Teaching and notetaking in technicolor

Love it or hate it, the white/black board is a ubiquitous teaching tool and I prefer it to death by Powerpoint in engineering courses. Several years ago, I picked up a best practice from a professor at Georgia Tech, and my students tell me they love it. Here is what my board looks like after a typical lecture:

Four colors on the board. This is awesome because it allows me to layer information on graphics without things becoming too cluttered. I can revisit or re-solve an example without having to redraw everything from scratch, saving lecture time and space in my students’ notes. I’ll often write relevant notes or equations on the board in the same color as the related annotations on graphics, providing a type of visual key. Compare the level of information communicated in the image above with the following in black and white:

I always suggest my students pick up a pack of multi-colored pens at the start of the semester. I love the old-school Bic 4-color pens. You get four colors and the bleed-thru is minimal, so you can take two-sided notes. This was my tool of choice throughout grad school and they have served me really well.

But don’t just take my word for it! Here’s what one of the eager young minds in my class had to say: “I loved all the diagrams and colors. As a visual learner, that was great to help me dissect what exactly was going on.”

There you go, a pro tip for my fellow graduate student instructors.