Trials and Tribulations with the Overhead Projector

I’m enjoying reading Donald Clark’s Plan B blog where he covers various instructional tools over the years.  Last night, I read his post on, “Overhead Projectors: The Trapezoid of Boredom” and a flood of wonderful memories of my early days in Learning and Development.

I had a love/hate relationship with these babies.

The grey, heavy lightbox of boredom – Photo from Wikimedia.

I first saw these used at university when I was doing my undergraduate studies.  One particular lecture, I will never forget.  It was Biochemistry 201 and for some reason, we were in the large Arts lecture room on the other side of campus.  Our new lecturer who commenced this new subject wheeled in this grey contraption, turned it on and immediately started waffling on about some biochemistry cycle.  At the same time, the clock on the wall seemed to be possessed by some dark evil force and wound itself backwards.  The second hand would tick forward for 10 or so seconds then it would whizz back loudly and this continued through his lecture. He was oblivious to it – and us.

Unlike the projector above, this lecturer had those winder one where you could load the plastic on a roll, and then use the winder on the side, to wind the laminate until you found some free space to write on.  I recall that as he was talking, he was winding and not having any luck finding any space to write on at all.  Between the noisy evil clock, his ramblings about citric acid cycles, and the whizz of the content up on the screen as he rolled quickly – he was giving me a headache.  My eyes were rolling all over the place just to make sense of the content.  Someone yelled out, “turn off the lamp while you do that!” but he kept rambling on.

It was becoming obvious that there would be no space to write anywhere. He stopped momentarily, looked behind him for some alcohol and a rag, but there was nothing.  He looked down at the projector.  At that moment, hundreds of uni students could hear him thinking.  Someone yelled out, “NO! Don’t do it!” and at that split second, he inhales loudly and spits out a mouthload of saliva and phlegm onto the projector and with his sleeve and fingers starts to make a whole mess of it – all while we watch on the big screen.  Lots of groans of disgust from everyone and meanwhile the clock ticks backwards.  This was my introduction to overhead projectors.

So it wasn’t surprising that when I finished my university studies, I joined the Royal Australian Navy as a Training Officer.  After my basic officer training, we undertook our ‘specialist’ courses and mine was the “Instructor Officer Basic Application Course” at HMAS Cerberus.  The course was six weeks in duration and we were taught everything you needed to know about training design and development and bowed down to the God of Mager.

One module we completed had to do with “Instructional Methods and Media” which included how to design, develop and use the various media – one of which was the Overhead Projector.

Just before it was my turn to get up and give my instruction session in front of my course mates and instructor, someone took a photo of me.  Behind me you can see all the paraphernalia of an ‘old’ training room (this was 1991) which includes the table where the slide machine sat; Performance Support posters on the wall (made of clip art and coloured paper designed to amuse us and make light of what we were learning); lots of electrical cables hanging off shelves of various contraptions that instructors would use in the classroom.  (For those who are interested, my rank there is Sub-Lieutenant).

At about 1 minute after this photo was taken, I was standing in front of my course mates ready to give my instruction (to be assessed by an angry-looking instructor).  I was so nervous about using the overhead projector because the way we use this machine in the military was taught to the ‘nth’ degree.  There was an exact process we HAD to follow that is:

1. Never turn on the lamp before you put your transparency down

2. Place your transparency on the top

3. Use a banner/paper or frame to focus the attention to one part of the transparency (ie never show the whole lot).

4. Only when you are satisfied, turn on the OHP

5. Place your pen to where you are focussing information – NEVER wave it around


So as you can see, I was going to be marked against these really tight and rigid rules, I had to have everything CORRECT, IN THE RIGHT ORDER, and come across with smooth instruction and use of the OHP.  It was really tough!

So with my shaky hands, I placed my transparency on top, I used a piece of paper to focus where I wanted my learners to read, reached over to the lamp switch and turned it on.

For a split second, staring straight ahead at the wall in front of me, petrified of turning my back, I waited.  I was expecting to see the image projected on the wall in front of me (like a learner would). I went quiet and then exclaimed loudly, “Oh, there must be something wrong with the projector – did the lamp blow? I can’t see the image!”

Until someone yelled out to me, “It’s behind you, you idiot!”

That was it, I bent over in laughter. Turned around and saw it on the big screen.  In my fear of being assessed in how to use the OHP in specific order, to military precision, I had “lost my mind” momentarily so wrapped up in the moment.  It broke the ice in the classroom, people hollered and laughed and the instructor tried to calm us down for me to continue on with my lesson.

Needless to say, to this day, whenever I see an OHP (and yes, I do see one often as my father is an artist and uses it to project his sketches on the wall to make them larger and use them as a guide for larger artworks), I think about my instructor course and smile.

About Helen Blunden

My unique super power is that I see learning experiences in everything I do. #alwayslearning
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