Vivek Haldar

Teaching as performance

A recent paper finally put into words what I’d felt for a long time: the phenomenon of remembering concepts and facts from a textbook by relating them to their physical location in the book and on the page:

The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

This also begins to explain why the recent trend of professors and teachers using computer-projected slides instead of black (or white) boards upsets me. The board is alive. The slide is inert.

I still remember the physical movements of a great math class as it unfolded on the board. The order in which terms were written. Some terms cancelled each other out. Swish. Swish. A quick slash. Some terms got factored out. A small rub and overwrite. Oh – and the crunching together and shrinking of the size of the writing as space began to run out at the bottom. And finally, a long pause as things came to a logical conclusion and the board was wiped clean for the next concept.

All this seems silly, but it is what made the class come alive for me, what made me remember stuff. It was teaching done as a performance art.