I came home today wearing a jacket covered in a substance I haven’t had to deal with (professionally, at least) in years: chalkdust.
I’d facilitated a day-long session at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre campus, a 21-year-old facility (which makes it a puppy in university years) in downtown Vancouver. It’s a modern, bright, open building -but at least in the room we met in, uses blackboards.
Not whiteboards. Not digital whiteboards… a technology I have yet to actually use. (I nearly did on Tuesday at another day-long session, when I came this close to writing on one with a whiteboard marker before the dismayed howls of the participants stopped me.)
But chalkboards. Or, to be more accurate, chalkboard: a big board divided in two by the projection screen (for which there was a corresponding overhead projector, tucked away into an alcove).
I’m comfortable with flipcharts and whiteboards. Lately I’ve even started casting them aside in favour of shared mindmaps on a digital projector, which often get an “oooooh” from audiences. Blackboards seem painfully retro by comparison, and I wasn’t looking forward to writing on these ones.
Until I did. And I felt a primal emotional resonance in the way the letters took shape in powdery, gritty strokes amid the soft clicking and squeaking of the chalk.
Maybe it’s just memories from grade school (and one teacher in particular whose blackboard handwriting style appealed to me so much that I deliberately set out to copy it, and largely succeeded). Maybe it’s that artisanal satisfaction that comes from using a technology that goes back a few hundreds of years, to long before the days when writing implements would fail because their batteries were drained.
Whatever the reason, I took an unexpected pleasure in filling the board quickly as participants offered ideas, insights and observations. The brand new stick of chalk wore down to half its length by the time I was finished, and I had handprints in half a dozen places on my jacket… the same way, I imagine, a schoolteacher at the dawn of the 19th century might have had.
And then I shot it with my iPhone and uploaded it to Evernote so I can use the OCR feature to make it digitally searchable. You know, because.