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Can We Finally Put a Stake Through the Heart of PowerPoint Lectures in College Classrooms

The first time I sat through a PowerPoint lecture during a continuing legal education seminar I was certain that science had finally discovered a cure to insomnia. OK, a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that they don't facilitate the process of active learning, the vigorous exchange of ideas between a professor and their class that makes students think more deeply about a topic.

Bent Meier Sorensen, a Professor of Philosophy and Business at Copenhagen Business School wrote a wonderful article for the Conversation back in 2015 titled "Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring." It opened an ongoing dialog and quite a bit of research into the use of such technology in classrooms. His central point is this:

Sorensen, the Conversation: "As it turns out, PowerPoint has not empowered academia. The basic problem is that a lecturer isn’t intended to be selling bullet point knowledge to students, rather they should be making the students encounter problems. Such a learning process is slow and arduous, and cannot be summed up neatly. PowerPoint produces stupidity, which is why some, such as American statistician Edward Tufte have said it is “evil”."

"Evil" is a bit of an overstatement, but generally, I wholeheartedly agree. It is not a useful tool to teach critical thinking about complex issues. There are probably disciplines in which PowerPoint lectures are appropriate, but political science, beyond the introductory level, isn't one of them.

Students like PowerPoint lectures because it helps them to organize their notes and "cut to the chase," as a student explained to me several years ago. That sums up the problem neatly because getting to the "chase" is where learning occurs. And, as a professor, my job is to facilitate the process of learning how to get to the "chase."

Paul Ralph, a lecturer in computer science put it this way in another piece for the Conversation:

[PowerPoint] "Slides discourage complex thinking. Slides encourage instructors to present complex topics using bullet points, slogans, abstract figures and oversimplified tables with minimal evidence. They discourage deep analysis of complex, ambiguous situations because it is nearly impossible to present a complex, ambiguous situation on a slide. This gives students the illusion of clarity and understanding."

Dr. Paul Donovan, a lecturer at Maynooth University in Ireland explains his reason for ditching PowerPoint in a wonderful article for the Irish Times. You can read it here.


By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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