Teaching CS the Old School Way

I think overhead projectors should be mercifully gutted, de-bublb’ed and put out on the curb for morning garbage pickup. I seriously see no use for an old school overhead slides in a classroom today. Why would I want to screw around with flimsy black & white transparent slides when I can scan any image I want in full color, throw it on the network, or onto a flash stick that fits in my pocket?

We have working SmartBoards in almost every Richardson Hall classroom. This means that I can draw on any image, powerpoint slide or document I want – and half of the time, I’ll be able to save these drawings along with that document. Copying a file takes seconds – copying a set of transparency slides takes… Minutes? Hours? I never did it, but I’m pretty sure your average xerox box is going to choke on those plastic sheets. So you need to find a machine that does transparency, figure out who has the code for it, listen to half an hour lecture titled “if you break it I will hunt you down and kill your dog!” and etc… Who needs that?

And yet, there we are every Tuesday evening jotting down notes from crusty old transparency slides in our Image Processing class. Yup, it is an imaging class – and half of the time we can’t really tell the difference between the “before” and “after” picture because the transparency can only display 4 shades of grayness: black, gray, dirty and transparent.

I noticed that people generally suck at taking notes. In my opinion note taking is writing down bare-bones essentials. Apparently, no one has figured that out though. I was looking left and right and everyone was taking down notes word by word from the transparency. So for example the following sentence:

Histogram equalization, often used in medical research and image processing aims to improve the quality of an image by balancing out the distribution of gray levels.

Will look like so in my notes:

Histo-Equal = improve quality -> balance distr. of gray lvl. Use: med. research

It’s not pretty, but it is functional and I can make sense of it later on. Taking down notes verbatim is a good recepie for carpal tunnel 😛

One excuse for using the old school transparency was that when you post slides online, students are not taking notes these days. I say, good for them. I find note taking to be distracting. I think learning should always be about understanding the subject and getting the big picture. Of course, if you don’t take notes you might miss some of the nitty-gritty details. But it’s not like you can’t look them up later. I like to think that if you get the gist of the problem, you can easily figure out the details. If you only know details, but you do not understand the underlying logic – you are in trouble.

But then again, that’s just my opinion.


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