Beam Me Up, Scotty!

By Dan Gould

Using Laser Pointers in Group Discussions

In many fields of science—and probably art as well—group discussions focused around images projected at the front of a classroom provide practical experience in the interpretation and evaluation of information gathered through observation.

These types of discussions also provide an avenue for students to practice using discipline-specific terminology while applying and integrating new information and knowledge.

To be effective, they need to be highly interactive, with the instructor posing questions, evaluating responses, and guiding the discussion. Lead-off questions might include:

  • What are the main features of the image observed here?
  • Can you describe what you see in simple, non-technical language?
  • What is the technical term(s) for what you observe here?
  • Based on your observations, what are the implications, e.g. causes, consequences, other questions raised, etc?

A fast pace will help maintain a high level of engagement among your students. Here is where a couple of laser pointers will come in handy: one for the instructor to point out specific features of a projected image and another to be passed from student to student as they take turns in the discussion.

Able to zero in on to an image from any location frees the instructor to move around the room during the discussion. The laser pointer being passed from student to student identifies who has the floor at the moment while also providing them with a means for pointing out those parts of the image relevant to their responses.

Laser Beam

Receiving the laser pointer puts each student “under the gun,” so to speak. For some, this can provoke an uncomfortable level of anxiety. A good way to mitigate this is to ask only for short answers, commenting briefly on each student’s response while the pointer is passed to the next student.

The speed of the laser movement tends to keep the process lively and minimize the occurrence of any anxiety provoking dead air. A bit of game show atmosphere tends to help as well, lowering the pressure while keeping the whole group actively engaged. In the progression of questions the overall observation process is emphasized, rather than the individual responses.

At the end of the discussion, the instructor wraps up by reviewing the features observed along with their relative importance, the use of discipline-specific terminology, and the important implications of the image.


TILT thanks Daniel Gould, DVM, PhD, DACVP, Professor emeritus at Colorado State University, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, for this teaching tip.