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It seems to be the trend that fewer and fewer students take notes in class. Lately, and particularly this semester, for some reason, I have been noticing that several students take pictures of the blackboards with their phones in lieu of taking notes.

While I'm not necessarily against this, if it helps them focus on class, I'm uncomfortable about being in a million pictures by these students. I'd like to speak up, but it's already a few weeks into the semester, and I don't want to make the students feel uncomfortable either. Is there anything that I can do to resolve this without creating discomfort on either side?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Feb 6 '17 at 4:16
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    Sana, I found out I was mistaken about it being considered best practice to aim for accepting an answer. (See meta.academia.stackexchange.com/q/3686/32436.) I take it back and would like to offer an apology for having pestered you about accepting an answer. – aparente001 Feb 21 '17 at 3:10

11 Answers 11

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Perhaps you could make an announcement that just before erasing the board, you will pause for a moment to allow pictures to be taken, while you stand out of the way so as not to obstruct the shot. You can ask photographers to wait until that time, and to please compose their shots to exclude you if necessary.

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    I have had professors and teachers request this. It's not weird. – Azor Ahai Jan 31 '17 at 7:00
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    I've had professors tho exactly this. "Wait until i'm done, then you'll have 10-20secs to make any high res pic you need". – CptEric Jan 31 '17 at 10:19
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    This also makes sense in terms of minimising disruption by photo takers; and ensuring photo takers get all the information on the board. – Jack Aidley Jan 31 '17 at 11:40
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    This might be a good compromise, but it still might inhibit some learning styles. I personally like to take sequential board pictures so I can replay through the logic later (i.e. for very advanced topics such as machine learning, differential equations). The ability to go back and "replay" truly helps. – y3sh Jan 31 '17 at 15:38
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    You can also explain that you don't want them distracted by trying to take a picture quickly before the board gets erased or having to take multiple pictures because they weren't sure if you were done yet. Ask them to concentrate while you write and explain and promise them in exchange a well-defined opportunity to take a picture. – David Schwartz Feb 1 '17 at 0:27
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Give them the lecture notes online. Then they have no reason to take pictures. Also scanned papers look better than messy pictures of blackboard and if you omit some proofs due to lack of time, they will still be on those notes.

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    "The complete proof to this theorem is in the handout available at the course's page. Please review it, and if anyone has any doubts, come to my office hours [or ask the TA]." It happened to me all the time. The blackboard should not be a complete reference, it is an aid to the lesson. – Mindwin Jan 31 '17 at 14:57
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    This only works for certain applications; sometimes the whiteboard isn't used to copy proofs or transcribe prewritten notes. I often use the whiteboard to summarize key points made during an active discussion, or work through an in-class design exercise. Case-based learning exhorts instructors to write things on the board as the students mention them. In such environments, picture taking might be the most efficient way to capture the information. – J.R. Jan 31 '17 at 15:57
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    @J.R. I've seen surface tablets become very popular for that sort of thing. Profs can write in OneNote while it's projected for the class, and can save the file to post online after class. – Alexander - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '17 at 20:25
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    I will second that if you join the 21st century and provide notes online that are better than what you make on the fly, few will waste their time taking pictures of everything you write. – Spencer Williams Jan 31 '17 at 21:14
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    "Also scanned papers look better than messy pictures of blackboard." Clearly you have never seen my lecture notes. My notes for lectures are usually more to jog my memory than anything; they leave out details that I intend to fill in on the fly, and are written in my worst handwriting that only I can read. Creating student-readable lecture notes might be nice, but it would require a substantial extra effort. – Nate Eldredge Feb 1 '17 at 0:32
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+50

I actually have a professor with the same feelings about being in pictures. At the beginning of the semester he said to us that because of his religion he cannot be shown in pictures.

He says that if we would like to take a picture of the board, just ask, so he can step to the side.

It's worked out pretty well so far, and my fellow students are all really understanding. Just telling your students that it makes you uncomfortable should be enough for them.

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    By any chance, do you know the religion, which forbids being shown on pictures? I am really curious, since quick Google search did yeald no results. – Kyslik Jan 31 '17 at 17:26
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    Jonathan: are you sure it wasn't a kind of joke from the professor, not to be taken seriously? Something he said humoristically to avoid explaining something he felt uncomfortable to explain? – Evariste Jan 31 '17 at 17:38
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    Some people are concerned that photographs may mess with their souls: csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography and then there are vulnerabilities via voodoo/hoodoo doktorsnake.com/2010/12/12/hoodoo-conjuring-with-photographs. – Dronz Jan 31 '17 at 19:46
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    @Kyslik, Sunni Islam has a ban on images of living things, while other branches of Islam strongly discourage it, as do some (extreme minority) branches of Christianity and Judaism. – Mark Jan 31 '17 at 22:55
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    @Evariste Yes, it was definitely a joke. But it worked. I'm not suggesting that OP claims religion as the reason for not wanting pictures. I'm simply stating that, for whatever reason, any reasonable student will respect a professors wishes. – Jonathan Engel Feb 1 '17 at 1:44
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I had a professor who actually made photos of the blackboard himself and he put them online after the class. Although it requires some extra work it won't give the student a reason to make unwished photos, and all of them will have the same information.

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    I like the smartboard solution academia.stackexchange.com/a/84296/3849 the best, but given budget realities, this might be the best feasible solution. – emory Feb 4 '17 at 0:47
  • This is so time-consuming! – yo' Feb 6 '17 at 12:08
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Photographing the blackboard is counter-productive anyway; if all you want to do is learn by rote, it's fine I guess. But recreating the working by hand is a big part of understanding it. You could insist that your students do that, for this reason. An added bonus is that then they're not taking photos of you either.

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    I'd have to say no to this; "recreating by hand" is a slow and literally painful process for me. If students want to do that and it works for them, great, but digitizing stuff works a lot better for me and I can't imagine I'm the only one. I'll take notes (on a laptop if I can help it) and in math might scribble out the odd computation or whatever that's too complex to easily do on the computer, but if I can avoid doing anything involving holding a writing implement I will. – Doktor J Feb 2 '17 at 17:12
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    Well, yes and no. Different students learn in different ways. For many students, photographing the blackboard would indeed be counterproductive. For many others, it would create a useful resource. There's absolutely no "one size fits all" when it comes to learning. Either way, I don't think you've answered the question. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Feb 2 '17 at 21:25
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    You know something, @LightnessRacesinOrbit? I have re-read the question, re-read your answer, and re-read my last comment; and I have no idea what I was thinking. You are quite right, and I am quite wrong. I retract the final sentence of my last comment, and apologise. Here, have an upvote. – Dawood says reinstate Monica Feb 3 '17 at 10:11
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    @DavidWallace: Hey no problem; I'm not saying it's a great answer ;) – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 3 '17 at 11:45
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    Students who takes notes consistently get higher marks. Except for few but I guess they could do better. But then some transcribe photos at home. They get even higher marks. – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 7 '17 at 6:46
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If you would be OK with a purely technical solution, you could ask your department for some other means of display that removes you from the line of sight between your class and the display. I suggest a document camera with a separate (not attached) projector if at all possible. It has a similar workflow to a blackboard/whiteboard in that you can just write naturally while you lecture and you can invite students up to write easily. Even better, you can orient your writing surface so you are facing towards your students while you write, which makes it easier to speak clearly to them. There is also a nice side effect in that you have the written copy of all your work during the lecture at no extra effort. I had a professor who used this very effectively by making the written copy of the lecture notes available through the library, he would just number each page, put them all in a folder labeled with the course and day, and drop them off in the library, then students could check them out for an hour or two in order to review some point that they had missed in their personal notes.

  • I am vaguely familiar with the "smart board" which may be what you are talking about. It is expensive but it might be worth it. – emory Feb 4 '17 at 0:44
  • @emory also a tablet connected to a beamer can work the same if used with Evernote or similar apps. – Andrea Lazzarotto Feb 4 '17 at 2:08
  • I didn't really have a smart board in mind, the document camera is like a cross between a digital camera and an old overhead projector--it literally projects whatever is under it onto the screen, but optimized to have a nice clean image of text. The good ones are also not cheap, but you never know if there is one sitting around unused, or you could make a case for purchasing one. – user3067860 Feb 6 '17 at 18:38
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The best solution that I found is using a tablet instead of writing on a white/blackboard. I bought a tablet with a "good stylus pen" and I always write notes on the tablet and share the pdf with students after my classes.

You can connect the tablet to the projector and everybody can see the content. Then you can use a software to write the notes and export it to pdf or image. It also makes it easy for you to browse among your notes. You can even write on your lecture slides.

However, don't forget that the stylus pen must be a good one. Get a tablet that comes with a stylus pen. The ones in the market are not really good for this purpose.

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I see some answers about offering students better opportunities for shots, either at the end, or via pre-captured images. This only works to a point. Often what a student wants to capture is the intermediate steps... things that might be left out of the other notes.

If you are fortunate enough to have an interactive whiteboard, you can often get behind this by using the recording feature on the board. This can really help students capture the whole process in a way that snapshots often don't, and now the impulse to capture an image on a phone is even reduced even more.

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Good, Ethical, Appropriate, Boundary Setting. You are there to share under a specific set of conditions. Students have been taking photographs of blackboards for more than a hundred years. Take a minute to think on that. A student will do anything to pass a class if they need to. 1.)Let them take them at an appropriate time determined by you. 2.) Take them yourself and post them so they may see them. 3.) Take better pix than them at higher resolution, and you will never be in them as the example for them.

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    More than a hundred years? // The instructor needs to concentrate on teaching. Let's not put the burden on her to take the pictures. – aparente001 Feb 1 '17 at 17:17
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    GEABS? Is that a mnemonic? – Azor Ahai Feb 1 '17 at 22:46
  • @aparente001 I can't see it being much of a burden; set up a camera in the back on a tripod, then just periodically step aside and hit the remote to trigger it and take a picture. Since the blackboard doesn't move you can have the camera on manual focus and "set and forget" (though I'd advise double-checking focus and settings before class in case of pranksters). Takes less time than waiting for students to take a picture because you only have to worry about one picture being taken instead of waiting for everyone to get their shot, which leaves more time for... you know... teaching. – Doktor J Feb 2 '17 at 17:15
  • @DoktorJ - If it works for you, more power to you! – aparente001 Feb 3 '17 at 0:56
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You can announce

Some students take photos before I finish and they might miss some important points when they do, so when I am done and before erasing I will let you take clear photos.

As a humorous point, you can add that the pictures will be more clear without you in them.

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It looks to me that this is a topic in the "feeling good education" which, I believe is not education at all (more like sale of diplomas for big money and nothing to show for it), so I should not be commenting. But I do anyway. First, many instructors/departments/universities do not permit phones or other electronic devices in the classroom. A student who comes to class to tap on his electronic device is not only disrespectful (why not wide open a newspaper and read it in front of your prof) but is rather disinterested in the subject as well. Second, students need to learn how to take notes, since that way they stay engaged, they learn to discriminate the important from less important and so on. Just because you can snap a photo, does not mean it is useful to you. Third, they are copying copyrighted material and that is a no-no, for mass consumption, such as youtube or like postings they end up at. Lastly classroom is not generally considered to be a public space, even at public universities (just consult numerous court cases) and therefore you do not have a freehand in taking photos of people without their permission. Finally, this is mostly caused by indecisive instructor. You are there to set the tone and establish the rules, not to worry about "hurt feelings" but to make sure you have classroom atmosphere conducive to learning and teaching effectively.

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    Don't assume everyone learns best the way that works best for you. I know note taking helps many people, but it is a disaster for me. I can either think and listen, or write, but not both at once. If I'm writing in a lecture, I am definitely not engaged in anything other than uncritical copying. I understood much more in graduate computer science theory classes that I took in my 50's, with a digital camera in hand, than in undergraduate mathematics classes I took in my late teens before digital cameras existed, when I was forced to take notes. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 1 '17 at 17:55
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    I'm afraid you really are caught in the one-size-fits-all fallacy. For someone like me, who cannot really listen and think while writing, in certain types of lectures, a digital camera makes an enormous difference. I am not claiming that a digital camera would help all students in all types of lectures. – Patricia Shanahan Feb 1 '17 at 18:33
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    I also disagree. Unless it affects the professor's teaching ability or the learning of other students, I don't think a professor should care. We pay them to teach us after all, and it's up to the student to learn in whatever way is best for them. – Steve Feb 2 '17 at 2:12
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    I disagree as well. As someone with severe carpal tunnel, I abhor any sort of manual writing. Occasionally using my phone to snap a picture is bound to be much less distracting to me (and likely those around me) than sitting there with my laptop open typing out notes. (and yes, my carpal tunnel hurts less when I'm typing, even though that's probably what's contributing to my condition -- but snapping pictures doesn't!) – Doktor J Feb 2 '17 at 17:18
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    While I feel that students taking pictures of the black/whiteboard are usually proving they have not been following the teacher, I would still oppose restrictions on electronic devices in class, for innumerable reasons. Not the least of them is that many people use these to take notes or to view the lecture notes, diagrams from a textbook or even to look up terms they don't understand. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Feb 3 '17 at 17:25

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