A confluence of events has conspired me to switch how I use my in-class time. I have switched
- I gave my students a midterm evaluation. They are mostly happy, but thought that I was moving really quickly through the proofs.
- I taught with Matthew Leingang, who, for years, has been doing what I am about to describe.
- I attended a presentation about MOBIs, which are similar to SMART Boards.
- One of my classrooms has poor lighting, making it difficult for some of the students to see the board.
These events led me to switch from primarily using the chalkboard to primarily using Beamer presentations. Beamer is like a version of Power Point, but at least 500% more awesome. The biggest push came from the presentation about the MOBIs. I got really excited about the presentation, but then realized that 90% of the benefits could be gotten by using Beamer presentations. Here are the advantages; this is all speculation so far, since I have taught only one day with Beamer.
- Beamer will allow me to be a more efficient teacher. I will spend less time writing, which means that I can spend more time on in-class projects for the students.
- Beamer will allow the students to be more efficient students. They print off handouts of the presentations before coming to class, and use these as their notes. They do not need to write, but rather just concentrate on understanding the ideas.
- Beamer allows me to write up pristine proofs. It is important to see a lot of good proofs when learning to write, and my Beamer proofs are much better than my blackboard proofs. This is because I take short cuts on the blackboard to reduce the writing time; there is no such problem with Beamer.
- Beamer is more visible than the blackboards in one of my rooms.
- Beamer will allow me to do more complicated examples. For instance, my students are familiar with , but I rarely do examples of subgroups of because it takes so long to describe the subgroup. This is a snap with Beamer.
- Beamer will ultimately reduce my prep time. The next time I teach this course, I will have an outline that I can modify; I will not need to start planning from scratch.
- Beamer will help me plan better lectures. When I teach this class again in a couple of years, I will have a concrete reminder of what I did. I will write notes in my file that tell me how to improve. I do not have this type of “memory” with blackboards.
- Students can look over the notes before class to be more prepared for class.
- Students who miss a class can more easily see what they missed.
Here are some potential (and already actualized) drawbacks:
- The prep time is concentrated up front. Producing slides for 3-4 days of class takes an entire 8 hour workday.
- Some students may feel like they do not need to come to class when the class slides are available online.
- There is a risk of going too quickly through slides.
There are likely others, and I will be happy to point them out as the experiment continues. The first drawback is very real, but will hopefully be worth the long-term investment (I am thinking about installing a geothermal heat pump in my home, which has similar advantages and disadvantages: a bit up-front price, but you ultimately save over the long run). I do not think that the second drawback will be a problem for my students, who are quite good about attending class. I could see this being a problem at other schools, though. Finally, I have asked the students for help in slowing me down. In particular, I have given them all a red index card. When they want me to slow down, they are supposed to hold it up so that I can see I am going too fast. They were not used today, but they could be helpful later on.
Finally, my students seemed to think that today’s Beamer lecture went well. Also, here is a link to my webpage, where the handouts for the presentations are posted.