Board technique

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Board technique refers to the collection of techniques that instructors use to manage chalkboards (or whiteboards or other kinds of boards) visible to students, where the primary documented content of the lecture is recorded. Good board technique may also be part of students presenting to fellow students.

Emphasis on board technique is part of the focus on classroom instruction as performance.

Components of board technique

Clarity of written material or drawings

Good board technique involves the choice of an appropriate size and font (handwriting) so that what is written is clear to all students. Since testing all student configurations is hard, a good rule of thumb is the "four corners" rule: if people at all four corners of the room can clearly read what is written, it is likely that most people can clearly read what is written. Clarity of written material can be affected by the following:

  • The instructor's handwriting
  • The quality of writing materials used (chalk/marker and board)
  • The quality of erasing material used (poor erasing material leaves marks on the board that make new material harder to read)
  • Lighting (good lighting helps see what is written on the board, but glare can make it hard to read what is on the board)
  • Great distance and weird angles
  • Physical obstructions

To write in real time, or prepare beforehand?

Instructors sometimes have a choice of writing materials beforehand (for instance, on hidden boards or in slides) rather than writing in real time. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of the approaches are below.

Advantages of writing beforehand:

  • The instructor spends less time writing and can spend the time explaining or interacting with students.
  • The material can be prepared more carefully and vetted for accuracy and clarity of presentation.

Advantages of writing in real time:

  • Writing in real time slows the instructor down to a pace where students can realistically take notes and/or follow the material. Instructors who have pre-written material tend to go faster, making it harder for students to understand material on the spot.
  • In some cases, the act of writing while speaking can have pedagogical value. Students often need to see the order in which the instructor is writing material and thinking out loud. This is particularly important for complicated mathematical expressions or physical diagrams where the order in which symbols are written down is not always clear.
  • Relatedly, writing in real time allows students to see the physical motions needed to make symbols, and in the instructor speaks out loud, students also learn the names associated with different symbols.

Juggling multiple chalkboards

In some classrooms, particularly college classrooms, instructors have access to multiple chalkboards. There are three numbers of relevance:

  • The number of chalkboards to which the instructor has immediate write access: This is generally equal to the number of vertical panels, and equals 2 or 3 in a large lecture hall.
  • The number of chalkboards to which students have immediate read access: This is generally twice the number of vertical panels (one upper board and one lower board per panel) and equal 4 or 6 in a large lecture hall.
  • The total number of chalkboards on which material can be stored: This is generally 2 or 3 times the number of vertical panels, and can vary between 4 and 9.

In general, the following are recommended:

  • With the exception of material that is intended for very temporary computation or for pre-written material that is being revealed as a surprise, try to make sure that all material is on chalkboards to which all students have immediate read access.
  • In a typical classroom architecture, each panel has a front board, a middle board, and a back board. Generally, avoid writing on the back board, and keep the front and middle board visible at all times.
  • If you're not going back and forth between the boards too much, you may consider numbering the boards sequentially.
  • In general, it's best to cycle through the boards rather than reuse a board immediately after it has been used. This makes sure that material stays as long as possible for future reference and so that students can copy it down. It also helps students who arrive late to class.
  • An exception may be made for important material and temporary computation. Important material may be kept on a separate, always-accessible board throughout the lecture, and the cycling of new written material will therefore be limited to the remaining boards. Temporary computation may be erased more quickly, or done on the back board (usually hidden) so that it does not take space meant for the other material.