23.6.05

QUOTE OF THE DAY comes from University Diaries.
Powerpoint, UD has always felt, is ideally designed for autistics.
There's more.
Powerpoint caters not only to the autistic but - much like television - to the retarded. It is slow, redundant, and has pictures.
An article by Patrick Allitt (the author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student) on the free side of the Chronicle of Higher Education includes the Superintendent's pet peeve about any presentation that uses "slides" (which are supposed to be projected from 80-count trays to railfans, but I digress) whether of the Power Point variety or the overhead version.
At a medical-history conference last year, I was the only history professor in a group of doctors. Many of them were good amateur historians, but all of them were cursed with a dependency on PowerPoint, which seems to exercise an even stronger appeal among physicians and scientists than among professors of the humanities and social sciences. Every word the doctors spoke was duplicated on a screen above their heads. It was numbingly repetitive.
Not to mention rendering the presenters redundant -- they could have hired a reader and stayed home to do more research. There's also an anecdote about the usual joys of booting up a so-called smart classroom, and the learning opportunities lost.

How much better the class would have been with no more than a blackboard and a few sheets of paper! Note taking would have been silent; students would have talked to the teacher and each other, would have concentrated on the substance rather than the technology, and would have had more time -- not less -- to devote to their work. Best of all, a warm atmosphere of collective endeavor would have displaced the anonymity and chill that the machines created.

I talked with the professor afterward, and he acknowledged that technology could be a distraction as well as an aid. He added that, although his was a writing-intensive class, the students didn't like to write, and that they wrote badly. Every college teacher knows it. The current generation of students has devoted thousands of hours to mastering computers but hasn't learned how to maintain verb-tense consistency in a sentence, hasn't learned not to follow a singular subject with a plural verb, knows almost none of the more-advanced rules of grammar, and uses apostrophes with chaotic caprice.

Don't we know that?

There are a number of other observations about so-called "productivity" enhancements, but Professor Allitt's closing suggestion is a tad optimistic.
Experiment with a no-Web, no-e-mail semester. You'll love it, and your dean will love you, as she realizes that some of the money previously allocated to buying unnecessary new devices can now be devoted to scholarships and salary increases instead.
That is, if your department has sufficient budget for paper handouts. And it is naive to expect that anybody who actually does the work will benefit by the savings. Watch those go for directors of diversity who can go on leave for seven months, or for additional purveyors of crying towels to those students whose fragile egos have been shattered by those mean professors.

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