule I’m more interested in having good quality tools of whatever sort is on offer than mediocre tools of my “preferred” type. In the end, what I really care about is real estate. Give me a room with acres of good boards, and I’m a really happy ludite :-).

  86. #86 Pygmy Loris
    October 27, 2006

    I’ve never taught a lecture section with chalk, and I’m pretty happy about that (just the very thought of the dry feeling and the scritchy sounds makes me glad I’m not in high school anymore).

    Last year I taught in a combo SmartBoard/whiteboard room. This works pretty well for Introduction to BioAnth and Forensic Anthropology, but from my experience as a student I prefer chalk in science/math classes.

    I think Powerpoint is wonderful if you’re willing to spend 10-20 hours to prepare each 50 minute lecture (the first time). That’s because animation and sequencing are absolutely critical. Professors that just let everything appear at once are encouraging students to not pay attention to the lecture because they’re busy copying the powerpoint slide. And I hate the premade slides that come from the book package. I “drew” my own meiosis/mitosis/etc. diagrams using Powerpoint and told the students they’d better copy them down because I don’t put lectures on the web.

    Also, with the SmartBoard, I could put up general ideas and add notes directly to the Powerpoint with the electronic markers. The drawback is that you have to be sure that when you switch from the dry erase board to the SmartBoard, you don’t use the markers on the SmartBoard. I did it once and so has every professor who lectured in that particular room.

  87. #87 Claire
    October 27, 2006

    As a followup to my comments on the whiteboard crayons — alas, they suck.

    The writing experience isn’t too bad — they have some nice tactile properties a bit like the feel of chalk tapping the board. They are a bit spindly because of their small points, although the line would get broader once the tip wears down (or you could use the unpointed end from the start).

    Unfortunately, where they really fail is in cleanup. I think that if someone were to cover the boards in a classroom with this stuff, the custodial staff would hunt them down and skin them alive, and I think they’d be justified. You can’t do quick fixes (via a finger) at all, and actually trying to get the board completely clean requires major physical effort and lots of paper (or cloth) towels. Windex and whiteboard cleaner don’t even make a dent in the wax, so you’re basically reduced to polishing the stuff off.

    Bummer. I knew there had to be a good reason these things hadn’t taken over.

  88. #88 Claire
    October 27, 2006

    On “smart boards” —

    The problem with the electronic boards is that they work with a very specific way of teaching, and aren’t nearly as good for other methods.

    If you teach with PowerPoint slides, and you write over the top of those slides, and you want to (or have to) give away copies of the slides after the lecture, they might work well for you. Assuming, of course, that the particular brand of smart board you have actually works with your chosen operating system and applications, as many of the manufacturers only support Windows, and often they also only support certain applications (such as PowerPoint or other MS Office apps) and don’t allow you to annotate documents in other software.

    If you use a Mac, or, deity-or-evolution-help-you, a Linux system, you’re probably screwed to one degree or another.

    I may sound old for saying so, but when I was in college I had to take my own damn notes, and I had to pay attention to what the professor and students were saying, understand what they were saying, and figure out what was important enough to write down. Sometimes there were handouts with illustrations or material that was fairly complex, but by and large we were expected to read books for that kind of material. I’m not at all convinced that the current vogue in giving students slides to take notes on works well; in fact, I think that there’s evidence that it causes some students to pay even less attention to what’s going on than they would otherwise, and for many people having slides seems to imply that all they need to know is on the slides, so they don’t even take supplemental notes.

  89. #89 Keith Douglas
    October 29, 2006

    Claire: I was told in my public speaking course from way back that one should give out handouts at the end of a talk, so that people aren’t distracted. Alas, there’s a habit amongst philosophers to even put large passages of cited text, and I’m sure most of us have gotten the stack-o-powerpoint slides …

  90. #90 Scott C. Pedersen
    April 21, 2009

    Give me CHALK!
    and yeah, I’m old fashioned, I have yet to lower myself to the evils of cell-phones and PDAs.

    Screw dry-erase/white-boards – they are abominations. For those Professors who cannot use the english language as an educational tool, you are welcome to use color markers, and I judge you accordingly.

    CHALK! can be read from the back of the room – you can break it up to manufacture a wide range of font size/types to match the demand (markers only come in itty-bitty seminar room sizes) –

    CHALK! is a great device for demonstrating torsion, bending-moments, symmetrical/asymmetrical loading forces (and failures) of bones/structures (physics, architectures, anatomy). –

    CHALK! doesn’t run out- there is always a nib of the stuff around somewhere – or perhaps in the next lecture room.

    CHALK! in the last resort permits the faculty member to resort to one of the most fascinating aspects of being a primate = tool use = chalk can be carefully broken so as to permit the user to fabricate ballistic projectiles of the appropriate mass to make the desired impact at the desired range on the sleeping-student,uh, er, I mean desired target.

    Some may argue that this is not politically correct behavior for a tenured professor… maybe they are right. If they insist, I am happy to desist chucking chalk at students and instead go with dry-erase markers – maybe the students will prefer color after all.

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