Death of the Chalkboard: Declining Sales Driven by Cheap Whiteboard Production

Oct 30, 2009 10:55am

ABC News On Campus reporter Xorje Olivares blogs from the University of Texas:
It is safe to say that the chalkboard is cemented in Americana. We all have memories associated with blackboards: clouds of lessons past that just won't rub off, the excruciating sound of fingernails accidentally brushing against the slate. But what was once a classroom fixture is now becoming obsolete.  Chalkboard production at MooreCo Inc. in Temple, Texas, has diminished significantly over the past five years, with whiteboards now accounting for 99 percent of their overall stock. According to Kristen Dixon, director of business development for the company, whiteboard production rates are up from 89 percent in 2004. MooreCo Inc., which acquired Best-Rite Chalkboards in 1991, distributes both chalkboards and whiteboards to thousands of school districts nationwide, and primarily specializes in whiteboard production. Dixon said they produce hundreds of thousands of whiteboards each year, and have even resurfaced existing chalkboards with a dry-erase board top.
"The numbers are really shrinking now for chalkboards," Dixon said, attributing their demise to excessive chalk dust, which became problematic after it would trigger sinuses and would settle into nearby electronics. Although Dixon declined to say how much it costs to produce chalkboards, she said they are far more expensive to make than whiteboards because of the slate, adding that dry-erase markers have recently dropped in price to match that of chalk. Dixon said that the whiteboards they produce are guaranteed to last 50 years to life. So, how much longer will the chalkboard be around? Even if we were told to stay after school and write that question out more than 100 times, we don’t yet know the answer. As whiteboards begin to erase the chalkboard's presence from classrooms across the country, teachers do continue to rely on them.
For math lecturer Jane Arledge at the University of Texas at Austin, the chalkboard has been a defining factor in her 15-year teaching career.  "I do like the chalkboard, perhaps mostly for sentimental reasons," Arledge, 51, said. "I like the sound of the chalk, the friction that makes my writing neater, and the look of chalk on the board."
While teaching in Colorado, Arledge was placed in a classroom with a whiteboard. Although unhappy about the transition, Arledge said she soon began to see the advantages of using the board's colored markers, especially when it came to making charts and graphs. But since returning to the Lone Star State, Arledge has reunited with her beloved chalkboard.
"I'm happy, except for the chalk dust that gets all over my hands and my clothes and in my lungs," Arledge said.
Melissa Frei, a teaching assistant in the UT physics department for nearly five years, said she prefers chalkboards to dry-erase boards because they are typically larger and therefore easier for everyone in the class to see. In her opinion, many professors have become so accustomed to using chalkboards that the possibility of them having to change soon is highly unlikely. 
"I think chalkboards are going to be around for a while," Frei, 25, said. “There doesn't seem to be anything coming to force [professors] to change [their ways]."
Yet some UT students think these boards should be left by the wayside. Music performance major Todd Moellenberg, routinely uses a chalkboard in class and said he hates every minute of it. "The 'technique' of writing with chalk is much less comparable to writing with a pen than a dry eraser marker is," Moellenberg said. "I also don't like that chalkboard screech sound, so I always cringe when someone is using one. My only memories are associated with pain and misery," he joked.
"Even if it is white against black, it doesn't erase well," added nutrition major Bridget Elizalde. "It's hard to focus on new subjects because they just overlap old ones."
Last year the UT College of Education Student Technology Advisory Committee met with a handful of education students and asked them for suggestions as to how to improve their learning experience: they asked the department to replace all chalkboards in their building with dry-erase boards. "I think the students … see them as more modern," said Laurie Caldwell, communications coordinator for the school's Learning Technology Center. "People think the chalk dust is messy." She added that they have since installed a few whiteboards into their computer labs, and have even received three new digital whiteboards. (Click HERE to see watch how digital whiteboards work.) The current students are learning to use them in preparation for when they eventually become teachers. Arledge said a number of UT professors, particularly those from a non-math discipline, will most likely continue to incorporate projectors and document cameras into their lessons, and will eventually abandon both whiteboards and chalkboards. "I am sure that eventually there will be no more blackboards in classrooms," Arledge said. "My main concern is that there won't be many boards of any type [and] we need boards."

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