THE BLACK | THE INVISIBLE | AND | THE WHITE BOARDS

Written By: Olasunkanmi Famofo-Idowu (SCMr Co2019)

In the Classrooms

I left the four-walled classroom few years back, graduating from the then Technology department of the University of Ilorin, in Nigeria. As at the time of my university education, we took most lectures in theatre-style halls for general classes. Some of those seated between 200 and 400 students. The specialized classrooms and laboratories were more suited for smaller groups of fewer than 20 students per session. Aside from the distinguishing feature of number of students per class, the classrooms, the lecture halls and the laboratories have one thing in common: traditional blackboards and white chalks. The boards were perfect for our set-up. Except for a few occasions when there was need to explain a formula, or work out an example, the boards were not very active during class sessions. Most materials were transmitted as printed notes and handouts (YES: Only a few privileged students had smartphones, not even laptops, at that time). It was a daunting task to get those black surfaces restored for good contrast. In my few years of working experience, the white boards dominated the corporate learning environments. I quickly learned about the maintenance free white surfaces and ease of use. Popular in some of my meetings and seminars were flip charts, dry erase white boards, and projector units. However, some critics argue that disappearing blackboards are best for learning because students can see and follow the logic. This sentiment is being challenged by the digital age and deployment of technology in knowledge transfer

Behind the Computers

Since graduation from college, I have participated in learning events such as seminars, conferences and short courses. My on-the-job learning and professional courses were delivered in the virtual learning environment, VLE. Access to VLE contents is through an internet-enabled device. The VLE contains course contents as a series of slideshows looped together with a pre-recorded voice over. The course modules might include animations and cartoons to make learning fun.  In between my work experience, I enrolled in the MIT Micromasters Supply Chain Management (SCM) Certificate program. The Micromasters contents were delivered as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Although both MOOC and VLE are computer-based learning, MOOC is targeted at a limitless number of students. As many as can be reached. VLE is a closed learning format, with a limited number of participants and a common community of practice (CoP). Also, the MIT Micromasters course contents were delivered as sets of learning videos to simulate the classroom environment. Each lesson in the series was opened by MIT faculty members and Supply Chain practitioners, including Chris Caplice, Jim Rice, Yossi Sheffi and others. Every week I looked forward to the release of new videos as well as the writing on the invisible boards. These boards are referred to as lightboards, also known as glassboards. The presentation is quite different from the traditional writing boards, as the instructor appears facing the camera. To create good contrast, a black backdrop is used in addition to other enhancing tools. The presentation boards were one of the topical general discussions in the student forum. This presentation mode made students, including myself, wonder whether the professors were writing backwards.

Picture1 .  Chris Caplice explaining the Micromasters Credential framework using the ‘invisible board’

Back to School

I joined the SCMr Co2019 in fall 2018. One of the first things I did was to locate the Micromasters video  production team. I wondered how the giant MIT invisible boards differ from the ones I found online in an attempt to demystify the glassboards. I saw the recording studio, the AgeLab, and other labs in my first tour around the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) offices. As I walked past one of the offices, I caught a glimpse of a faculty member writing on the office wall while discussing with a colleague. There goes a white ‘wallboard’. I realized most of the departmental walls are made from writable materials. I also saw quite a few writings on the office glass panels which reminded me of the of the famous ‘handwriting on the wall’. The writings were a mix of letterings, formulae, and drawings, in some instances. They are beautiful sights and makes learning even more fun. I love the writing freedom infused into the learning process; it helps keep the thought process on track.

MIT SCM program is fun, all the way!

Picture2

Olasunkanmi Famofo-Idowu

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