PowerPoint = Slide Projector. Google Image Search = Library.

21 07 2009

It appears as if two of my favorite bloggers are separated by about 180 degrees by the same article. In this corner, we have Margaret Soltan:

If I were king, enlightened deans would see that most instances of PowerPoint use in the classroom are lazy and irresponsible and even inhuman. They would understand that PowerPoint breeds a robotic remoteness and simple-mindedness in professors that in turn breeds boredom in students. These deans would firmly discourage their teaching staff from using PowerPoint.

In the other corner, we have Eric Rauchway with “Bullet points don’t bore people, people do,” which is a follow-up to this post.

Although I’m probably closer to Eric on this one (maybe it’s a history thing), I want to aim for the middle here. I remember a professor from grad school who could lecture without notes and about an hour and fifteen minutes in I would hear him say something like, “Roman Numeral IV (A) 1.” Of course, I was so bored I couldn’t remember any of the other signposts, but they weren’t really for me. They were for him. That’s how he remembered what he wanted to say. Unfortunately, the idea that I was going to take in that much sociology in one sitting was just laughable. Bullet pointers out there ought to remember this. To assume everyone cares about your 16 slides of solid bullet points, especially when they are forced to listen to you, is just hubris. In fact, it’s educational malpractice.

Pictures, on the other hand (and maybe even film clips) – now that’s another story. Here’s Rauchway:

The added value of a lecture should be that you are constructing a performance to lead students through an argument in a way they’ll absorb and remember better than if they’d merely read it. You make your argument memorable by the usual methods—enthusiasm and wit—but also by keeping students’ attention. A little visual demonstration, perhaps a slightly surprising one, is a harmless and often effective way of doing so.

Absolutely true. But the visual demonstration doesn’t have to just be for entertainment purposes, it could be part of the education itself. For example, I remember in the pre-PowerPoint Era trying to describe this picture to students:


Back then I could only explain that the power of this suicide was in the monk’s eerie calm, but now I can show it. Sure it’s a cliché, but a picture really can speak a thousand words.

Here’s another one I just started using recently:


Again, I can talk about the slaughter of the buffalo, but don’t you think you’re more likely to remember it if you actually see it?

I say use PowerPoint like art history professors used to use their slide carousels. That way you can add to the lecture rather than bore people. [Indeed, I wonder if that dean who seems to have started this discussion is trying to get the art history professors there to drop PowerPoint too.]

Yes, I always have a little text at the beginning. I also label the pictures when I’m afraid students won’t be able to spell the name of the person or thing that’s depicted. But man oh man, I hate predominantly textual PowerPoints. If your presentation consists of reading your own PowerPoint slides AND NOTHING ELSE, I don’t see why you bother to show up for work in the first place. You might as well give them to your TA and have them read it for you.




10 responses

25 07 2009

I agree that some people misuse the technology. If you want me to read a bunch of stuff, use the old technology of the copy machine. I tell my students that each slide they put in a Power Point presentation should evoke a story they will relate to the listeners. It has been a good guideline.

11 11 2009
Robo-lecturers. « More or Less Bunk

[…] Those of us who read University Diaries regularly know that UD hates PowerPoint. I’m of the “PowerPoint is a good tool that can be terribly misused school,” but no matter where you fall on this issue I still think she’s missed something important […]

14 12 2009
Two killer web sites for historic images. « More or Less Bunk

[…] since I switched over to PowerPoint lectures for my survey class (all images with minimal text, of course) a few years ago, I’ve been constantly on the prowl for better images than the […]

13 08 2010
Blackboard is an instrument of oppression. « More or Less Bunk

[…] The first thing you need to know about me to understand why I hate Blackboard is that I’m not pro-tech or anti-tech. I’m pro- smart tech, and anti- dumb tech. I read University Diaries regularly and laugh at posts like this one. I’ve also written about how to bring film clips into your lectures also use PowerPoint for lectures, albeit very carefully. […]

12 04 2011
What would a post coverage model history survey course look like?, Part I. « More or Less Bunk

[…] prompt me to say the right thing is on my PowerPoint slides (titles, pictures or quotations – almost no slides of professor-generated text). It was easy to do that when talking about the book because I spent so many years researching it, […]

26 07 2011
“Those evil-natured robots, they’re programmed to destroy us.”* « More or Less Bunk

[…] a blog, for Pete’s sake. On this blog, I’ve written quite carefully about how I use PowerPoint and the wonders of Zotero. I enjoy reading the people I follow on Twitter more than I do any news […]

23 08 2011
How can you tell good educational technology from bad educational technology? « More or Less Bunk

[…] longer dependent upon publishers for the pictures I want to show in lectures. The entire Internet is my slide library, just as it is everybody […]

14 12 2011
“To the casual observer, an academic conference must appear to be one of the strangest of modern rituals.” « More or Less Bunk

[…] ritual when I do papers now, but I have resolved to do conference presentations the same way I teach lecture courses. The slides are almost entirely pictures (with the occasional film clip) and they serve as prompts […]

7 03 2012
Old wine in new bottles. « More or Less Bunk

[…] my own survey class material well enough now that I can simply use the pictures and minimal text on my PowerPoints as prompts to remind me what I want to talk about. Then I talk about it, looking at the class the […]

27 07 2014
What happens if you lose control of your own course? | More or Less Bunk

[…] has rendered that collection obsolete for me now. I can create my own PowerPoint slides (with very little text) faster and with a much greater selection of possible pictures than I ever could have imagined when […]

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