‘The pedagogic perfection of the overhead projector – and why interactive whiteboards alone won’t ever match it’

This head of Maths got down his old overhead projector (OHP) and realised why the iPad is now so crucial to his teaching and behaviour management

Stephen Power

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I was teaching my top set Year 10 class the other day and was about to use a rather old worksheet.  In among my teaching notes were some overhead projector (OHP) acetates and a student asked me what they were.

Well, where could I start?

I lifted down my OHP from the top of a cupboard (kept for those rare occasions when a visiting speaker requests one), dusted it off and set it up.  I put an acetate on the glass and projected it onto my lovely roller-whiteboard. I covered up a section with a piece of card to reveal later and started pointing to a diagram with my pencil.  It was all flooding back: the cutting-edge technology of my first days of teaching.

I realised, suddenly, how I had recently recreated exactly this technique using the latest technology. Since September, I have been experimenting with using an iPad Pro 12.9 with Apple Pencil and Microsoft OneNote.  The iPad and Apple Pencil allow me to write on the screen as if I were writing on an acetate, and what I write is projected onto my interactive whiteboard for the class to see – just as with an OHP.

New benefits

But obviously my current version of this old technique goes one step further. Writing in the Class Notebook version of OneNote allows me to save what I write, along with scanned worksheets, photos of “particularly pleasing” student work, recorded audio feedback on student work and allows the students to access this information on any device anywhere they have the internet.  The OneNote Notebook is effectively the students’ electronic exercise book and more.

But apart from this, how different is the modern OHP, from the days of an OHP with a roll of acetate attached and a selection of coloured marker pens?

I asked my class.

“The OHP uses more energy and requires acetates.” 


“The iPad allows us to see what we have done in class whenever we want.”

Good point.

And then someone asked: “Why is it different to writing on the interactive whiteboard?  You can save what you write there, can’t you?”

Overhead projector as behaviour tool 

So I had to tell them. It was the same reason so many teachers never write on their IWB.  

One of the reasons I used to get out my OHP was that with a difficult class it meant almost unbroken eye contact with the students.  Turning, even if ever so slightly, to write on the IWB, the whiteboard, or yes, even the chalkboard I used when I started teaching, involves a momentary break in the connection with the class, with all the consequences that might bring.

When you break it down, an OHP was as much a behaviour management tool as a teaching tool. And this is why the iPad has been such a game changer: there are many, many benefits of using digital ink as a teacher, but for me, one of the biggest benefits is the classroom control and unbroken connection with the students it delivers.  Digital ink is, in my opinion, the future, but it also brings back some of the skills and techniques of the past.

Stephen Power, head of Mathematics at St Swithun's School, Winchester

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