Instructional Technology Adaptation Proposal

The Chalk-less classroom: Use of computer resources to improve traditional lectures in mathematics courses

Thomas Witelski
Department of Mathematics
Duke University
Box 90320, Durham, NC 27708
phone: 919-660-2841
fax: 919-660-2821

Funding for this proposal will be used in the teaching of two courses in Fall 1999 in the media-equipped classroom, room 120 in the Physics building:


The use of touch-sensitive displays and digital writing tablets to augment computer resources in media equipped classrooms will lead to dramatic improvements in classroom lectures. Multi-media equipment with digital writing input will allow teachers to interactively present lessons while facing the class and will enhance and accelerate old style chalk and talk lectures. In additions to classroom presentations, this technology will automate production of digitized class notes for web access by students.

Project Description:

Multi-media equipment and modern information technology has made some dramatic improvements possible in the level of quality of classroom presentations. Detailed structures can be clearly depicted with high quality images, and complex dynamics can be illustrated through computer animation. Yet, at times, the same multi-media technology can become obtrusive and disrupt the flow of a lecture, ultimately impairing the learning process. This proposal describes how computer resources can be made into more natural, integral components of classroom lectures through the addition of input devices for digital writing.

The Mathematics department currently has one media-equipped classroom; this is room 120 in the Physics building. This classroom has a computer projection system, VCR, and web multi-casting capabilities. I have used many of these capabilities in the course of teaching two classes in this room in 1998-1999:

Some of the instructional technology resources I employed for these classes included In particular, through the use of my visualization programs I was able to present three-dimensional views of complicated curves and surfaces in my Mth 103 course that would otherwise be too difficult to accurately draw on a chalkboard. This proposal is based on my experience using the multi-media resources of this classroom and from my interactions with other faculty members also using those facilities.

The multi-media equipment allowed for valuable additions to my courses. However, there are also some drawbacks and shortcomings to current computer-based multi-media presentations:

Points like these are often raised as reasons why people avoid trying to "modernize" courses. This proposal is directed to eliminate these problems and to make media-equipped classrooms a natural technological evolution of traditional chalk board lectures.

I propose to augment the control console of the media-equipped classroom with a digital writing tablet or touch sensitive display that can digitize the motion of a pen. The lecturer will sit at a table in the front of the room, facing the class while writing the lecture notes on a clipboard-sized device, with the results being projected onto a screen in the front of the room. The goals of the use of this new setup are:

Integration with existing facilities

This project will yield an enhancement of the mathematics department's media-equipped classroom. I have scheduled use of this room for three meetings each week for each of my two classes (Mth 103X and Mth 131) for Fall 1999. In terms of technical assistance and computer support for the multi-media and computer systems in room 120, I have been given continuing support from the mathematics department's two systems administrators, Yunliang Yu and Andrew Schretter.


While the immediate effects of this proposal will be in my two fall courses, the broader impacts of this project would have transferable improvements for all of the media-equipped classrooms on campus. Initially, I will test-run this new system in the two classes, with 20-30 students each, that I will teach in the room 120 in fall 1999. The primary cost for this proposal is the purchase of the input digitizing devices. After consultation with Yu and Schretter, it became clear that the most feasible technology to accomplish the outlined goals would be the use of two input devices These products are based on well-established technologies and are highly compatible as input devices (acting much like sophisticated computer mice or "PalmPlilot" personal digital assistants) for the current computer equipment existing in room 120. Some basic software for recording and storing the digitized writing in convenient formats will be developed. The establishment of the details of the nature of the computer hardware and software support is expected to evolve slightly in response experience gained in the process of teaching the fall classes. During the term, the immediate results of the project will include a daily web-based set of lecture notes available to the students.

At the end of the term I will present an information session to describe the effectiveness of the equipment in an attempt to convince other faculty members to go "chalk-less." While this proposal is based in the mathematics department, the broader impact of this information technology would be easily transferable to lectures in most other departments in science, engineering or art that make use of media-equipped classrooms.


Based on current quotes that we have obtained from the web pages of the touch-screen display and electronic white board vendors ( Mass Multimedia and Microtouch), we expect the touch screen monitor to cost $2000, and the electronic whiteboard to be less than $1000. Additionally, there will be some costs involved for the labor and materials related to the installation of the equipment in the classroom (estimated $500-$1000). The mathematics department is contributing the technical support of the two systems admininstrators (Yu and Schretter). Finally we are also requesting some money for student support -- an undergraduate math or computer science student will be employed to help develop and maintain the software and associated web pages. Total budget $4500.

Project assessment

The assessment of the success of this proposal will be based on two criterion: The final internal assessment of the project will be done at a department-wide level, including input from the associate chairman, William Pardon, and other faculty members using the media equipped classroom, including Andrea Bertozzi and William Allard.

Department support

This proposal has been endorsed by the mathematics department (Chairman John Harer). The department is providing with full access to the media-equipped classroom facilities and support from our two full-time systems administrators. This proposal is also in line with the department's goals in improving teaching of undergraduate and graduate courses and furthering the uses of information technologies.