I worked my way through college with several campus jobs, including a great year as a residence hall counselor and a less-enjoyable semester in the kitchen of the campus dining hall. Most lucrative by far was my four-year job in the audiovisual department.
Between phone messages and work orders, I found time to study; but the job itself was both beneficial and intimidating. I learned lots about educational resources and methods, but the entire time I feared the senior-year checkout required of all education majors: to receive a degree and a teaching certificate, I needed to display my proficiency with various audiovisual devices. In short, I had to prove I could thread a film projector.
Audiovisually speaking, at Concord I mostly remember real blackboards with yellow chalk and math facts on flashcards. In the sixth grade we did listen to the Froggy Hollow series on our classroom radio.
There was also the occasional educational film borrowed from the county library, when we crowded into the big study hall upstairs and sat two to a desk for “The Adventures of Mr. Tooth” or “Exploring Petroleum.” And we all watched Alan Shepard and John Glenn on the school television as they made space history.
I recollect little more in the way of audiovisuals during high school. There were microscopes in biology class and the periodic chart on the wall in the chemistry room – a shorter version when compared to the current one. And Isabel Lash presented filmstrips of artwork and recordings of music from whatever era we were studying in American literature.
College-wise, many professors made abundant use of overhead projectors during their lectures, and the language lab was all the rage for foreign language majors. However, the endless repetition of phrases did nothing for me, so I stopped going. I did pass my AV checkout – including the dreaded film projector threading. Whew!
When I returned to Graham, I found a range of audiovisual equipment at my disposal. I tiptoed around cutting edge by playing Julius Caesar on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Seriously, what normal fourteen-year-old could reasonably be expected to read an entire act of a Shakespeare play for homework?
I tried my hand at the overhead projector assigned to my room. I wrote on stiff plastic sheets with a yellow wax pencil and even made a few transparencies on some machine in the office. Truthfully, however, it all seemed more bother than it was worth: adjusting the pull-down screen and the blackout curtains, positioning the cart for 100% visibility, keeping order in a dark room. It was easier to completely cover the green chalkboard once or twice each period.
I did occasionally use some of the devices I had first seen in the Otterbein AV office: a filmstrip projector or a projector for slides. Once or twice, someone hauled in the big, hulking opaque projector so I could display a page from a book. I even showed the occasional film, very craftily asking a student to thread the projector while I took attendance.
We were more than fortunate that librarian Tom Rogers devised an effective AV sign-up system. As the years rolled on, his student librarians began delivering cassette tape recorders and the occasional carousel slide projector – complete with a remote control on an attached cord!
And the best new invention: the VCR. No more projector threading – just pop in a cassette tape of an entire movie. My skills inched forward in the early 80’s when I took the whole kit-and-kaboodle home to record a made-for-TV movie about the Berlin Wall, and librarian Diana Schlater recorded for me all the excitement of the weekend the Berlin Wall opened in 1989.
Eventually televisions were installed in every classroom so the kids could watch Channel One news with a young Anderson Cooper and one of the friends from Fox and Friends as reporters and anchors.
The real explosion came when a computer landed on each teacher’s desk, computers that could be used to present movies, music, news – in short, just about every AV device I had ever used was contained in this one “box.” Armed with my computer and projection screen, I discarded my chalk and an entire lifetime of handmade flashcards. I still asked students to set up what I was unable to set up – while I took attendance, of course.
I did retain one “old-fashioned” audiovisual device. In a 20th century nod to the slates used in one-room schoolhouses, I made frequent use of a set of individual whiteboards and dry-erase markers I bought for my students. It was the best tool ever, allowing/requiring every kid to participate in every lesson.
It has been several years since I last occupied a classroom, and I can no longer even imagine AV use in school. I do, however, have an inkling of what my 21st century successors are doing technology-wise.
For the past two years, I have been prepping a young Russian woman, here on a student visa, for various writing tests. She is never without her teeny-tiny cellphone which, I have discovered, is filled with English, Russian, and Spanish dictionaries, complete vocabulary study programs, and entire books, along with Facebook and I don’t know what else.
These days I just allow my mind to be boggled, even as I remember that other century when it was similarly boggled by tools of technology now considered obsolete…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.