5.5.15

A COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY TOOL.

Presentation software is the worst possible tool for teaching, notes Bent Meier Sørensen.
A PowerPoint presentation locks the lecture into a course that disregards any input other than the lecturer’s own idea of the lecture conceived the day before. It cuts off the possibility of improvisation and deviation, and the chance to adapt to student input without veering off course.

This is usually what makes such presentations so painfully boring: while it quickly becomes evident to the audience where the presenter is going, he or she has to walk through all the points, while the audience dreams that the next slide might be more interesting.
And that's true, even without the default business television settings that contaminate the medium.
After its launch the software was increasingly targeted at business professionals, especially consultants and busy salespeople.

But during the 1990s it was adopted more generally by corporations as it became part of the Microsoft Office package, which explains the executive summaries, one-liners, ubiquitous “deliverables” and action plans. Its way into academia was then helped by the increased pressure on faculties to deliver more teaching and the increased demand from a more diverse student population to be more concretely guided through the jungle of knowledge.

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.
Yes, although insisting that students think for themselves will not have a salutary effect on the retention statistics, or on course evaluations, nor on the morale of those students who expect to be spoon-fed a few salient points to recall so as to spot the key-word and fill in the bubble.

The professor's graduate program has banned presentation software in the classroom.
Apart from that, the teachers write with chalk on the blackboard (or markers on the whiteboard). Contrary to what PowerPoint allows, the chalk and blackboard enable us to note down points from the students alongside and connected to the points that we ourselves develop. Most universities are actually defending Microsoft’s monopoly by stealth, by architecturally letting the projector and PowerPoint take precedence over other technologies such as the blackboard.

Of course, lifting the uneasy burden of PowerPoint off the teacher’s shoulders places higher demands on planning. Yet, while at our masters programme we as teachers have a clear plan in terms of what should happen every minute of the lecture, the exact content should remain variable and open-ended. In order to support interaction, the students sit with visible nameplates, also introduced in the first lecture of the course last year. This way less active students can be called upon to expand on the concepts and connections growing on the blackboard, either from their seat or by coming to write on it.

In all my years of using PowerPoint the traditional way, students unvaryingly complained about not getting the slides in advance of the lecture. Today, the students don’t mention the lack of PowerPoints at all – they only call for a better order on my blackboard. They are right, but contrary to the rigid order of a PowerPoint presentation, the blackboard order can actually be improved in real time.

Without the temptation of PowerPoint, lecturers have nothing but the students to fall back on. That seems like a much more promising turn of events.
Good.

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