Powerpoints and Pedagogy

An instructor recently asked a question about teaching on AskMetafilter that hit a number of nerves with me.

In short, they posted that their students are dissatisfied with any course where lecture slides, done in powerpoint, don't get posted online. Then they really touched a nerve, by saying this_

Also, we have tried not doing PPT. They were NOT happy about it"

You know what? Tough shit.

At the beginning of my undergrad, I loved easy classes like that. Who didn't? All the info was on the slides and it was all posted on the internet. You could skip class every day, pull the powerpoints off the web, then show up and regurgitate info for the exam, all without ever learning anything. Now that I'm a few years out and have some perspective_

Screw that.

Instructors need to resist the urge to give the students what they want. Instead, give them what they need. The best lecturers I ever had all used chalk and a chalkboard.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with powerpoint, but in the hands of an already poor presenter, it's murder. For pete's sake, don't fill the slides with all the information you're lecturing on. Throw up a picture and talk about it for 5 or ten minutes. Remember, your slides are a visual aid, there to assist your presentation. The slides shouldn't stand alone, because they're missing the key component_ You.

You are the presenter, and you need to present knowledge in a way that is stimulating and accessible. If students can learn everything they need to know from your powerpoints or the textbook, you've marginalized yourself. Then you get surprised when your students don't respect you or your class?

Look, if someone misses a lecture, they SHOULD be missing important information. If they're sick, they can talk to their classmates, or come to your office hours and get a copy of the notes. Your job is not to pamper these young adults, it's to teach them.


Written by Ward -

That's all well and good for people that have good auditory memory. I don't. I need to have things presented to me in a written form. I can't hear something and simultaneously process it and record it in notes. I need something physical that I can go back to multiple times to properly understand it. I agree over-reliance on PowerPoint is a horrible thing. But I'd rather take a bad class where all the information was in the notes than a good one where I failed exams because the lecturer was throwing out material that was not in the text book faster than I could write down. For some students it marginalizes the lecturer, but for most of those he was never particularly useful to begin with. Some students will need the lecturer to feed them materially orally and will find the text and slide handouts useless. There's a lot broken in higher education, but when you propose solutions, you have to consider not everyone learns the same way you do.

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