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Adventures in Learning

Progressive Disclosure Comes of Age

First Published November 29, 2020

[The credit for this memory-jog is from my friend and former colleague, partner in crime in Hyderabad, Padma.  She sent me the snapshots which feature in the main text below and got me thinking of how we, as trainers and facilitators, metamorphosed from the humble chalk-and-talk to the various kinds of projection equipment that we used across all our training.  Thank you Padma.  Please Comment and Share this blog.]

Mystery Words

I mentioned the term “Progressive Disclosure” to a young 20-something and she blushed, flustered. When I asked what she was thinking, she hesitantly muttered, “Is that like strip-tease?”  Knowingly, I tried another word – “OHP”.  This time she was truly mystified.  “What’s that? A kind of complex — like OCD?”  Aha!  I was making her think.  Then I popped the next word into a sentence.  “No, it’s what came after the good, old charts and pictures. The OHP was replaced by the Carousel!”  Now she was vacillating between calling the cops on this dirty old man or taking the plunge into that depth of knowledge that was just beyond the next bend. “What comes after Carousel?” she asked tentatively. Now, I had her.  “Why, the LCD”, I exclaimed triumphantly.  Suddenly all was as clear as daylight.  “LCD, of course!”, she cried, whipping out her mobile phone.  “It’s what keeps breaking every time you drop your mobile, isn’t it?”  I retired into my memories, temporarily defeated, till Padma got me thinking.

Transparency – that’s the key

I’m not that bad.  I didn’t use the word transparency in that context, but I was reminded how we created a whole new world in classroom training in the days of Overhead Projectors (OHP, in case you’re still lost).  

On Overhead Projector (OHP)

This amazing device formed the sum and substance of the kind of classroom visual equipment available to us.  There was the chalk and blackboard and towards the middle of my teaching career there were even whiteboards with four-colour markers. But the OHP could be used with a whole science backing its use, with just the intelligent manipulation of its transparencies which were occasionally called slides or cells and sometimes ‘flimsies’ – to remain modern and relevant, I shall call them slides here.  
For the uninitiated, the OHP shared space with the Carousel which was a brand identity for a rotating 35mm slide projector (the remote control being a plastic device attached to the projector with a long wire).  But this post is about how we used the OHP to do things that today would be a piece of cake for the computer connected to the LCD Projector and driven by the ubiquitous PowerPoint or PPT as it is more commonly known, or Google Slides. 

Manual Animation

What happens at the click of a mouse or a Presentation pointer (or slide advancer) today and is flamboyantly called “custom animation” was a clever little trick that we OHP-ers used. The prepared slide was laid over by a sheet of paper and carefully dragged down or across to reveal the slide in bits – progressive disclosure.  The trick came undone when, in our non-airconditioned halls, the swivel fan sometimes blew the covers off the slide leaving it over-exposed though the lesson was under-developed.  Like a bad photograph.

Other forms of manual animation referred more to the presenter who had accidentally shuffled the order of his slides.  You couldn’t imagine a more animated lecturer whose slides were in the wrong order.  This could happen with PPT too, except that getting them back in order would be far more difficult that the OHP.  It also kept the lecture shorter.

In August 2000, as the date on the photograph shows, Padma must have been attending a session on Creative Use of the OHP, because I spot words like Layering and Build and Windows on the page.  Of these, I think Layering was really so amazing with OHP. I remember demonstrating a Geography lesson to show how river civilizations grew. We put down layer 1 as the physical map, then the population map Layer 2, the agriculture map Layer 3, all over the first one and the learning was done.

Layering was also unbeatable when a teacher wanted to actually draw on a slide, like she would do on a board, without marking the original slide. All she did was to lay a blank slide over the original and draw to her heart’s content.  This is something that has been mimicked by electronic whiteboards and drawing tools, but the pen is mightier than the mouse any day, as any teacher will tell you.

All this made all our slides highly reusable – a formula still followed today with PPT and its clones.

Collaborative Learning

This wasn’t just a buzz word but a reality back in the day. I recall giving one blank slide to each group of students, along with a pen, and asking them to write out the points of discussion for a class debate. We did this with groups of young programmers learning to code as well. Then each group came up and presented their slides on the OHP.  Not difficult to replicate today, if each group has a computer and can share their slide on a network. But so easy to do in a classroom with one OHP.

Drag and Drop and Column Matching were other techniques which could be easily used with OHP slides. The former is still a mammoth task with PPT and I am not sure that column matching can be replicated on a computer except with custom-animated arrows!

I have even used bits of transparencies to teach number sequences to primary kids!

Back to the Future

So, by now you must think that I am recommending a shift back to the good old days, right?  Wrong!  While I extol the virtues of the OHP and have used it in multiple ways, I have happily adopted the LCD-and-Computer combo for most presentations today.  Yes, there are times when it drives me up the wall, literally.  As you can see in the cover picture, some LCDs are mounted on ceilings and one had to get up there to adjust the focus or fiddle with the settings. The worst are the conference rooms where your laptop has to be on a podium, because that’s where the wires are and you are also expected to be.  And this is not against PowerPoint either since I have used it as an example all over — I’m a Google Slides man myself, but same category, same pros and cons.  Though some of the slides I have seen make me wonder, “What’s the point if there is no power in it?”  That goes for electrical power points too.

My three learnings from the story above:

  • there is much to be learnt from the technology we have left behind
  • the power is not in the hardware but in the ingenuity of the teacher
  • progressive disclosure is in the technique, not in the software

Please leave your comments in the blog.  It would really help me to assess what people want more of and to write more.  Thanks a lot.