The Powerpoint Dilemma

Over at 11D, we’ve been having a great chat about the use or uselessness of Powerpoint in the classroom.

Full disclosure: I use Powerpoint in all but my seminar classes. I find it a useful tool in my arsenal and even more so since I messed up my hand the autumn before last. It’s not so easy to write everything up on the board anymore. Powerpoint is also cheaper than an endless supply of new overheads printed out of manuscripts, artwork, buildings and other images I use. And maps? We got rid of the last of those beat-up folded maps when we lost our storage space a few years back. Don’t miss them. They were worn and nigh unto illegible (as well as not applying to more than half of what I need to show when I teach). Whereas each year I can open up the Powerpoint files, revise them as I want (I often toss out about a third of the files from the previous offering as I come up with new ways to organize or tackle the subject matter) and not have to invest in new media.

Certainly Powerpoint is often abused. Only about one third of my senior seminar students who use it in the classroom presentations use it appropriately. Most cram much too much information on each slide and then read it straight off (or read from their prepared text while the slides flip by willy nilly). And Powerpoint as lecture summary is a clear invitation not to attend.

But Powerpoint to accompany the key points of a class, to provide illustrative images, important lists, legible text of important names and terms? It’s a godsend. And I put it up in our course webspace for review or study. Sure, some students think that the files are a license not to attend class. But many of those students would also consider a detailed course outline, a cloudy day or a hangnail equally valid excuses to skip. It’s a tool. The virtue or lack thereof lies in the hand of the instructor.

Plus, as one of my junior colleagues noted, if you really want to get them to stop looking at the screen, you can always turn the projector off for a few minutes. That works wonders!

8 Responses to “The Powerpoint Dilemma”

  1. PhilosopherP Says:

    I use PowerPoint every day as well. I teach lower-level courses and find it can be useful to tell my students to print the file before class and use it as the structure of their notes. They can also use it as a reading guide, letting them know what the philosopher was going for in order to better understand the material.

    For presentations, I give them a grade on the effectiveness of their visual aid, and you can bet that putting too much information on a slide and reading from the slide gets their score marked down.

  2. Another Damned Medie Says:

    You know, for the first time, I’m starting to use Powerpoint. I’m not really doing proper presentations, but I’m at least gathering the maps and images I want to use and putting them in a Powerpoint presentation, so I don’t have to fumble. I’m trying to get to where LDW/SC is — he does what you do. And he’s brilliant at his job.

  3. sm Says:

    I’ve had my lecture notes online for years, how’s that for an excuse to skip class?

    I use PP only for maps and images that I can talk about. So far superior to slides and overheads it’s not funny.

  4. ancarett Says:

    PhilosopherP, I’m mulling over mandating the visual presentation (they’re currently only required to provide a two-page written research summary on the topic for myself and their classmates to accompany the in-class presentation). If I do, you can be sure they’re getting some guidelines and expectation.

    ADM, the nice thing with Powerpoint or any other slideshow software, as SM points out below your comment, is that it is visually great. You can get really hi-res images and zero in on aspects in a way that is impossible with the overheads. And, as I said in my post, I love that I’m not having to pause and go over names & dates (though they already get a lot of those in the course manual).

  5. greyoke Says:

    It’s amazing how something as useful as PowerPoint has so many academics dead set against it. It’s a tool that, used properly, can increase student involvement and learning. Of course, if you read from your slides or try to put everything on the slides, it’ll fail - because you’re using it the wrong way for instruction!

    I actually don’t keep paper notes anymore for my courses. I keep the PowerPoints, which include my main talking points, figures and maps and images, questions and activities for the students - and I just try to improve them year after year. I’m the kind of lecturer who knows the main points that need to be made during class, but lets the discussion go wherever the students take it in-between.

  6. Bardiac Says:

    I love the idea of powerpoints for images, maps, graphs, and so forth.

    I don’t teach large lecture courses; that’s just not the way my teaching is set up where I teach. And with a class of 35 (my usual max), I can pretty much use discussion to get where I want to get with a class.

    Either way takes planning ahead, of course, but I think discussion (given my relatively small class size) helps me teach the skills I want to teach as well as the conceptual framework I want to teach.

  7. Ancarett’s Abode » Blog Archive » The Value of Visuals Says:

    […] Further to our discussion of Powerpoint and the value of visuals in class, an interesting Imperial History of the Middle East (Shockwave animation) which I’d show in my Ancient Near East, medieval or Modern Western Civ class at the drop of a hat. (Well, that will have to wait ’til next year since I’m not teaching either in the present term, but still.) […]

  8. Anastasia Says:

    i think two things. First, I think it’s a lot harder to teach with images than people realize. Second, because they don’t realize using images is a skill, they don’t think much about *how* they’re doing it, do it badly, then blame the technology.