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Here’s a blog post, plus a long comment thread, on the glories of PowerPoint use in the classroom.


I get nothing out of [one particular] class. The instructor uses Web CT for grading, submissions, and announcements.

His lectures are all Powerpoint presentations. He didn’t write the presentations. He downloaded them from the same place I did, the textbook publisher’s website. No new material that is not in the book or on the Powerpoints is introduced. The only reason I go to class is because he will display a screen shot of what he wants done in the programming assignments.

As a tuition paying student I should get more out of class than what I would get if I just phoned in … my assignment.

The irresponsibility and cynicism of the professor described here is so flagrant that the student ends up looking like a dupe. Do you let scam artists into your home? No – the minute you see them slithering down the street, you lock your door. You should know, after one class session with a professor of this type, to drop the course.

The post has fifty-one comments so far. Take a look. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from the post itself — more explanation from a student as to why Powerpoint is designed for lazy professors.

…[M]any textbooks now come with ready-made PowerPoint lectures for each chapter. The problem is that when the professor does not make the presentation, they run the risk of sounding like they don’t know what they’re talking about. My current Operating Systems professor suffers from this. As each new slide comes up, he takes a second to read it and then starts with, “Okay, what this slide is talking about is …” or “What they mean by this is …” As opposed to explaining the material himself, it sounds like he just expects us to read the slides, and then let him elaborate. The primary instruction comes from the slides, and he just backs it up…

Could these two comments be any sadder? Any more scandalous? What are they saying? They’re saying that these professors aren’t teaching at all. A disgusting situation, for so many reasons. Here’s a pragmatic one: It can’t go on. Universities full of assholes who don’t teach will go out of business. Students will catch on to the scam. Simple as that.

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8 Responses to “Profscam”

  1. Pete Copeland Says:

    Could these two comments be any sadder? Any more scandalous? What are they saying? They’re saying that these professors aren’t teaching at all. A disgusting situation, for so many reasons. Here’s a pragmatic one: It can’t go on. Universities full of assholes who don’t teach will go out of business. Students will catch on to the scam. Simple as that.



    When I was an undergraduate in 1981 at the University of Kansas I had professor who was near retirement teaching the required and fundamental course, Stratigraphy. He more or less told us on day one that he had heard about plate tectonics but that he planned on basing his class on the older concept known as the Geosynclinal Theory of continental deformation. By 1981 the geosynclinal idea had been discredited. Data gathered in the 1950′s and 1960′s showed that plate tectonics was a much better description of the way the Earth works and the new data was simply inconsistent with geosynclines. Nevertheless, my professor said he was going to teach what he had learned when he was a student. He just couldn’t be bothered to update his class.

    This professor never once delivered a lecture using PowerPoint.

    Last time I checked, KU is still there.



  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Ah, but Powerpoint makes the world safe for whole departments of Professor Stratigraphies, Pete. These days, professors are made to feel negligent if they’re not using Pp and the many other technological enhancements available. The entire technical arsenal of not teaching and not having to attend a class — remember, Pp rarely appears in the classroom alone — will do the job. And I guess I don’t so much mean universities will shut down — they will simply cease to be universities.

  3. Alan Jacobs Says:

    Among those comments there’s one to be treasured. I posted about it here: http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2009/11/unreasonable-expectations.html

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Yes, Alan – thanks for linking to/posting on that one.

  5. yequalsx Says:

    Alan, I read the comment and it is very telling. Perhaps the lecture simply isn’t that important and attending a lecture class isn’t that important.

    I always felt going to class was a waste of time. I did quite well reading the book. I used the professor as someone I could go to and get help with problems I couldn’t get on my own. Lectures were never given in Power Point and lecture notes were never posted online. I went to school before the web.

    Power Point is a tool and as with most tools there are appropriate and inappropriate uses of it. If one merely substitutes a lecture using a blackboard for one using Power Point then I doubt much has been gained. In terms of knowledge delivery You Tube and Google do a much better job than most professors for subjects at the undergraduate level.

    My field is mathematics and my views apply to similar fields. Specifically, ones whose required knowledge base is relatively static.

  6. theprofessor Says:

    UD, I took a couple of computer programming classes when I was an undergraduate, and the instruction was horrible without any PP being involved. One instructor could barely speak even the most basic English, let alone explain anything complicated. The other freely admitted that he was not very familiar with the programming language that we were using and didn’t want to teach the class–amply demonstrated over the course of the semester. PP did not transmogrify a bunch of world-beating teachers into clueless slackers.

  7. Timothy Burke Says:

    Students at institutions where many classes have 400+ students that are built around a professor reading a lecture that he’s given without changing for a decade or more and some teaching assistants handling the sections already know about how many large research universities organize instruction with very little interest in teaching per se. As a graduate student, I dealt at one point with a professor in my department who had taped lectures he did a long time ago and had students listen to. Powerpoint is just a new wrinkle to a very old problem, as theprofessor and others here suggest.

    And unfortunately, students can be quite aware that they’re getting lousy teaching (powerpointed or otherwise) without any thought that there are alternatives. Because for some of them, in the context of their professional ambitions, there probably aren’t any alternatives, that huge introductory courses taught with indifference at best are all there is to be had wherever they might turn. Universities haven’t been called to account for this kind of instruction for the last four decades: why should we expect that they will now?

  8. Faculty Blog Round-Up: PowerPoint Says:

    [...] Margaret Soltan, English professor and the venerable curmudgeon of University Diaries, links to a student’s blog to show how PowerPoint enables and encourages shoddy teaching. [...]

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