When I started graduate school, I was determined not to be one of those professors who lectures off the same yellow notes for thirty years. In my upper-level classes, this is easy as they are almost always structured around discussions of some sort or another. In my survey class, I feel I have no choice but to lecture most of the time. There’s too much to cover and too many people to do anything else (although I try to run at least a few directed discussions when non-textbook reading is due).
I still remember how hard it was to write my first set of survey lectures during my first semester teaching. “Assign the second-best textbook and steal from the best,” I was told. I followed that advice too, but have changed those lectures enough since then that I know they’re all my own now. In fact, that doesn’t really matter anymore because I barely even look at my notes when I’m lecturing. I have them handy in case I have an early “senior moment,” as my older colleagues like to call them, but after ten years I can explain most of the important points in my survey class off the top of my head. I like doing it this way as I can concentrate on speaking slower, paying enough attention so that students don’t reach for their phones and seeing when hands go up with questions.
They told me that in their schools, teachers deliver content via PowerPoint. Teachers upload slides to the virtual learning environment and print them out for the students to revise. There is a reason for this attentiveness. So many schools are conscious of league tables that teachers cannot risk student failure. They not only teach (to) the exam, but give students page after page (after page) of PowerPoint slides so that they do not risk missing anything from their notes.
One consequence of their actions is that students do not learn how to take notes from research material. A dependency culture on teachers is created, facilitated by PowerPoint and its non-Microsoft equivalents Keynote and Impress. When these students arrive at university, many academics perpetuate the problem. A lack of planning and preparation for a teaching session means too many walk into a lecture with a memory stick of PowerPoint slides. They have not written a lecture. They have written PowerPoint slides. They think these two things are the same. They are not. We see similar problems in conferences. Researchers are meant to present scholarship to colleagues. Instead they project PowerPoint slides.
As I’ve written before in this space, I use PowerPoint like a slide projector: Almost all pictures with very little text. I hand the students nothing when I’m done. My aspiration is to redo my lectures so that all I need is a one page list of what each slide is in its proper. That way I can talk directly to students in an organized fashion off the top of my head without having to read anything verbatim.
Am I off my rocker? Isn’t that what a good lecture is supposed be? UD writes, self-referentially:
UD argues that the burgeoning popularity of both the mobile person-hiding machine and the PowerPoint machine involves a growing terror of public interaction in itself. Not merely public speaking. Public anything.
I, on the other hand, aspire to lecture without notes in order to facilitate interaction and spontaneity rather than avoid it. Isn’t it the reading verbatim that’s the problem rather than the PowerPoint per se?