Via Margaret Soltan, an interesting thread on PowerPoint in the classroom.
I still think that PointPoint is a scapegoat of sorts, that bad pedagogy that uses PowerPoint was bad before PointPoint or even personal computers were involved in higher education. That said, I think Carolyn Blogs and her commenters pretty well nail what’s scandalous about some common uses of PowerPoint by professors: basing entire classroom sessions around reading off pre-made slides sold by textbook publishers is the kind of practice that a student who is paying tuition should be furious about. But it’s safer to keep your head down, finish a requirement, get your degree, and move on. If there aren’t many professors around in a given program who are teaching in a much more professional, committed way, what’s the point in protesting?
If you’re going to use presentation software, there’s a basic ground floor of competence. Some of the basics:
1) Don’t read a slide. Ever. Ever ever. The slide is there for people to look at. A professor should be saying something else while the slide is there. Something longer, something fuller, something more explanatory, something expert, something knowledgeable. A slide with pure text is not ideal under any circumstances, but if it’s there, it’s there as a mnemonic designed to summarize points that a professor is making at greater length, with more passion, in a way that justifies and rewards the physical presence of students in that room at that moment. Your lecture outline is for you. It’s not to be put up on a slide on the board and read verbatim. Ever.
One of the fascinating things about this point is that almost everyone seems to agree with this dictum, and yet…how many times have you sat through presentations where someone reads their slides verbatim? Quite a few of those for me, and I work in a discipline where very few faculty or students even use presentation software.
2) A slide is either an image, film clip or audio that’s an impressionistic, performative accompaniment to something being said, or it’s information. If it’s information, it should be up and visible for a long time, so that students can write it down, take notes on it, relate it to what is being said in a verbal lecture or explanation.
3) A good presentation takes as much time to create as a good lecture, essay, or anything else of the sort. It should be practiced, edited and thought about as much as other kinds of classroom preparation. It should be the work of the professor who is responsible for a given class. If it’s unethical to read a lecture prepared for you by a company, it’s unethical to read a presentation prepared for you by a company.
4) There should be some compelling reason why presentation software is being used, something it can do which adds particular and necessary value to a given lecture or class session. I rarely use presentation software, but one thing I have used it for is an opening lecture in my Image of Africa course where I show about fifteen slides on the history of depictions of missionaries or other whites in cannibal cookpots. In that context, it’s a much easier way to convey that information than older slide technologies, especially when I want to integrate film clips, audio or even bits of older text or quotations into the presentation. (I use a bit from an Abbott and Costello film in the presentation, for example.) If there isn’t a compelling reason, don’t do it. Ever.