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… 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…

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8 Responses to “As long as we’re on the subject of the manifold ways…”

  1. Clarissa Says:

    I just love it when a spoiled bratty student starts dispensing advice to experienced educators. Why doesn’t the little know-it-all get off his high horse and go do some studying? Then, when (if) he manages to get a PhD and gets hired to teach at Harvard, he will be able to do it any way he prefers.

  2. Michael Tinkler Says:

    I wish I could have a spot! Pity it would interfere with the screen.
    I teach in the dark (occupational hazard of art history), but there’s nary a word on the screen for me to read, unless I’m explicating an inscription for them.

  3. Eileen Says:

    Is this really even a thing? In four years of undergrad and three of graduate school TAing massive lecture courses, I’ve only seen two job candidates do the bullet-point slides. I’ve also had students in courses I’ve TA’d complain that the slides don’t contain enough information to make up for skipping class.

  4. Crimson05er Says:

    I’m with Eileen in wondering if this a disciplinary or regional phenomenon. Perhaps it gains a foothold in some places and grows from there?

    I never ran into bulleted PowerPoints when I was an undergraduate at Harvard. (Though I did experience the inky wells of blackness associated with Art History and VES lectures heavy in slides, as mentioned by Michael Tinkler. I’ve been in caves that seemed less oppressively dark than the Sackler basement lecture hall.) My graduate program’s department at another university doesn’t make much use of slide software either, though I can’t speak for other departments. Mayhaps historians are stuck in the past? (chortles at own bad pun)

    This article on a related technological classroom experience might be of some interest, Prof. UD. I’m not quite sure what to make of it — flippant and ultimately non-essential, but with sharp undercurrents of pathos.

    “Putting the “I” in iClickers”

  5. david foster Says:

    Clarissa….Sounds like you’re saying no one should criticize a professor’s presentation style unless they themselves have been a professor?

    Am I allowed to have opinions about a car I buy without myself being an automobile manufacturer? Am I allowed to write my county executive about the potholes in the roads without ever having worked on road construction?

  6. ricki Says:

    I use PowerPoint, but for photographs of things, maps, data charts, etc. It’s a lot easier for me to show a climate-range map of the U.S. than it is for me to try to draw it on the board. (In the olden days, I would have used an opaque projector with a picture from a book…)

    I leave the light on in the room while I teach, I think it leads to better connection and students being more willing to speak up in class. And easier for me to see if people are slacking and try to pull them in.

    I DO think there’s some value (not 100% value, always) in listening to student comments. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that no matter HOW you teach, you will take SOME criticism. I teach a class in discussion style, some of my student evaluators HATE it. I teach a class using traditional lecture, some of the students HATE it. I teach a class using mostly PowerPoint, some of the students HATE it. I don’t think you can please everyone; the best thing to do is to find a style that works well for you and gives you the sense that most of the class is engaged.

    For me, that’s some traditional lecture with slides of things that I can’t easily draw and don’t want to try to explain with handwaving and gestures.

    I think academia tends to suffer from the one-size-fits-all mentality: ten years ago, I was told I “needed” to use PowerPoint and needed to make it “graphic” and “punchy.” Now some people are saying PowerPoint should never be used in any class ever. Like any tool, teaching tools can be used well or used badly. It’s up to us to determine if we’re using them well, and if we can’t use them well, either learn how to, or not use them.

  7. david foster Says:

    The study of *rhetoric* was one of the original Liberal Arts, and so it should be again. A college degree program should include getting experience in speaking/presenting and debating. I can’t imagine any career in which these skills would not be of value, in addition to their value in citizenship and their intrinsic interest.

    The fact that these skills aren’t usually taught in required classes in college, though, is no excuse for people who have jobs that require public speaking and don’t make an effort to learn to do it well.

  8. EB Says:

    At least in academia the powerpoints are either bullets or charts/graphs/visual information. In the world of commerce, you will be faced with dancing chipmunks, loud rock music, and pictures that melt into the next picture so fast it’s like watching the laundry spin at the laundromat.

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