Thursday, August 06, 2009

A defense of PowerPoint...

Let me paint the sort of classroom in which PowerPoint isn't appropriate...
  • The instructor doesn't have multiple sections of the same course.
  • The students are well-prepared and/or at least able to effectively take notes.
  • The class size is under 30.
As you might imagine, this isn't where I teach -- none of it. So, let me tell you why using PowerPoint is more like a survival mechanism.
  • I know that roughly the same material is covered in every section... because the PowerPoint provides a structure for the lecture/discussion. I know that if I got to the end of the slides for the day, my students were exposed to the material and thus I can expect them to know it -- or, at least to be able to ask intelligent questions about it. In my 'pre-PowerPoint' days, with multiple sections I repeated myself more often than was necessary OR I skipped material because I'd recently (as in, the last week/hour) presented it to a different section. This isn't good.
  • My students can use the PowerPoint slides to:
a) structure their notes. They print the slides and then write down the relevant
stuff from the discussion/lecture.
b) structure their reading -- the PowerPoint gives them a brief outline of the
direction of the discussion so they can figure out what is really relevant within the
reading. Philosophy uses readings in multiple ways, especially the canonical
philosophers, so figuring out how a particular reading applies to your course
isn't always easy.
c) recall/study/write exam answers or papers. This way they get it right -- they know
we discussed X concept in class, they can go back to the reading etc..
d) see how I've analyzed other issues -- I keep the old PowerPoints available so that
ethics students writing on a topic not covered in class can get a brief introduction to
a topic we aren't discussing.
e) catch-up or review material discussed in class. I don't use the publisher's slides for
my logic textbook. They move too slowly and some of the information is wrong -- but,
since I used them once, corrected the problems etc... my students who need more
information can use them as a reference.
  • In large classes PowerPoint helps make things clear. Students can see the text more readily than they can read what I've written on the board. The basics are explained so the dumb-asses don't have to waste the whole class' time asking basic questions. I can go back if something I've said later makes an earlier slide confusing. I can also tell them to look at the PowerPoint when the miss class, because I'm not re-teaching them...
So, yea -- if I were teaching at a SLAC -- say on a cushy 3/3 load with 75 or so students per semester--- who can read, write and think at about the same time... I'd probably think PowerPoint was a crutch for a lazy prof... because it isn't needed to teach in that environment.

I also tend not to use PowerPoint in professional contexts -- and, if I do, I only use it to display the main argument in my talk. One to three slides at best -- and they are simple. I agree that PowerPoint isn't useful or helpful in those contexts -- and I can see why members of the military are quite wary of it.

But -- I'll defend it's use in particular teaching environments. It helps me help my students by making the basic points so that we can move on to the more complex ideas.


Dr. Crazy said...

I don't personally use powerpoint mainly because I can't count on having a classroom that can reliably project power point onto a screen. (Even though all of my classrooms are technically "smart" now, they regularly are on the fritz, so even planning to show a movie two or 3 times in a semester can involve some technical difficulty.) Pp CAN be used effectively, and I think your comments show ways in which it is beneficial. What I'd say is that Pp isn't the only way to accomplish those things, nor is it the answer to problems with student preparedness or poor instruction. Powerpoint works when strong teachers use it. When weak teachers use it, it fails (although in different ways) just as using a blackboard or whiteboard or the overhead does. I think that in some respects the people who resist Pp do so not because it is Inherently Wrong but rather because it is presented as this "one true answer" to the problems that occur in the classroom, when clearly, it's just not. The technology can be useful, but it really doesn't represent the one true solution to bad classroom instruction - and in fact, if a bad instructor uses this technology, it can be worse for students than if they just did it the old fashioned way.

Unknown said...

Hmmm.... I think powerpoint can still be "appropriate" with small, one-section courses. For example, I can save tons of papers by putting the 5 discussion questions of the day on a slide. I can put difficult philosophical terminology or non-English terms in clear language (better than my handwriting on the board...). I can project images relevant to course material up on the big screen... Why would it matter if the class size was large or small?

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I can see the uses for small classes, but it -- or something like it -- is more necessary in large sections because involving everyone in the discussion is more difficult.

Teaching small sections is more likely to result in the use of actual discussion -- while in large sections only the most outspoken, arrogant or ignorant speak frequently.

Anonymous said...

Really great ideas. I like every example. Just might have to try these... So cute! Thank you!
more templates easy to download