Monday, June 2, 2008

Death by PowerPoint

While I can’t take credit for the title here, I think it encapsulates the dangers that the use of PowerPoint can create. When I think back to my career as an educator within chiropractic, now nearly 3 decades old, I can fondly remember the smell of the mimeograph machine when I used it to make copies of material for classroom use. When copiers became part of my life, I used the copy machine for that same purpose. I remember making overheads for classroom use by first making a copy onto white paper, then making a second copy onto special clear overhead material. I would go to class carrying my teaching notes and my overheads, which I had to coordinate with my notes (I used to put little numbers in the text, which were keyed to the overheads). Then came PowerPoint, which allowed me to make slides on my computer and to easily bring them to class. And I did, in large number.

But I had a bit of a wake-up call this past weekend, and it is one that fits in to literature I have been reading. I made my final examination open book; students were free to bring in whatever material they wanted, including copies of classroom slides I make available on my website. One student came to me when the final had ended to ask about one answer on the test. I gave him the answer, to which he then stated “but that was not covered in the notes.” My response to him was that he was correct; it was not in the notes, but was something we had talked about in the course of the class. But after he left I felt bothered, and it occurred to me why: students brought those slides to the test thinking that the only material that mattered was the information contained in those slides. This is not and should never be the case. I am therefore rethinking my use of my PowerPoint.

And let me quote a harsh critic of PowerPoint, Edward Tufte (1), who is acknowledged as a leader in the visual display of information. He says” In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality…” Matt Christian (2) says “Little did they know that they were creating a program that would cause more people to communicate less effectively and less efficiently.”

Okay, we’ll stop here for now, now that I’ve got you hooked. More to come on this…

1. Tufte E. PowerPoint is evil., accessed June 2, 2008
2. Christian M. Death by PowerPoint of twelve steps to better e-presentations., accessed June 2, 2008


Anonymous said...

Amen, they do not lead to learning, they lead to word association.

Anonymous said...

As a faculty member, i chose for one term to have my notes available in outline format and once as paragraph format. students complained that i didn't have the exact ppt slides available. i was advised by my supervisor that if i wanted better student evaluations, i should make my slided available. bigger point here: we are creating the problem of the "ppt generation". we need to have minimal information on these presentations and make students responsible for coming to class to learn. i'll gladly make my notes available. but, like you, Dana, i believe coming to class is where the exposure to deep learning begins. i want to put in my syllabus.."...ppt slides are an outline, to learn you must attend class or read the text..."

Anonymous said...

I can second that. I teach in a chiro college, too, and I was amazed to see all the notes for entire classes posted for free download by the students. I graduated from Palmer in 2000, so it's not like I'm from the Age of Dinosaurs or anything, and I remember either:
1) Taking notes the old-fashioned way... pen, paper.

2) Buying notes @ the bookstore that had been prepared by another student who did the notetaking, rewriting, binding, etc. I still fondly remember my "Stephnotes" for several classes.

3) Buying the note packet that was made available by the prof or the college.

My first tri teaching I decided I didn't want people going to the open-to-the-public site and stealing all of my hard work, so I posted them as PDF's and students complained because they "were trying to reduce their impact on the environment" and wanted it in the original PPT version. Then they complained because I was using the latest version of MS Office on a Mac, which required Pee Cee users to download a conversion application, so THAT was my fault, too.

So, I started saving the lectures to my site as PPT. THEN students complained because some of the backgrounds I use weren't available in their aging computers' version of PowerPoint, so the fonts were all messed up! I'm SERIOUSLY considering going to letting them write their notes the way they SHOULD, but I know I will catch hell for it, and I want my class to be a class about history, not an exercise in good note taking.

Is there quality research that shows that students who take notes do better?