Sunday, April 26, 2009

One more time with the overhead projector

I wrote a short time back how the use of the overhead projector seemed to help some fourth grade students learn a little more as well as enjoying the process.   I did use the overhead one time to save my own skin so to speak.  Circa 1969-1970s.

I was taking classes for my doctoral degree--about half way through the curriculum of study.  One course that I still had to take, among others, was advanced statistics.  "Advanced!'  Just the word put fear into my head.  The computer program, entitled, "Statpac" and I had yet to be introduced to each other and my fear of statistics was still unfortunately higher than was warranted.  One thing that I had going on my side was that my wife had a degree in Statistics in Sociology.  She could help me--I was cool.

Now smart graduate students do some work before classes start.  Who is the instructor?  What do we know about him/her?  Who has already taken the course and what do they suggest?  What textbook is required?  Before the first class, you have the beginnings of a notebook with all sort of data, sometimes you can even get a copy of last quarter's outline of the course.  Also you try to buy a use copy of the textbook--not because it is cheaper but because it is marked up by the previous owner who has taken the course.

So it was with "Advanced Statistics."  I did my pre-class investigation.  And it was bad--really bad.  Brand new young professor, just hired.  No one knew a thing about him.  No textbook was required--what?  Gotta have a textbook.   A couple of us even called the instructor's university from which he had just graduated.  He had never taught a course before.  This was not good.

On the first day of class ten doctoral students made their appearance in a seminar classroom and waited with apprehension.  I think some comments between us was something about one for all and all for one.  We were a team.....even if we were a very apprehensive team.

The instructor finally find his way to the classroom and introduced himself.  I really don't remember his name.   After some introductory remarks he mentioned that this was advance statistics and what he was going to do was pass a hat around and we were each to take a slip of paper from the hat and that would be the subject that each person would present to the rest of the class during the quarter.  In essence, each of us would teach part of the course.  The new instructor would make corrections and help guide us through our presentations.  This was doable, it really meant that each student in the class had to really know one statistical procedure and we could share notes with each other.  

So okay--what about the final?   He was still thinking about that and would let us know.  

The hat was passed and I pulled out a piece of paper.  He had a name on it that I did not recognize and a date of my presentation to the class.  Thank heavens the date was closer to the end of the quarter.....I would have time to study.  I remember that I went home that evening and told my wife what statistical subject I had chosen and what did she know about it.  Her answer upset me.  She said it was very, very theoretical and that there were many experts who did not think it was plausible.  At that time when faced with a problem I'd head to the library.  What books had anything about this procedure? (for those readers who wish I would tell them the name, quite frankly I cannot recall what the statistical procedure was--I'm sorry).  By now I was friends with several librarians and between the three of us, we scoured the library for anything that mentioned this procedure.  Magazines, books, anything.  We came up with four items for me to check out--there wasn't much.  With this material I was to make an hour's presentation.  I remember going to a friend in another department and asking him about this procedure.  He knew nothing about it and when I was done would I give him a copy of what I had found out.

The future looked bleak.  I read all the material I had and made notes, perhaps ten or twelve pages of handwritten stuff that made little sense to me.  I understood the theory but had no idea how it worked.  I'm not a good porker player but I do know when it is time to bluff.  It was time.

I drew all the equations on clean white paper in pencil, then the graphs or charts that sorta explained the equations.  I had maybe fifteen sheets of drawings.  These I recopied then in ink and made transparencies.  My next step was to mount each transparency to a white cardboard frame.  My last construction step was to then write all my notes around the sides on the frame that had anything remotely about that graphic.  Then it was practice time.  About a week before my presentation I would practice my presentation with a stop watch reading my notes off each frame as I went.  My goal was to end with the last transparency just before the bell that ended the class would ring.  

On the day of the presentation, I made sure I had an overhead projector that had new bulbs in it--one a back up.   Class went for two hours with a short break in between.  I had the second hour.  When it was my turn, I set up the projector, turned the classroom lights off and started in with the presentation.   Now an overhead projector doesn't need the lights off in the room--in fact, when someone uses an overhead and does turn the lights off, it generally indicates that person is not use to using such a device.  I knew that and so did a number of my peers in the class.  But I also didn't want anyone to see my notes on the frame of each transparency.  Hence, no lights in the room.  As I said I started in on the presentation.  I was smooth.  I was cool. I had no idea of what I was saying.  Nothing made sense to me but I bluffed my way one transparency at a time.  I kept checking my time and I was right on--I was finishing up my presentation as the bell rang.  I do remember one person in the class raising a hand with a question and I said something to the effect that I would answer all questions at the end of the presentation.  Saved by the bell  

As we all left the classroom, the new professor said something about how my presentation made sense to him about that statistical method for the first time--well done, Mr. Blackwell.  Ha!  My colleagues got me away from the classroom and gave me a bad time--they knew I was bluffing but appreciated the way I had done it.  Bravo.  And when they saw my notes on the frame they were even more complementary.  The overhead and I had pulled it off.

A while later my prof saw me in the hall and asked if he could have a copy of my overhead transparencies.  I gave him the originals but put them in new clean frames.   And there was no final for us and everyone got an "S" for satisfactory.  The whole course turned out to be a non-event, albeit, highly stressed.  I never saw that statistical procedure mention or written ever again--perhaps it was deemed not important.  Who knows.  I do know that a short time later when my major professor put that teletype in my office that had "statpac" in its menu, I know I had an unusual intense interest in it.  My days of statistical transparencies were numbered.  The computer had made its arrival.

If you ever had a teacher who made a presentation that dazzled you I hope you thanked them at the end.  They planned it that way.


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