the Technology Interface / Fall 97

Giving Up the Chalkboard: Student Response and Instructor Observation


Charles R. Thomas

Mechanical Engineering Technology
Purdue University


Students in a technology machine elements course were exposed to blackboard and transparency presentation formats in the same semester. A seven question survey was administered and students showed a clear preference for the transparency format in t erms of homework and test preparedness, clarity and readability of presentations, and ability to keep up with presentations. The survey results and the author discussion represent one positive illustration of technical educational assessment in conjuncti on with consequent documented improvement

I. Introduction

The author recently switched lecture delivery format from that of blackboard presentations to overhead transparency presentations. With the recent interest in assessment in technology, the switch in formats was made midway in the semester so that the students were subjected to both presentation formats. All students were subjected to the blackboard presentations for the first half of the semester and then all students were subjected to the transparency presentations for the second half of the semeste r. This strategy also allowed for the same group of students to respond to a short survey based on both presentation methods. The survey, titled "Classroom Format Survey", consisted of seven simple alternate response questions and it was admin istered to a group of 32 students in a sophomore level machine elements course. A potential concern prior to the survey was student dissatisfaction with the switch to a somewhat rigid transparency presentation format.

II. The Survey

The concerns probed by the survey included student preference of format, estimation of preparedness to work homework and exams, clarity and readability of presentations, and ability to keep up with presentations. The results of the survey are presente d along with relevant author commentaries.

The seven survey questions along with percentage student responses are:

1. Which classroom presentation format did you like best?

2. Which classroom presentation format best prepared you to work the homework problems?

3. Which classroom presentation format best prepared you to work the examinations?

4. Were the blackboard presentations clear and readable?

5. Were the transparency presentations clear and readable?

6. Were you able to keep up with the blackboard presentations?

7. Were you able to keep up with the transparency presentations?

These survey results represented a very pleasant surprise regarding the success of the transparency presentations as the original fear was for the transparency presentations to be less popular than the blackboard presentations. It was perhaps these ve ry fears that lead to a careful implementation of the transparency approach.

III. Discussion

The machine elements course involved was a fairly typical technology problem solving course. Typical lecture blackboard coverage was text, diagrams, equations, derivations with equations, computations, highlighted final equations with variables lists, and fully worked numerical example problems in conjunction with appropriate verbal comments. The author has taught the course for over 20 years so the existing lecture materials were well developed, structured, and fine tuned.

The usual classroom was equipped with blackboards and an overhead transparency projector. Dreams of high technology presentations using computers and computer projectors for the classroom remain dreams. The author does not believe that projecting the slides with a computer rather than with an overhead projector would have materially affected the survey outcome. As a side note, the slides were actually prepared in a size format that could be scanned in the future and used in a presentation software p ackage with a computer projector. Slide preparation time for one fifty minute classroom presentation generally ranged from two to four hours with diagrams and artwork being the major time factor.

Two primary concerns at the start of the project were the development of transparencies with text and figures which might be difficult to read and the usage of a delivery rate unsuitable for student note taking. Easily readable transparencies were ass ured by initial experiments with text and drawing sizes and their readability from the last row of a typical classroom. A text size template was developed based on the size experiments and subsequently used in the development of all transparencies. New transparencies were periodically projected in the classroom and checked for readability. Delivery rate was consciously checked and adhered to in the classroom by simply watching student note taking and waiting until all student writing ceased before movi ng to the next transparency. Since student note taking was encouraged, hard copy of the transparencies was not distributed to students.

The differing speeds of student note taking thus observed was surprising. Considerable instructor restraint was required to wait for note taking stragglers. Typical transparency delivery time for individual lectures was slightly longer than for black board delivery of the same material. This time difference was usually just a matter of a few minutes, so there was no change in the amount of material delivered with the transparency method.

Student response to the switch from the blackboard to transparencies was far more positive than any original instructor expectations. A 72% transparency preference along with 66% and 75% responses to the transparency format best preparing students to respectively work homework and examination problems is near astounding. While a 72% response to the blackboard presentations being clear and readable speaks well of this previous mode of presentation, the 97% response to the clarity and readability of th e transparencies clearly reinforces the value of the effort in the careful, previously discussed, preparation of the transparencies. In a similar fashion, the slight improvement of 91% in student ability to keep up with transparency presentations over 84 % with the blackboard presentations exemplifies the value of carefully watching students to assure they are finished with note taking before continuing with a new transparency.

IV. Conclusions

A seven question survey in a machine elements course yielded student responses which favored the transparency format and the transparency formats preparation of students to work homework and examination problems. The consensus was that while both the blackboard and the transparency formats were clear and readable, the transparencies were more so. Students were able to keep up with both formats, but they found the transparency format to be slightly easier.

The survey results and discussion represent an example of documenting assessment results that demonstrate a definite improvement in a technology course as achieved through the change in course delivery method. The hope is that this is one positive ill ustration of technical educational assessment in conjunction with consequent documented improvement.