Friday, October 16, 2009

Short Work

[further apologies for sporadic comment moderation during some busy and logistically challenging days]

In a class that I am teaching this term, I spend a lot of time writing, drawing, and equationing on the board at the front of the classroom. In some classrooms, I can, without too much undignified stretching, cover the entire board with exciting scientific words, letters, and glyphs. In my classroom this fall, however, I can only reach the lower half of the board without standing on a chair.

It's not a large board, so I spend a lot of time erasing. If I had more space, I could keep important information on it longer and have it there to refer to during later parts of a discussion. Life would be better.

Lowering the board would be the most sensible way to solve the problem for me, but my taller colleagues (i.e., everyone else in my department) would then be inconvenienced.

Perhaps in less economically dire times the department would get a new, larger board or would acquire some other means by which I could write and derive and sketch to my heart's content, but that's not going to happen this year (or next).

This is not a complaint, just a random musing about having to deal with some technical challenges when teaching in the classic on-the-board style. It is vitally important that I keep my board-writing as organized as possible, especially when in the midst of a long series of sequential etchings, but I am finding this very difficult owing to space/height limitations.

Today, however, I was quite thrilled by the sight of my (taller) co-instructor kneeling on the floor so that he could reach the bottom of the board. So far this term he has been able to fill the entire board without doing this, but the nature of his scribblings today for some reason required that he not reach down too low to write. Hence, he knelt. Somehow, this cheered me up and reduced my feelings of frustration with only being able to reach part of the board.

22 comments:

estraven said...

I am also a FSP, but I'm average height in my department. I am also the one who spent three years wrestling with the administration so that at least one lecture room would be equipped with double blackboards, the kind that can be swapped up and down.
Now I can write to my heart's content, and (after a few more years, in which people have systematically quarreled to teach in said room) the admin has agreed to outfit enough lecture rooms. The blackboards should be there next year.

catherine said...

At my university all the large boards move so one can write at whatever height is convenient. In some of the really large venues the boards are attached to each other and stretch from floor to ceiling with the top board rotating to the back when the bottom board is pulled up. The effect is like scrolling down on a computer screen. These boards are fantastic for scrawling on and for note taking. Maybe your university could do something similar.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Get your asshole colleague to kneel down on his hands and knees, and then you stand on his back and write all the way to the top of the fucking board. PROBLEM SOLVED!

Anonymous said...

Oh FSP, I am right there with you on this one. I'm teaching a course full of derivations, so I want to keep a lot of equations on the board at once, and I can only use the upper third of the board by tiptoeing and craning my neck. Very undignified, but it's my only option. At least I am able to do this in my current classroom, though - last spring the room I was in had a board set so high that I could barely reach the entire upper half. I complained to maintenance and they ended up coming in and lowering it on the wall for me. For the record, I am 5'0", so petite, but not a height outlier.

EliRabett said...

Another way is to get an old vugraph machine and write on transparencies.

CJ said...

I completely get this. I am not excessively short, but short enough (5' 2") and I spent much of my TA reviews hopping up and down on a very unstable stool to pull down boards and write on the tops of them etc. My students would occasionally laugh, but for the most part they just go right along with it. Then again, I am just a lowly TA, I expect as a professor I would want to look slightly more dignified. I have seen several other TA's and professors have this problem, so you are not alone!

Go short people!

Helen Huntingdon said...

I once was asked to mark a wall to show where a whiteboard should be hung. I reached up as high as I could and marked the wall there. The other users of the room were at least 6 inches taller than I was and complained the board was too low, but since they could reach all of it, I told them to deal.

Anonymous said...

Your solution - Tablet PCs.
No kneeling / stretching /chalk dust

AND you get to save your work for students to view later or for you when you teach this class next.

Anonymous said...

Me too! 5'0" and in my first semester of teaching. I'm doing a lot of undignified stretching and I feel like I have to erase things almost as soon as I've written them. It's terrible if I have a diagram on one of the two boards that we're using to solve a problem on the second board - can't erase the diagram and can't reach the top half of board two. It's a farce. I have experimented with a Tablet PC, which is okay, but still doesn't work well for diagramming because I have to scroll the diagram off the screen to write and then scroll back to refer to it. The students are rolling with it though. No complaints as of yet.

Balancing Act said...

None of the boards in the buildings in which I have taught at this university moved. Until recently, I always taught for men who stood about 6' tall. I'm of CJ's height. Even on tip-toes I cannot reach the top of the boards in the lecture halls in my building. To reach the top of the board (with a lovely top margin, mind you) in the room in which I teach this semester, I stretch up in a full body fingers to toes extension.

All of us in this boat agree that at least in the lecture halls, they should install a slide-out step so that those of us 10 inches below the "standard professor height" can reach the top of the lecture hall boards, as well as be seen by our students behind the huge high counters they install right in the front of the room.

Physically Blonde said...

We have a classroom in our department with a beautiful double chalkboard that extends almost the full width of the room. It's terrific for long derivations, but there's one flaw. The lecturer has to stand on a 12" high platform to write on the board -- no matter their height. And the platform is really two platforms, one for each 'board.' I'm not sure if the elevation is meant to increase visibility or not, but I've TA'd many a tutorial in this room, when in the middle of a calculation or derivation, I stepped to the second board, while still writing, only to fall between the stages. Fairly mortifying.

Anonymous said...

I was very unhappy to find that not only am I teaching in the Art Department this fall (10 minutes by foot away), but that this room has NO Blackboard. I mostly use Powerpoint but do like to have a blackboard (or white board or smartboard or anything else except an overhead projector that cannot be used with the powerpoint projector!!!) for my occasional excursions into fits of bad drawing, and my efforts to reward students who come the Tuesday before Thanksgiving by writing certain things on the board in VERY BIG letters and underlining them three times and then immediately writing exam questions about them.

One might think the ART department might occasionally like to draw or writ freehand or do something artistic, but apparently no.... There is, however, a baby grand piano.

Mark P

Ψ*Ψ said...

I have a somewhat-related issue with gloveboxes. I wear an XS glove, but some of my labmates have giant hands, so the glovebox gloves are about 2-3 times as large as my hands.

Anonymous said...

just use the old-fashioned transparencies that you project onto the far wall while you write on them with (non permanent) markers. So much more comfortable.

EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

Get your school to install visualizers. Really cool little arms with a light and a camera that attaches to a beamer. You can slap down old transparencies, or put down a piece of paper and write in your normal handwriting on the paper. Truely cool.

Ms.PhD said...

yup, what estraven said. all my large lecture courses in college were in a room that had this sort of rolling up-and-down arrangement of overlapping boards that could go all the way to the floor or up higher. It was great because as the boards filled up, they did not have to be erased, and slower students could continue to take notes on that content as the professor went ahead with the next one. And obviously this height thing was never an issue at all.

I know what you mean, though. It's called a frisson of schadenfraude.

Anonymous said...

are you a real teacher?

many teacher buy necessary teaching supplies out of their own pocket....after tax dollars.

why don't you use your paycheck (from the tax payers) and buy a new whiteboard for the dept, classroom. Instead of wasting time for 3 years wrestling with the administration. Some people like to argue and wrestle for FUN!

And professors are over-paid (for doing what they LOVE). TAs are over-paid too. All TAs need are: rent to share a room with 3 other people + $ for fast food.

TAs are not supposed to have excess money. They are getting a free education and they get free guinea pigs to hone their teaching skills...

Not good: Professors who erase important information too quickly. Many students are slow and not as intelligent as you. They process information slower and need time to take notes and listen at the same time. Not to mention professors with bad hand writing or who insist on using cursive.

Also not good: professors who read from power point slides...

Finally, why not just show students a video tape from past years. If the professor just perform the same lecture every year, without checking for student understanding or pretend there is no time for questions from students.

Anonymous said...

You warm my heart. I am very short, but fantasize about teaching in platform heels. There is a high board behind the sliding board that I have never written on. All my colleagues are >6', and when I saw one of them write on this forbidden space, I was overcome with envy. Oh, to be tall enough to write on this high board!

Anonymous said...

Scaffolding? A bench about a foot high, on which you would stand. Just don't step back to admire your work... dave.s.

Anonymous said...

I am short. In one of my classes I asked a student to pull the screen down for me (we have projectors and pull down screens in every classroom). I was asked right back (by another student) why I dont just stand on a chair and do it myself. What do you say to that?

Kevin said...

"I was asked right back (by another student) why I dont just stand on a chair and do it myself. What do you say to that?"

I can see the images just fine on my laptop---the projection is for your benefit, not mine.

Anonymous said...

The whiteboards in the lecture halls of our (fairly new) science building at my undergrad slid over each other. You could fill one with equations/scrawlings, then roll it up where it can still be seen by students, and meanwhile pull down the other one to a comfortable writing height for you.

In my grad institution it's pretty terrible. There are two poorly lit, very small blackboards on the side, and one slightly larger rolling blackboard. There's no problem with anyone reaching the tops of the boards, but there's not nearly enough space. Sadly this leads to 99% of lecturers using .ppt only. Ugh.