June 14th, 2011
Take note of the photo…

… of Tufts University’s award-winning computer science professor Ben Hescott.

He is writing. His very own writing he is writing on a blackboard! What happened to his bullet points??

Q. Did you experience an “aha’’ teaching moment?

A. My first time teaching, I was using PowerPoint slides. One student kept saying, “I don’t see it.’’ So I turned off the computer, grabbed a piece of chalk, and went through the material slowly on the blackboard, without notes. Afterward, the kid said, “You’re a really good teacher when you’re not using PowerPoint.’’ That changed everything.

Q. And now?

A. I let material tell its own story. It’s like an improv show where the actors know they have a few plot elements to get out, but who cares how the rest gets filled in?

Let us slowly – and, since I’ve said it a hundred times – redundantly review the main ideas.

BULLET POINT NUMBER ONE: When you plop all the answers down on dead screens in front of students, they don’t see it. What does this mean?

BULLET POINT NUMBER TWO: It means that teachers exist to animate thought processes, to improvisationally, humanly, walk students through how you get to certain ideas, hypotheses, answers, argumentative positions, points of view. If students could see it just by looking at a list of points and a final point, you wouldn’t need human teachers. (And of course the growing ranks of lucky all-distance-ed students get to enjoy the lack of human teachers for the rest of their lives.)

BULLET POINT NUMBER THREE: When you teach humanly, loosely, improvisationally, you exhibit an intellectual ethos that has to do with autonomy, flexibility, humor, unexpectedness, and above all the implicit promise that, like their teacher, students have the capacity to assume a creator’sa shaper’s – attitude toward knowledge. Knowledge in the university – the real university – is a richness with which all fortunate enough to enter the campus generatively, intensely, play. This is why we refer to the play of ideas. Ben Hescott is talking about the play of ideas.

Pity the PowerPointed.

UD thanks Andre.

June 12th, 2011
And just think:

All over the country, professors teach with it.

May 26th, 2011
Emotional, demanding — and No PowerPoint.

Just ten Canadian professors each year win the 3M National Teaching Award. Excerpts from a profile of one of them.

Ryerson University history professor Arne Kislenko … doesn’t use PowerPoint or any other technology. While he makes ample time for students outside the classroom, when lecturing he sees no problem with asserting his expertise over his students. In class, apart from presenting the occasional map, he rarely departs from straightforward lecturing. “Too many bells and whistles takes away from the orator, and I think the professor is the real conduit of knowledge,” he says.

… Kislenko’s lectures are full of emotion—injected with humour, irony, outrage and sadness, depending on the historical period he is discussing…

April 17th, 2011
A business executive talks about PowerPoint.

Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don’t go near it.

PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues. They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue.

But hundreds of thousands of American university professors keep using it.

April 2nd, 2011
PowerPoint and the Geneva Convention

… With the advent of the computer and PowerPoint, we got lazy. Instead of using the slides to present visual images of what we were talking about, we used them more as notes we could share. In short, we increasingly read the bullets off the slides and forced the audience, who likely could read much faster than we could talk, to read along with us.

Most PowerPoint-assisted talks are deadly dull — particularly if they’re given by speakers who have done them so many times they seem to have forgotten what the words actually mean, and even their minds seem to wonder as they parrot back what they read on the screen.

Instead of making talks more compelling, interesting or exciting, PowerPoint often turns them into torture. I’m quite sure some of the talks I’ve seen over the years using PowerPoint would be banned by the Geneva Convention.


More PowerPoint Pissoff: From a lawyer under pressure to use PowerPoint to train police recruits and officers.

[T]here is little to no research to show that PowerPoint aids learning, retention or application of information.

… [T]ext on a PowerPoint slide competes with and distracts from what you’re saying. But, you say, if I’m simply reading the text aloud, there’s no competition. Maybe not, but if all you’re going to do is read your PowerPoint slides aloud, save everyone time and just email the presentation to your learners.

March 9th, 2011
PowerPoint Pissoff…

… for those new to this blog, is one of UD‘s much-used Categories.


Because PowerPoint really pisses students off.

Reading directly from a plain, white PowerPoint presentation [is likely] to induce a coma lasting approximately two hours and 40 minutes.

… The other day I sat through another painfully long lecture. I spent the entire class period reading the textbook instead of copying down notes from the PowerPoint, and by the end of class I had enjoyed myself and understood more of the material than I had in the past five weeks. I left the class quietly seething under my breath and shooting my professor plainly dirty looks because there I was, wasting a beautiful afternoon in a class that wasn’t worth more than its $92 textbook.

Jessica Lynch, University of Colorado

Here’s another one, from Amanda Joinson at the University of Massachusetts:

The classes where the professor is standing in the front of a cavernous lecture hall on a podium accompanied by a poorly executed PowerPoint presentation are perhaps the worst. I swear that ten minutes into the class the audience has been lost, and the professor’s voice turns into that “Blah, blah” that echoes in the background of Charlie Brown cartoons.

These classes often come with the monotone professor who mumbles while looking down at the podium the entire time, while reading from notes that probably have not changed for years.

Both writers use the same Charlie Brown blah, blah or (in the case of Lynch, Charlie Brown wah, wah), meme.

February 28th, 2011
As long as we’re on the subject of the manifold ways…

… in which technoid professors drive students away from class, here’s an opinion piece by a student at Harvard. You can tell he’s kind of shocked that even at Harvard this sort of thing goes on.


… Too many teachers simply throw their bullet points onto a series of slides and read them aloud during lecture.

… The bullets also encourage the professor to read simply what is on the slide, rather than prepare a more fleshed-out speech, …leading students to wonder why they couldn’t just read the slides to themselves in the comfort of their dorm.

Using PowerPoint simply for bullet points is downright lazy, and may stem from a more general problem of professors not putting enough effort into preparing for class.

… If the slides simply consist of the lecturer’s notes, many students will opt to skip lecture and cram from the slides before an exam or paper. Not only will the professor drive students away from class by giving boring, redundant lectures, but the lecture slides act as a complete, downloadable study guide that can be a perfect substitute for going to class.

… [L]ectures are conducted in darkness to help students see the slides, when ideally the lecturer should be well lit, as it is his or her body language and gestures which should help connect the slides to the speech content of their words…

November 26th, 2010
University Diaries has long had a category called PowerPoint Pissoff.


Because PowerPoint pisses people off.

I mean, PowerPoint rules, of course; so you shouldn’t be surprised, for instance, to be commanded to use PowerPoint when you’re invited to give a conference presentation.

Matt Blaze, a security systems expert at U Penn, was surprised, and pissed off. He explains on his blog why he hates PowerPoint:

“Presentation software” like PowerPoint (and KeyNote and others of that ilk) has blurred the line between mere visual aids and the presentations themselves. I’ve grown to loathe PowerPoint, not because of particular details that don’t suit me (though it would be nice if it handled equations more cleanly), but because it gets things precisely backwards. When I give a talk, I want to be in control. But the software has other ideas.

PowerPoint isn’t content to sit in the background and project the occasional chart, graph or bullet list. It wants to organize the talk, to manage the presentation. There’s always going to be a slide up, whether you need it there or not. Want to skip over some material? OK, but only by letting the audience watch as you fast-forward awkwardly through the pre-set order. Change the order around to answer a question? Tough — should have thought of that before you started. You are not the one in charge here, and don’t you forget it.

Here are the PowerPoint slides Blaze prepared for an upcoming conference whose organizers made PowerPoint presentations mandatory for all participants.


UD thanks Ian.

November 7th, 2010
Another student who reviles “lifeless” …


“The dream of every lazy lecturer.”

July 11th, 2010
“This is an act of rebellion.”

PowerPoint Karaoke, which UD has covered on this blog in the past, moves to Canada.

May 3rd, 2010
A University Diaries Shout-Out to the Editorial Board of the University of Minnesota Daily

Sing it, sister.

It’s a common experience – a dimly lit classroom, the low hum of the projector, and the soft glow of yet another bulleted list on the screen.

Eyes grow heavy. The professor stands motionless, ensconced behind a podium and laptop. Attention fades.

Across our great University, PowerPoint has become a crutch for teaching rather than a tool for learning. With more and more technology migrating into classrooms and students seeking an easy lecture crib sheet, these presentations have come to lead lectures rather than augment them.

Students recognize that the best professors make subjects come alive with interesting lectures, open discussion, and critical questioning. No teacher has ever derived effectiveness solely from sleek slides with cheesy fade effects. At its heart, much of education needs little more than a teacher, some chairs, and perhaps a book.

The New York Times recently covered a conference earlier this month in North Carolina where military leaders spoke openly of the hazard posed by dependence on the ubiquitous PowerPoints. Brigadier General H.R. McMaster warned that “it’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding, the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

And therein lays the crux of the problem. When lectures are molded to fit the constraints of PowerPoint, learning is compromised and subjects become pasteurized, homogenized, and intellectually boring. Abandoning this crutch will enhance learning and create more opportunities to practice extemporaneous public speaking with probing questions and answers. These skills challenge students to become better listeners and thinkers — qualities that are of critical importance in today’s increasingly complex world.

Extemporaneous public speaking with probing questions and answers
. Sounds like teaching!

April 25th, 2010
Totally Blah NPR Piece on…

banning laptops. I link to it only because I link to all of these things.

Oh, wait. There is one wonderful moment in it. A comment from a student explaining one instance of laptop use:

I went through a history class that was just every single day death by PowerPoint. And it just, it was awful.

It’s technology v. technology: An asshole in front of the room is too lazy to teach and students are too afraid or indifferent to protest. So students find their own defensive technology in response to the situation.

The result is what UD has called the Morgue Classroom, or TPD: Total Pedagogical Death.


By the way, some American university students have formally protested excessive or inept faculty PowerPoint use at a number of campuses.

April 8th, 2010
As her freshman year ends, a Berkeley student wonders…

… why the thrill is gone.

… [M]ost of [my education here] revolves around manipulating the system to my advantage: learning the art of answering multiple choice questions, or when I can zone out during PowerPoint presentations. Discerning what the professor cares about and will probably put on the midterm, while ignoring the rest.

… I believe that the problem itself lies in the structure of Cal’s undergraduate program. Conducted in large auditoriums, much teaching is based mostly on lectures in which a professor simply transfers his or her ideas to the students. Even if you’re lucky enough to get into a good discussion section, there is still inadequate time allotted for student-generated discussions or ideas.

… Which has made me realize that, in the midst of heightened student activism and concern for California’s educational system, we need to expand the list of things that we are fighting for. That we should focus not only on budget cuts and the privatization of public education but on how we are educated as well: on our right to intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and the opportunity to pursue the passions that brought us to Berkeley in the first place…

April 7th, 2010
Teutonic Twats

From a review of Professor Untat, a new book by Uwe Kamenz and Martin Werle:

…. [P]rofessors [in Germany] have an extreme form of tenure, so that for them, unemployment simply does not exist. There are also no real controls within the system, so they are left very much to their own devices.

The result, the authors argue, is that only a third of the large body of German professors work hard and with integrity, while about a fifth abuse the system to the limit.

[They get] their doctoral students to do a large proportion of their teaching and administration, and most or even all of their research, while still passing themselves off as the authors.

… These beleaguered doctoral students work incredibly long hours on all manner of activities and projects. They often have little time during the week to work on their own doctorates, and receive little in the way of supervision.

All of this is possible because professors in German academia are in a position of total power over their doctoral students – and because the latter desperately want to earn their degrees.

Some of the activities described in Professor Untat take some beating. On the teaching front, professors block their courses so that they need to be on campus only two or three days a week – during semesters, that is.

Furthermore, “lectures” often comprise little more than PowerPoint presentations prepared by doctoral students. In such cases, the latter inevitably are more in command of the material than the academics who present it.

In the worst cases, sabbaticals are used either for extended holidays or to engage in lucrative consultancy work…

April 3rd, 2010
Powerpoint Pissoff…

… from a Stanford student:

A real teacher engages [her] students and challenges [them] to engage with course material. A real teacher pulls from students strands of potential and forces students to use their abilities in order to grow intellectually. And at Stanford? Eh, many Stanford professors don’t teach as much as they speak at you, read off of Powerpoint slides, or boast about their various accolades. Come to Stanford and you may get a few memorable intellectual experiences. But know that they are rare and that the fast-paced quarter system makes them easy to avoid.

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