“Ancient chalk beds”

That was the phrase (from some science book of my youth) that came to mind the first time I stepped into a college lecture room with seating for some 200 students. The room was a broad wedge shape, filled with stadium seating of fixed chairs with small right-handed desktops. Down at the bottom was the instructor’s desk, a series of chalkboards, and a pull-down projection screen. Something was written on the chalkboard, but most discouragingly, I couldn’t read it from the back of the room. That meant I would also likely have trouble understanding the speaker, so I advanced down to the front row. Even moving to the front of the room was awkward (if not physically discouraging) because the terrace effect of the seating meant walking two paces forwards and stepping one down, an unnatural rhythm.

In such rooms, some professors would do a lot of writing on the board (usually still lecturing, which meant that they were talking to the board and were even less intelligible), and some profs would just stand there and lecture at us for the entire 50-80 minutes, sometimes writing a few things on the board. Some used slide presentations or overhead projectors, and only a few had moved to PowerPoint to merge the illustrations and text.

These were not classes from the 20th century — this was just a couple years ago.

The students around me were often visibly bored. Well, those that came. Some of them engaged in napping, with varying levels of discreetness. A few sat in the back and chatted with or texted friends. A lot of students took notes, or appeared to be doing something on paper. Few students volunteered questions, and fewer profs actually elicited dialog with and between students — most who asked questions of the students were just doing so to see if anyone had done the assigned reading.

The “sage on a stage” backed by those ancient chalk beds is a teaching style that’s over a century-old. Here’s a very interesting YouTube video,

… summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

It’s not just a very thought-provoking video — due to it’s text-driven style, it’s totally “open-captioned” as well! (Don’t worry — the video is much clearer than the frozen shot you see before clicking the Play button.)


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