Real teaching doesn’t require a smart board

State of the art smart boards and flashy PowerPoint presentations are great. But, argues professor Adriaan J. Minnaard, a trusty blackboard and some chalk work much better.

With the overwhelming presence of smart boards and PowerPoint presentations, you’d be forgiven for not remembering that the most important teaching tool at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) is the old-fashioned blackboard.

The blackboard is used to guide students through the derivation of mathematical proofs, physics laws, the structural formula of a molecule, or the processes that take place in cells.

Writing and drawing on a blackboard forces lecturers to slow down and allows students the time to take notes and copy the drawings. One of the advantages of chalk is that it allows for shading, while a marker and a white board doesn’t.

The blackboard guides students through the derivation of a mathematical proof

Chalk is available in twelve colours, and since the invention of dust-free board chalk in 1953, no one can complain about the dust it gives off anymore. A more recent invention is the light-weight blackboard, which means I and many of my colleagues have a personal blackboard in our office.

At FSE, the academic staff, both junior and senior, students, and student-assistants all agree that blackboards are an indispensable part of seminars and lectures.

That’s why it’s remarkable that every time a new building, such as the Linneausborg a few years ago, and the current Feringa Building, is being furnished, it takes a Herculean effort to ensure the rooms and lecture halls actually have blackboards in them.

It takes a Herculean effort to ensure the rooms and lecture halls have blackboards in them.

Why managers, administrators, or educational experts are so against blackboards isn’t clear, but it is annoying. Surely, even building management is aware of the advantages of blackboards: they’re reliable, require no maintenance or technical support, and they don’t require electricity to work.

That’s why I would urge my colleagues at the university who are involved in educational support and innovation and furnishing our teaching facilities to consider the following:

Providing education is our job as academic staff. Essential to this are excellent technical support and facilities. Lecturers indicate what they need, and the advice and insights from educational experts and policy advisors will be taken into account and, if of value, incorporated.

That’s the only way we can continue to guarantee effective and modern education.

Adriaan J. Minnaard is a professor of organic chemistry at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE).

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