75th Anniversary: 4) Some thoughts on the overhead projector

This is a picture of Professor Hofstee. It is clearly an old picture: it is black and white (no filter!), and the clothing looks rather outdated and overly formal. But what also stands out is the phone. I wonder whether he was really making a phone call here, or whether this was staged for the picture. In any case, this bakelite phone (‘bakeliet’, have you ever used the word for something else than a phone?) made me wonder how technology has changed over the last 75 years. How differently we must be writing, teaching, researching, reading, searching for literature than the generations before us! Many of us will have cursed our computers or have been annoyed with having to use yet another digital tool, but for sure technology has made our lives easier in several ways. I can’t imagine having to do my work without email, or having had to type (or hand write!) my PhD thesis.

One piece of technology that brings back fond memories of my early student days, is the overhead projector. In fact, I can see myself as a first-year student in the ‘Hofstee-room’ (C64), with the overhead projector on stage and a professor bending over it to replace the see-through plastic sheets on which notes and drawings were scribbled in a not-necessarily readable handwriting (sometimes in mirror image). While a quick google search shows that new overhead projectors are still for sale, they seem to belong to a past that has long gone, somewhere between the bakelite phone and Zoom-meetings. Ruthlessly replaced by powerpoint, beamers and smart screens. More modern presentation options offer us features as the option to include photos, clips, and links, the ability to send and save presentations for later study, and of course the use of readable letters. However, they just don’t arouse such nostalgic feelings, perhaps because they are so much less clumsy, less personal.

But then again, the technological revolution after my beloved overhead projector does do us a great favour in corona-time. Most of the teaching staff at the RSO group has had to teach over the internet, and it has shown our combined creativity. Life classes were given in an online environment, or recorded to be watched at any convenient time, discussions were transferred to a digital space, including whiteboards and other discussion tools, excursions were taped or could be followed on an online-link. We got to use various different sharing, talking, discussing, recording and thinking tools, and discussed the best ways to invite online discussions. Of course we all missed face-to-face interaction with students, and chatting with colleagues besides the coffee machine. But teaching during a pandemic would have been so much harder if we would only have had the overhead projector at our disposal.