Central Michigan University’s newspaper says many important things about PowerPoint use in the classroom. The article is very strong, but the student comment AFTER the article is even stronger.

Let’s take a look.

For Robert Bailey, using PowerPoint slides for his class lectures hinder a student’s learning capabilities.

Bailey, a professor of biology, teaches three entry-level biology courses and said he tries to keep PowerPoint use to a minimum.

“I used anywhere from 30 to 50 slides per class when I first started teaching and would give students print versions of the slides, but it didn’t take long for attendance to come down,” he said. “Before Thanksgiving break one year, only 10 students showed up for our final unit on human genetics. I knew I had to do something.”   [Point One, among many obvious points: Provide the same information online and students won’t come to class. UD is absolutely certain there are professors who welcome this outcome. Most do not.]

Bailey said students cannot seem to decide what is important from a PowerPoint presentation and think everything posted is golden.

“It’s convenient to use PowerPoint slides for large lecture classes, but students get caught up in trying to write everything down and spend their time writing instead of listening,” he said.   [Point Two, equally obvious: Too much information. The student who comments below will elaborate on the point.]

It can be useful, however.

“We just need to remember that less is more. Slides should contain the most useful information. I try not showing more than 10 slides per class. I believe active, not passive, learning is the most beneficial,” Bailey said. “By active learning, I mean group interaction, where we all can get a better understanding of what the issues are and solve them.”   [Point Three, yet more obvious. Turn people into confused sheeplike herds and they’re unlikely to learn anything.]

… [S]ophomore Brett McMahon said he does not like when PowerPoint slides are used in his classes.

“I like when teachers physically write on the board what they feel we need to know. PowerPoint presentations don’t make classes harder, just confusing. I never know what to write down and how much,” he said… [Point Four: Not only some discussion is crucial; clear signals about what the professor considers important to know are crucial. The things we go to the trouble of writing on the board with our very own fingers are the important things, not the twelve bullet points some book has provided for your slide. Physically writing on the board is also letting the students watch the professor’s brain operate right there in front of them. PowerPoint of course makes professors just as passive as it makes students.  Everyone reads off of a nice neat packaged page. Writing on the board is messy, human, dynamic — thought in motion. Active.]

[F]reshman Erika Schrand said knowing what to copy is easier when professors write directly on the board.

“Sometimes teachers put too much information on the slides and I can’t sort what is important from all the other excess information,” she said.

[Now to the comment.]

One Response to “Some CMU faculty moving away from PowerPoint presentations in classroom”

Antonio says:

Professors trying to use Powerpoint for their lectures has been my biggest pet-peeve while attending CMU. It’s a waste of paper, ink, and time, and only increases tuition to cover the cost of the paper and ink wasted when students print out full slides of black background presentations.

No offense to the professors, as I’ve had many great ones over the years, but I’ve never had a professor who provided notes correctly by use of a computer. (Ok, maybe one). Most of the time, the idea of outline organization has been non-existent.

I do realize professional seminars and events such as TED seminars often use Powerpoints, but the environments there are completely different than a classroom.

To the professors: Anyone can remember and regurgitate information given to us on pre-made Powerpoint presentations, but if it’s information we could have critically and actively filtered through while simply listening to you speak, why make a Powerpoint for it? Why not just give us the ideas and concepts you want us to understand without dividing our attention away from listening to instead focusing on a big projector with the SAME thing you just said, just in different wording?

This makes even less sense when you take into account how much professors usually dislike all the new technology, anyway. Why give us Powerpoint notes, base exams solely on those notes, and then mark us down for not coming to class? What do you honestly expect to come of that?

The only bigger interest killer I’ve seen is when professors spend 5-10 minutes trying to project a piece of paper that everyone already has. Why do we need to see it in two different places? We know how to follow along.

Contrary to popular belief, it is very possible to give a lecture without all these external visual aids. Every time a new semester begins, or there is some problem with the computer network, up to 5-10 minutes or more is wasted trying to figure out the technology, and if it doesn’t work, the professor acts like he/she doesn’t know what to do. For some reason, it seems academic administrations have forgotten the simple tool of speaking outward to a classroom without all this technology mumbo jumbo.

Conclusion: Step away from trying to fumble with the technology and tell us what you want us to know. If the technology is absolutely necessary for your lecture, figure it out beforehand instead of during class time.


Teach us something.

Speak to us.





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8 Responses to “Speaking Outward”

  1. Bill Gleason Says:

    You had me until: tell us what you want us to know…

    This is sort of in the same category as: will that be on the exam?

    Whether one uses Power Point, mental telepathy, or the usual methods, I think it is important to explain to students why certain things are important and perhaps to indicate that other topics are as I sometimes say, for culture.

    If you happen to be teaching in a course where students will have to take a licensing exam, they immediately perk up when you tell them that this topic is always covered on the licensing exam. Unfortunately, even hints like this sometimes fail. I used to guarantee to students in a certain course that the first quiz would be a question about "x" and still only about half of them got it right. What’s a poor old fogey to do?

    There are many ways to nirvana. Please don’t blame everything on misuse of PP.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I picked up on that phrase too, Bill. But to be fair I think the student didn’t mean feed us data; he meant TELL us — explain to us, let us in on, share with us — your thinking about what a person taking your course and truly benefiting from it should know.

  3. Cassandra Says:

    Another counter to this sort of complaint is that many students WANT PowerPoint, and give negative course evaluations when it is not used. When you dig into who and why, the students seem to like PP because it gives them a chance to excuse themselves from putting any sort of thought into their own education, which is the very passive interpretation of "tell us what you want us to know."

    Do I agree with this attitude? Absolutely not.

    But, then again, my pedagogical approach got me not rehired in my last adjunct position because I needed "to lighten up," as one long-term contract (non-TT) prof put it.

    Sometimes faculty are forced to appease the masses in order to stay employed, which includes toting the technophilia party-line.

    I am liking this student pushback happening with regard to PP and clickers. Liking it immensely.

  4. Brad Says:

    The statement "Point One, among many obvious points: Provide the same information online and students won’t come to class" cries out "I need to be supported by data!"

    Professor Stephen Kinsella of UL (University of Limerick) is the one who I’ve found provides the most information online (http://www.stephenkinsella.net/). There are lecture notes, slides, and a podcast of the lecture. He asks students to text him. From what I’ve seen, he doesn’t seem to have to force student attendance by making it part of their grade.

    No, I don’t have data either, just an anecdote.

  5. Bill Gleason Says:

    God help us! Limerick…

    UD, please, no, don’t give in.

  6. KZBlog Says:

    Generally I agree with your blog’s campaign against Power Point. However I did want to step in to defend PP in certain situations.

    I work as a consultant to schools in Kazakhstan that hire foreign teachers of English language. And in language classes PP can actually be really useful in conjunction with lecturing, activities, and discussion. First of all choosing what information to put on slides actually helps the teacher choose what is important.

    I’ve also found that doing fill-in-the-blank exercises on PP with the whole class is sometimes better than doing hand-outs individually. I can control what they put as the right answer–making sure they get a whole collocation instead of one word for example. And I can also play with the order of the questions or add my own examples or delete examples from the book that are too complicated or too easy or not related to what I’m trying to teach them.

    Finally, language learners often need to be able to read off the board and especially if I’m teaching vocab in use, I like to have key words or phrases in big old highly readable writing, not my chicken scratch on the white board with the markers that are running out of ink.

    And I can also go back and forth–oh, this kid is trying to use those phrasal verbs we went over last class, let me get that slide back up so she can copy it.

    That being said, I choose what goes on the slides and what I put on the board and what I say out loud carefully. We go off on tangents if we need to. We do discussions, we do role plays, we do lecturing. In short, it’s one tool that has a place in teaching.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    KZBlog: I very much appreciate your detailing some of the ways in which PowerPoint can be used responsibly and effectively. Comments like yours, and similar comments from UD readers who teach large intro Geology classes and the like, have long convinced me that the technology can in some situations be put to very good use.

  8. Jonathan Says:

    The article isn’t very useful in giving alternatives–there’s the usual "active learning" schtick and the usual "Powerpoint is just a tool, it’s in the way that you use it [which I’m not going to elaborate on]" schtick.

    You’re right, of course, that writing on the board is usually superior because it conveys the words in the right context at the right pace. But if you must use slides…

    I think if teachers were forbidden from using bullets or anything reminiscent of bullet points, Powerpoint presentations would double in quality overnight. They would be forced to think about what pictures or writing would support their talking.

    I think if teachers were required to use notecards to remind themselves of what points they want to cover (as orators once did), and were forbidden from using their slides for that purpose, their presentations would double in quality again. A big part of the problem is that most teachers think the purpose of their slides is to remind them of what to say. It hasn’t occurred to them that showing your notecards to the audience ruins your speech. This is dead obvious, yet virtually no Powerpoint user notices it.

    Finally, every teacher should occasionally be required to give an entire lecture without displaying or writing a single word (with mathematical equations permitted if the material requires). This would remind them of the basic skill of lecturing, which written material should augment rather than replace.

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