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!