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For my college room: Blackboard or whiteboard?

  1. May 25, 2009 #1
    I'm getting a writing board for my college room (and I wonder why I haven't done it sooner!). I just can't decide between a blackboard and whiteboard.

    I really like the tactile response of a blackboard, psychologically it kind of invites me more to use just as a brainstorm board, to write drafts and so on, where a whiteboard invites more to well elaborate strings of thought and so on. With chalk in hand it feels somewhat more like a direct extension of my mind and thoughts, while a whiteboard pen is more like a pencil and typically conveys more processed, filtered, perfected thoughts. I will be using it almost exclusively for mathematics and physics so unless I can put this conceived notion of these described characteristics out of my head, you can see why the blackboard would probably be preferable of the two for me. But my room is no more than 12 m^2 and I'm a bit worried about chalk dust (for more frequent cleaning, for my clothes and a bit for my PC/health too), while the whiteboard does not have this problem.

    I've never really given it much thoughts, have used both (though mostly blackboards), and I'm wondering if this is purely a matter of habit or if it will last? Wondering whether I can turn around this mental picture I have of the two so I can make a purchase of a whiteboard acceptable and expect that I use it to as much a degree as I would surely use the blackboard, thus don't have to worry about chalk dust in my room.

    So which do you prefer, blackboards or whiteboards, and why?

    And what do you think would be most suitable for a 12 m^2 room*?

    *(containing bed, two desks, some book shelves, a computer etc., it's my only room besides my bathroom)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2009 #2
    well if you want that classic "mad scientist" feel and you don't care if you have a bit of chalk dust around.... go for the blackboard

    its all personal preference, and as long as you clean your chalk erasers you will be fine.... and they are cheap so you can try both...
  4. May 25, 2009 #3


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    If you're going to get a board for your room, I would get the whiteboard. Having a chalk board in a small room where you sleep screams out "health and safety" to me!
  5. May 25, 2009 #4
    Come to think of it, Leonard and Sheldon in "The Big Bang Theory", the TV-series, they have whiteboards and they are experimental and theoretical physicists respectively. Of course it's fiction but still makes it a bit more plausibel to use whiteboards. Hehe I know it seems silly, but it just occurred to me :)
  6. May 25, 2009 #5
    That's what I've been thinking as well. But then again, I thought that if I bought a real quality blackboard and some real quality chalk and was careful to wash the chalk eraser often, the dusting wouldn't have to be so bad at all. This is only pure speculation though, I have no experience with blackboards in smaller rooms.

    Well I the my head in the bed would probably be around 3-3.5 meters (in a straight line through the air) from the board so if the above assumption about quality materials and care could hold, I thought that this sleeping business wouldn't be so bad. I can't be sure though, perhaps some future posts will shed light on this.
  7. May 25, 2009 #6


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    I, too, like the feeling of chalk on black board, and the nice noise chalk makes when it hits a solid surface...how would I describe that noise? A clap, a click, or a clop? How about a clalk :smile:? Don't know but it's nice.

    But I've found the dust is very irritating...seems to worsen my allergies and asthma. I wear contacts, so I wouldn't want to spend much time near a dusty chalkboard...it would irriate my eyes, for sure. Also, it's messy...dust gets everywhere.

    The smell of the markers used on the white board isn't pleasant either, but at least it's not a respiratory or eye irratant for me. But the tactile aspect is nothing like chalk...not enough friction.

    Still, I'd have to go with the white board.
  8. May 25, 2009 #7
    It is tough having a blackboard in your room, the chalk creates quite a mess. That said, a whiteboard has too much of a smell for me to use at home.

    I like the way you articulated the benefits of a chalkboard, I agree that they are far superior for noodling around on, much more fun. Grad students and professors are especially covered in chalk, so if you go all out with chalk as an undergrad then you are on the path to success. Despite chalk being fun, for doing calculations manually I use the typesetting features in Mathematica.
  9. May 25, 2009 #8
    For clarification the purpose of the writing board will primarily be to contain the material I'm reading at any given moment in the textbooks. The benefits are two-fold: I get to write down the things I read for better memorization, but unlike doing this on pen and paper I get to see the important-to-remember formulas when they're present there on the wall in the room over periods of time. In addition I can do that "lecturing to the wall" which is sometimes a great help too.
  10. May 25, 2009 #9
    pencil and paper (seriously). You don't need a blackboard/whiteboard. Don't waste your money. I have a 12" high stack of scrap paper I use to write things down with. The scrap is because I always print it out once and read a physical copy and then correct it one last time before turning something in.

    Right now my scrap is old solutions manuals from Hibbelers dynamics.
  11. May 25, 2009 #10
    I haven't tried having it yet so I can't say for sure, but I tend to disagree for reasons in my post above yours; I simply like the idea of having material (mathematical theorems, physical laws etc.) from my current focus in my environment, on the wall. Sort of like a non-permanent image decoration. I also like the idea of standing up once in a while thus being 'kind of' physically active compared to always sitting down with pen and paper. In addition it makes it possible to do group work at my place if it comes to that at some point :)
  12. May 25, 2009 #11
    That ant going to do jack squat. Equations are in your book. Your white board will be covered with equations top to bottom half way into your semester. Just print out an equation sheet if you really (and you dont) need to see them all day long.

    FYI: If you want to stare at the equations all day long, you're missing the point of the class entirely. The equations are printed in books for a reason. Learn the concepts. You dont need a white board to do that, and its time better spent.
  13. May 25, 2009 #12
    Hehe you may be right. But the idea is stuck in my head now, so I have to try it. If the concept fails, I will sell it secondhand and take it as experience.

    By the way I'm not going to "stare" at the equations all day long. Trust me, I don't mistake memorization as the primary component of learning math and physics. On the contrary I *always* interpret the mathematical formulas I'm seeing, I dig deep, think hard and makes examples, visualizations and thought experiments to really understand the concepts. That will continuously be my primary mode of learning and studying. The writing board would not be a replacement or even alternative, just a supplement. I want to try it out before I discard the idea beforehand. I also want to try the concept of "lecturing to the wall" i.e. give a mini lecture to an imaginary audience out loud for specifically and difficult concepts so I'm sure that I understand them. I have never tried this before, so I think it's worth a shot.
    Last edited: May 25, 2009
  14. May 25, 2009 #13
    Using paper will also force you to have better hand writing when you do assignments.
  15. May 25, 2009 #14
    As I said, it won't be a replacement, just a supplement, an additional resource that won't take much time away from my scribbling on paper. I imagine that I'm still going to speed-write notes and problems as I read the book as I do now, and that I will just review larger sections OR smaller especially difficult sections on the board. We'll see. I can tell you all how it's works out when and if I get myself a blackboard or whiteboard ;)
  16. May 25, 2009 #15
    If you want to be like the stereotypical hollywood genius, just find a nice window to write on
  17. May 25, 2009 #16
    Good god, you speedwrite notes - why??
  18. May 25, 2009 #17
    I don't know if it's a good description. Everytime I read through the textbook I write down on paper the most important points. I never save these notes, I throw them out afterwards, but I do it because I learn and remember a subject faster if I write it down actively as opposed to just reading it. Because of the purpose and short lifespan of these notes, I write them speedily. During lectures at the university I NEVER take any notes and devote my full attention and processing power to understanding what the lecturer is saying. If I ever need to look up anything I always use my books since I have no permanent notes. This works for me, you're welcome to suggest any better method.
  19. May 25, 2009 #18
    That's actually a very good method. I *hate* taking notes in class because, as you said, I can just read the book myself. The only time you have to be careful is if the notes have something not in the book. The last class I took I stopped taking notes and just sat there listening because all of it was right from the professors book. I paid $130+ for the book, and I wasnt going to rewrite it by hand. Everyone was busy writing and writing. I just sat there with my desk empty listening. The class suddenly became 10x more interesting when you are not slaving away taking notes and bored to tears.

    If somethings is important, I will underline it in red pen with a ruler in my book, and then highlight it. Only under special circumstance I will neatly write a small footnote on the margin of the page. If its not a small note, I'll type up the special point and then fold the paper in half and place it inside the page. I don't like writing on books thats a sin.
  20. May 25, 2009 #19
    I got a small dry erase board, like 20x30 inches. It's the best thing in the world. I'm constantly on it and markers run dry often. When some of my nerd friends come over, the board serves as an excuse to discuss more nerd stuff.
  21. May 25, 2009 #20
    1) I found you don't fall sleep soon during boring lectures if you take notes.
    2) If you listen and then write during the lecture (in your own words), you would understand the material better IMO (because that way, first you listen then you write and then go home and read the book)]

    I should add that in my case writing listening really don't do much. All matters is how many problems I solve related to the subject. This enables me to see/study the concepts from many different perspectives which is not possible if you just listen, read, write concepts.
  22. May 25, 2009 #21
    I'm with you Gaco. Chalkboard : firendly :: whiteboard : wrong. Maybe it's a psychological thing. I can do creative work on a chalkboard; the feel is all wrong on a whiteboard. And pacing room is a plus. I hung a nice large 4 by 8 white board, then couldn't use it. If you can get away with it, buy chalkboard paint and paint a wall :smile:
  23. May 25, 2009 #22
    Whiteboard all the way. No chalk, you can use different colors easily, and the ink flows freely as compared to a chalkboard where you have to put up a fight to make a mark if your hand is coming from the wrong angle.
  24. May 25, 2009 #23


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    One problem I have with whiteboards may be just with the markers I've used so far. When I write, I usually have the tip of the marker pointing upwards, and ink doesn't flow very well uphill, so the tip tends to dry out and the writing becomes faint. I have to either stop and hold the marker with the tip downward for a while, or force myself to write with the tip pointing downward, which feels unnatural to me.
  25. May 26, 2009 #24


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    I have a few comments on this. First, not everyone learns the same, so while pen(cil) and paper may work for Cyrus, that doesn't mean it will work for Gaco. More tactile learners can do better with a whiteboard or chalkboard and standing up while working on problems rather than sitting at a desk to use pencil and paper. And, it can be a good way to study. Just going back to the book to look up an equation may not be very efficient if you need to look at other pages while using the equation, or may not be a good way to remember it. Writing it out on a board may help it stick in memory better. And, why scribble it on paper if it's in the book when you can just temporarily jot it down to help it stick in mind, then erase and move to the next one?

    So, being a more tactile type learner, I certainly appreciate the value of a white board or chalk board for studying (we had white boards in our dorm kitchens, lounges and study rooms, and yes, some also used the huge windows in the rooms too...sometimes seeing what someone else left jotted on these shared boards helped another realize something they still needed to study too).

    Anyway, if you prefer a chalkboard, but are concerned about dust, my suggestion is to not bother buying an eraser, and just get a sponge instead. You'll still have some dust from the actual process of writing, but no worse than the dust from a dry erase board (yes, you get dust from those too...I just don't think they've been around long enough to study the long-term health effects of the marker fumes and dust compared to chalk board dust). If you make sure to get one with a chalk tray at the bottom, it'll catch most of the dust as you write, and you can just wipe that down when you wipe the rest of the board. My previous office had a chalkboard instead of a whiteboard, and that's what I did, just wash it instead of erasing with an eraser, and the dust wasn't a problem.
  26. May 26, 2009 #25


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    That's a sign of a chalkboard that needs cleaning. They get hard to write on if people make a habit of using their hands to erase, which is a big problem in classrooms with a lot of people just erasing one small thing with their hand until it really accumulates. Cleaning to remove the oils from the board solves the problem. The same can happen with a white board, but isn't noticed as much because most white board cleaners (all that I've encountered, actually) contain some sort of alcohol as the solvent to remove the stubborn ink, and that also helps remove the oils from hands.
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