32-123Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

It is the middle of July, so I’m thinking about changes to my fall subject, 6.034, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing some new demonstration programs and planning what to put on the blackboards in 32-123.

The blackboards? Yes, the blackboards. I’m a little old fashioned. I use blackboards as the pièce de résistance and treat computer projections as condiments. I think I’m in good company because lecturing superstars such as Donald Sadoway and Charles Leiserson likewise limit their use of computer projections.

When I ask colleagues who lecture exclusively with projections why they do it, they all say it is because they can cover more material.

Can’t get enough on a projection? Use a smaller font. Can’t get enough on 25 projections? Just press the PgDn key faster.

They confuse covering more material with teaching more material.

I recently asked 100 people* if they talk to themselves when they think; all said yes. Then, I asked them if they were aware of having more than one such conversation at one time; all said no.

Evidently, our language faculty is serial, not parallel, and it has limited computational capacity. If you jam our language faculty by supplying too many words, the listener or reader won’t have anything left with which to think. Fast-talking salespeople know this.

When I use a blackboard, the material flows out at about the speed at which it can be absorbed. Students not only see it, they think about it. Speaking as an MIT-educated Electrical Engineer, there is a good impedance match.

There is a lot more I could say on the topic, but I remind myself, I better not use too many words.

* Actually, I didn’t ask 100 people. I asked 10 people; then, I used a research technique I learned from a philosopher friend of mine. I found a comfortable chair and imagined what it would be like to ask 100 people.