After Hours

Making your point with light

How do you roam about your classroom and focus attention on your overhead screen? Maybe it's time to invest in a new toy.


By Renée Atkinson

They’ve been banned at concerts, baseball fields, hockey rinks, basketball arenas, movie theaters, and even schools. Yet, they’re still effective tools that can help make your presentations flow smoothly and add to your professionalism.

What are they? Laser pointers. I’ve been using a laser pointer in my classes for years, and I’ve heard a lot of feedback from my students. Would a laser pointer help you be a better instructor? Before you decide to invest in one, check out the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of these devices.

The good
The most important thing a laser pointer does is allow you to interact with your audience—or your students. Here are some of the benefits:
  • Proximity. You can stand close to the front row, you can stand in the aisles, and you can stand at the back of the room and merely click and point at an overhead screen.
  • Flexibility. You don't need to turn your back to the audience when using a laser pointer. A 45-degree angle still allows you to point effectively and be facing the audience.
  • Focus. A laser pointer is easy to follow. Unless you have a software program to make your mouse pointer bigger or contrasted or otherwise stand out, the people in the back row may be missing what you are highlighting. And often the people on the front row miss it, too. I had one student tell me how much she appreciated the laser pointer. She said she was always able to connect exactly what I was talking about with the particular function I was discussing.

Laser pointers aren’t just for the classroom—they’re also helpful in a computer lab. If students are having difficulty in locating something on their computer screens, you can use your laser pointer to highlight where they need to click. Doing so allows you to stand at a comfortable distance rather than invading their personal space and leaning over them.
If you’d like more in-depth information about laser technology, check out the home page for Rockwell Laser Industries.
The bad
Like any tool, you can overuse a laser pointer. Here are some tips for using this tool effectively:
  • Don't just wave it around. When you are pointing out something, do exactly that. Don’t circle; don't wave your pointer back and forth. You can purchase laser pointers with a variety of different beams. Look for ones that have not only the standard pinpoint beam but ones that make a line for underscoring.
  • Don't turn your back on your audience while you are using it. No one wants to see the back of your head. With a little practice you can point to the screen without completely turning your back to your audience.

The ugly
One would never expect a professional trainer to misuse a laser pointer. However, you shouldn’t leave the pointer lying around where anyone can have access to it. Remember these points:
  • The danger is real. Laser pointers can cause temporary blurred vision and eye pain. However, according to the research, this condition appears to be caused by people repeatedly staring at the laser beam for more than 10 seconds. In the reported cases, blurred vision disappeared after a few hours and normal vision was restored. Nevertheless, never point a laser pointer at anyone. (Laser pointers aren’t toys, and there is no reason why a child should have one.)
  • The manufacturer counts. Only purchase laser pointers that are FDA approved and manufactured in the United States. Avoid buying ones that have a green laser and are made outside the United States. These are reported to be more powerful and can possibly cause severe damage to your eyes.
If you’d like to comment on this article or share your experiences using laser pointers in the training setting, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Renee.

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