June 2nd, 2014
Coacha Inconsolata at Oklahoma State University

Veteran University Diaries readers know about what Scathing Online Schoolmarm calls coacha inconsolata – that form of local booster journalism that involves portraying football coaches who knowingly recruit dangerous criminals to our universities as suffering saintlike beings whose only motivation in these recruitments is a deep belief in The Ultimate Goodness of Man. When the dangerous recruits start doing what dangerous recruits tend to do – break the law and put everyone in danger – the local booster press doesn’t say the obvious, which is Why do we pay the highest-paid person on campus to cynically, with arrant disregard for the safety of our community, go to a lot of trouble to bring a very dangerous man into our midst? No, no. It always goes something like this:

Coaches like to believe … that they can rescue troubled kids, even save them. It’s a noble premise.

Far from being assholes who don’t care that they are exposing young and vulnerable people to hardened criminals (not to mention admitting people unlikely to take even one course with any academic legitimacy – but that’s a trifle here), these coaches are noblemen, pure of heart, so sure of the glorious transformative power of university football that they are willing to take risks other people won’t – they are willing to say Under the rap sheet of this running back beats the heart of a true gentleman, and though it won’t be easy I’m going to dedicate myself to finding that heart. Because that’s what Oklahoma State’s football team is all about – turning young men around.

And when the entire divinely-kissed scheme fails to work out, what then?

Why, coacha inconsolata, of course. His heart is absolutely broken. He is suffering.

May 2nd, 2012
From the New York Times article that just came out….

… about the new Harvard/MIT MOOC venture:

Online courses with thousands of students give researchers the ability to monitor students’ progress, they said, identifying what they click on and where they have trouble. Already, a researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, using the M.I.T. Circuits course, found that students overwhelmingly preferred to read the handwritten notes of [MIT MOOC lecturer] Professor [Anant] Agarwal rather than the same notes presented on PowerPoint.

March 25th, 2012
Chalk + No Pp.

“I’m covered from head to toe in chalk,” he said. “I don’t use PowerPoint. Ever.”

Recipe for success.

November 17th, 2011
“We adored his attitude and manner of teaching.”

What a throwback.

July 24th, 2011
PowerPoint Memorial at the University of Miami


March 25th, 2011
For some of us, all it takes is thinking about it for a moment or two.

Others need a cockatoo.

Thanks, Bill.

February 18th, 2011
No PowerPoint

“… I don’t use PowerPoint in class because I want to be ‘out there’ in the classroom — I want the material to feel new each time I present it, even if it is material I teach all the time,” Aiken said.

An award-winning teacher at Arizona State University, on PowerPoint.

February 7th, 2011
Use Powerpoint: Unlearn How to Write

An interview in the Wall Street Journal with the dean of the Wharton business school.

WSJ: You’re increasing soft skills training — presentations and writing skills. Who pushed for that?

Mr. Robertson: Certainly faculty, and probably most importantly, our business community and our recruiters are saying that [they] want students who can read and write… Maybe Powerpoint and writing in bullet style has led to deterioration of the ability to write reports.

October 1st, 2010
UD has repeatedly warned you about…


But no one listens.

August 12th, 2010
Edward Tenner, in The Atlantic…

… gets us all fired up for more techno-classrooms as fall semester approaches.

… [M]ass information technology out of the box was not developed for education.

Microsoft Office is great value at academic discounts. But Word has become a mini-desktop publishing and collaboration program for corporate users, Excel’s statistical analysis and graphing are limited, while its mainstream financial power is more impressive. And the bulleted style of PowerPoint, while widely used, has inspired a classic of academic backlash…

July 28th, 2010
A composition professor notices that her students don’t know how to take notes.

[University students no longer know] how to take notes from research material. A dependency culture on teachers [has been] created, facilitated by PowerPoint and its non-Microsoft equivalents Keynote and Impress. When these students arrive at university, many academics perpetuate the problem. A lack of planning and preparation for a teaching session means too many walk into a lecture with a memory stick of PowerPoint slides. They have not written a lecture. They have written PowerPoint slides. They think these two things are the same. They are not. We see similar problems in conferences. Researchers are meant to present scholarship to colleagues. Instead they project PowerPoint slides.

… [For teachers] the default setting is [now] PowerPoint. …Think about the lectures, seminars and conferences you have attended in the past five years. Think about how many presenters used PowerPoint slides as notes for speaking. They either spent the entire session glued to the podium or looking back to the auditorium’s screen. Both systems perpetuated a single flaw: they read the text visible to the audience. Such an action is offensive to those who take the time to “listen” to a session.

This flaw in presentation and speaking leads to the final – and most serious – problem for our students. Such presenters have written their entire script on PowerPoint slides. Students recognised this strategy. Therefore, why should they attend a lecture or seminar when everything that is said is on the slides? That is not laziness on the part of a student. They are being logical. There is no benefit in attending the class.

The unfortunate consequence of this decision is that students lose – or do not gain – the ability to take notes. The decision by school teachers to present not only the key ideas from the curriculum, but notes from textbooks via PowerPoint slides is having an impact at universities…. [W]e have generations of students arriving at university unable to take notes from monographs and articles.

The writer concludes by touching on UD‘s PowerPoint-as-Burqa theory. UD argues that the burgeoning popularity of both the mobile person-hiding machine and the PowerPoint machine involves a growing terror of public interaction in itself. Not merely public speaking. Public anything.

Public speaking initiates fear. At conferences, I see experienced speakers shaking and sweating. I wonder why they put themselves through it. Similarly, preparation for a teaching session is stressful, time consuming and requires continual reflection. We as teachers are never good enough. We must improve. But PowerPoint creates a coma of conformity and a cap on student expectations of their learning environment.

Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor, argued that PowerPoint “lifts the floor” of public speaking and at the same time “lowers the ceiling”. Students do not see appalling lectures, but neither do they see the brilliant. Journalist Francisco van Jole was even more definitive, describing PowerPoint as: “Viagra of the spoken word…a wonder pill for flabby lectures.” Like Viagra, PowerPoint only appears to benefit the user. The little blue pill triggers unfortunate side-effects such as light-headedness, indigestion, lower back pain and seeing an aura around objects. Similarly, PowerPoint medicates a nervous and ill-prepared speaker. What about the side-effects on students? For all the celebration of student-centred learning, PowerPointed teaching passes without comment.

All PowerPointers, like all burqa-wearers, look alike. They are asleep to the world, inside their coma of conformity.


UD thanks Bill.

April 23rd, 2010
Online University Teaching: No Muss, No Fuss.

A student writes in the SUNY Binghamton newspaper:


Academics, you would think, are totally above copying and pasting information from a lowly source such as Wikipedia. However, when I was reviewing a professor’s PowerPoint last week prior to a quiz, I came across something shocking.

It seems that there aren’t as many checks on our educators as we would like.

I briefly thought that my professor had made a mistake, so I consulted Wikipedia to double-check the information. Lo and behold, the text on the PowerPoint slides was identical to the Wikipedia page. I was absolutely dumbfounded. How could someone who took 20 minutes during the first class to warn us of the ramifications of plagiarism actually plagiarize herself?…

It’s such a smooth transaction, and neither student nor teacher needs to move a muscle or learn anything.

The class is entirely composed of text transfer.

She transfers it to a slide; you transfer it from the slide to a paper or an exam. Then she gives you an A.

March 27th, 2010
Take Note.

Lucas Holzhaeuer, University of Calgary newspaper:

I realize how handy the internet can be as a simple way to answer the prof’s question or to follow their PowerPoint, but let’s face it, going online will likely lead to distractions. Open a browser and odds are you’ll check your email, make sure nothing changed on Facebook and accidentally start playing “Fancy Pants Adventures” (highly recommended). This leads to a larger issue of you not just zoning out of class, but also distracting all those immediately behind you. All in all, surfing the internet does not help in note taking, but rather, hinders the process immensely.

January 6th, 2010
Good Advice for University Students

Here’s a list – Ten Warning Signs of a Bad Professor – that does a pretty good job of covering the main characteristics of poor or indifferent instructors.

I can think of a few other things, like uses too much technology.

Speaking of which… UD‘s blogpal Veblen sends her this account of PowerPoint use in the American military.

August 21st, 2009
PowerPoint Confidential

PowerPoint Confidential, a new University Diaries feature, quotes university students on their experience of PowerPoint in the classroom. Here’s a PPC from an Indian student:

I’m a student at one of the most prestigious technology institutes in my country, and yet, in my 3 years of study, I’ve never come across an interesting PowerPoint presentation. All of my professors, with only one rare exception, try to cram as much text as possible into as few slides as possible.

Here’s another, from the same comment thread:

The worst Powerpoint presentation I ever sat through was in my second year at University. It was about the theory of Fascism and lasted two hours without a break. Plus, it had over 70 slides. Each slide was packed with information and it was impossible to keep up. I have never been so bored or learnt less.

Both remarks come from a comment thread for a BBC News PowerPoint retrospective: Twenty-five years of PowerPoint. The article itself is a pithy summary of everything that’s wrong with PowerPoint: too much information, too many slides, too much text, very little eye contact. People aren’t designed to read and listen at the same time, the author notes. He concludes that the whole thing tends to create a lazy, disengaged, slide-dependent speaker.

Latest UD posts at IHE