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.
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.