The Last Overhead Projector

When is the last time you used an overhead projector?

For me I think it was about 1994, before we renovated the instruction rooms in the library where I was working at the time. I still recall heading off to library conferences with a stack of overhead transparencies prepared for a presentation. In time, most classrooms and conference locations made the switch to computer projectors and document cameras.

I had not even thought about overhead projectors in the last ten years until I came across this piece of education technology news. It seems the instructors at the University of Colorado Boulder were still using overheads to present course material. According to the article:

CU officials estimate that some 225 projectors still exist on the Boulder campus, where so-called “smart” classrooms with digital projectors, DVD players, slideshows and other gadgets reign supreme. “This was a technology that had its heyday and is now being underutilized,” said Greg Stauffer, a spokesman for CU’s Office of Information Technology.CU officials said it’s possible the old projectors could be sold off as part of the campus’ regular property auctions. In a newsletter officially announcing the demise of the overhead projector, campus officials said they would still accommodate those teachers who want the technology in their classrooms. Stauffer guessed that 25 to 50 overhead projectors will remain in use on campus once the purge is complete.

My reaction was a combination of amusement and disbelief. Really? Still using an overhead projector? The article offers no insight into why instructors are still going with the projectors. A portable computer projector could be delivered to any room. Were the faculty using them reluctant to give up their elegantly prepared slides? Were they hesitant to transfer all the content on their transparencies to newer presentation software? Is it possible they believed they were better instructors with overhead transparencies?

We may never know but the fact that the university will still allow 25 to 50 overheads to remain in use suggests that some instructors, for whatever reason, are still quite attached to their transparencies.

While this article does inspire just a touch of nostalgia for the old days of instruction with the overhead projector (they never seemed to breakdown or were confusing to use), I am hardly advocating to bring them back. Educators and students alike may lament the dominance of presentation software owing to the ways in which it can lead to passive learning with instructors either reading from computer slides or just posting them on learning management systems and expecting students to learn from them. Lord knows I see far too many students in the library with eyes glazing over a screen of text-bound slides.

As is always the case it’s not the technology, whether it’s an overhead projector or the latest computer projection system, but how the instructor integrates the technology into the learning process in order to promote better learning and student success.

Does your library still have an overhead projector in use?

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