Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blackboard Laws Violated

Among the prerequisites for being a successful teacher is successfully mastering the various codes of conduct that students consider acceptable teaching practices. One of these most basic codes is the following of the blackboard rules. I assume these rules are taught in your general Ph.D. program, and I would hope that teachers in a Ph.D. program would be well versed enough not to actually violate some of the most basic blackboard laws themselves. However, today I witnessed the 2nd blackboard law being violated twice. I am left wondering how many professors in the world are actually trained appropriately for blackboard use.

Because you may not be familiar with the blackboard laws, I have taken the liberty to provide the first two for your edification. The first law is simple and straight forward: Use the blackboard. As in every other subject, the first law is kind of obvious. However, I have been to a class in which the professor used nothing but a projector with illegible slides. Add to this the fact that she was just mumbling a few formulas and stories to herself, and I had for myself an unofficial self-study program. Most good professors adhere strictly to the first blackboard law, and I don't think any more emphasis is necessary.

The second law of blackboard states the maximum length for any given equation that can be written on one line. Although the formal statement of the law is beyond the scope of this essay, a concise explanation goes as follows: Don't write an equation on the board that can't be easily copied into the notes. The logic is simple. Anyone using a four by twenty foot blackboard has a large advantage over someone using a foot long piece of paper. Today, one of my professors violated the second law by writing an equation that stretched all the way across the top of the blackboard. What took him one line took me about three, and it will not be as easy for me to see the connection from one line to the next as it was for him to write such a monstrosity. I am hoping that there won't be a repeat performance of this practice in the future.

Although this was a serious violation, it pales in comparison to the violation that happened earlier in the day with the very same blackboard law. This violation was the worst such violation I had ever seen in my entire life. The following equation actually appeared on the blackboard in a real university classroom today.
If you are shocked by the size of this thing, please continue to be. I was more shocked to find out that this wasn't a joke. It took me a few minutes just to copy this one equation, and it took me another five minutes to figure out how to get a copy of it onto the blog. This equation is a clear violation of the second blackboard law. However, one of my fellow students was quick to defend the professor by claiming that this was not a very long equation. It was just a little tall. Although this is technically correct, it falls in the category of following the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. The bottom line is (not sure which line I'm referring to), this equation is hard to write, and therefore it should not appear on a blackboard. I hope further violations will not occur in the future, and schools will be much safer for people that are scared of fractions.


  1. >"Anyone using a four by twenty foot blackboard has a large advantage over someone using a foot long piece of paper."

    Well said! I feel the same way in accounting classes. I'm expected to copy over entire financial statements into my notes and still be able to discern a flow between lines/columns, while the professor has an entire blackboard to use as a template. Not to mention that he has 25 yrs of experience writing it on the board so he knows exactly which quadrant to start in in order to keep the scrawl neat. Glad to see that I still can complain about these things when I hit my doctoral program...

  2. The flaw in my logic is the fact that most professors are actually copying their own notes onto the board. If it fit on their paper, there must be some way to fit it on your paper.

    Speaking of doctoral programs, there is plently to complain about at that level. Part of the reason why some professors expect a lot from their students is because they want to give you the same experience they had during their years of schooling.