Sunday, February 17, 2008

In defense of PowerPoint

PowerPoint has been under attack, once again....

and it is getting old. The claims are basically that it is boring and only used by lazy, boring professors reading off of their slides.

My underlying claim, in response, is that PowerPoint is just a tool. Both good and poor speakers (professors) can use this tools, some use it well, others use it poorly.

I suspect that those who criticize think those who are boring with PowerPoint would be engaging speakers without, but I doubt that is the case....

The less important, but still relevant response, is that in some educational contexts, the use of PowerPoint actually improves education.

Think about this -- I often assign difficult texts to students with less than college-level reading and writing skills. Sure, they may have placed into my class by passing the placement test, but the facts in my classroom are that a significant percentage can't read at a level sufficient to comprehend freshman-level philosophy texts.

If my PowerPoint slides either construct the main points or ask the equivalent of reading questions to guide my students to the main points, then they have some hope of getting the main point before coming to class. If they can get the main point, we can have class discussions about those points.

Since I usually teach multiple sections of the same course, having a PowerPoint presentation helps me to remember where I am in the discussion with any given section. It also allows me to be consistent across sections, so I can accurately grade exams.

Additionally, if they can print the slides before class (and most of them do), they can use them as a structure in which to take notes. They also don't have to waste time writing down what I've written on the board. Taking good notes is the next step to understanding the material so they can do well on the exam.

Finally, my old PowerPoints are often helpful to students in other ways. They see how I've analyzed issues, found sources etc... and this helps them with their end of semester argument papers. Of course, it takes some digging to find them, which is ok with me.

I suspect that those who criticize the use of PowerPoint as a pedagogical tool teach in contexts were students CAN and DO read the assignments. I also suspect their teaching load is light enough so that they don't have to track multiple sections, and they probably have small enough classes or TAs, so that fairly grading an exam isn't one of their worries.

I hope someday to teach in a place like that -- for now, I have to work within the constraints of the system at BNCC -- and the best way to do that is to use PowerPoint...

so -- bug off....

7 comments:

Anastasia said...

as part of my teacher's training, i attended a lecture on how to use powerpoint effectively. the presenter demonstrated what to do by doing everything you should not do. it was the most entertaining thing.

Bardiac said...

I've seen Powerpoint used REALLY well on occasion, and not so well too many times.

I'm interested that you say it helps your students structure their notes. My guess would be that some students would use the print outs in place of notes?

When I was an undergrad, in the stone ages, I had a Fortran class where the prof used overheads EXCLUSIVELY, and where the required text for the class was a print out of the overheads. And I don't think I took very good notes in the lectures because the print outs gave me the illusion of having notes already. BUT, I've since learned that writing things down helps me learn way more effectively.

Are there ways you encourage students to take notes using the pp slides as a structure?

Addy N. said...

I am also a big proponent of using digital slides in lecture classes. In my freshman class, I actually tried to switch to using ONLY figures on my slides one semester and the students HATED it. They didn't seem to understand that I was explaining what was in the figures out loud, even though it wasn't in text form on the slides. I went back to my old pattern of using a mixture of text and figures, with the student using a notes outline for taking notes. I post a blank outline with a few headings and terms that match the slides, then students fill it in during lecture. I agree there are plenty of bad ways to use PowerPoint, but there are also plenty of good ways.

The_Myth said...

Too often, students focus on what's on the slides and not what's being discussed.

They're so busy writing down the slides that everything else becomes seconday [of course, I have also seen them do the same with board notes too].

Also, the real problem lies, as you noted, with the presenter.

If you have 20 lines of writing per slide, that's a bad slide...and far too many people use PP as a crutch instead of just crfting a better lecture.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I tell my students from the start that they should print the powerpoint slides and then use them to structure notes -- and I see them doing it,so it seems to work.

I've also connected my exams to the terms used on the slides, so they tend to ask if there is one there that I don't cover... I also think that is the only fair way to expect them to collect so much information...

I tried not giving them the slides, but I found that I hated the dead minutes when they were copying down what was on the slide instead of listening to me.

As it is, I'm often out of sync with my slides -- (I'm often ahead of them) -- but, they remind me to hit the high points before I move on...

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Anastasia...

that is just like the "active learning" seminars we listen to that are 100% lecture -- really, pretty funny... and conducted by the person who is on a 90% release to be the 'active learning advocate'....

julie said...

Ah, my good friend, I'm about to disagree with you:

You're right, of course, that PPt is a tool, but like all tools, it's not "just a tool." Tools are *created* out of a particular set of values AND assumptions about the use for said tools.

I've been convinced (thru personal experience as well as the analysis by researchers/scholars in the field of technical communication) that PPt is a tool with limited usefulness - and perhaps a cost greater than its beneficial uses - because of the following reasons (just for starters):

1) the hierarchical structure of slide creation forces all slide content into a hierarchy when content may not be hierarchically related
2) the hierarchy forces viewers/auditors to understand the content in a way that may not coincide with their preferred way of understanding (you know, all the "learning styles" and "multiple intelligences" stuff that Howard Gardner has described)

I have lots more thoughts about this topic, including thoughts about the simplification of any criticism of PPt to be a criticism of how PPt is *used* poorly. But I'll quit now. :-)

Okay, not quitting before I pass along this link that may be of interest.
http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1&topic=Ask+E%2eT%2e