To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint

I don’t use power points in my classes, even in my very large classes 150 to 225 students). I tend to keep it simple – I lecture and use the whiteboard.  

But I worried that in my big classes (like my 200+ student USU 1320 course) that PowerPoint was something of a necessity. Could the students in the back even see the whiteboard? So I did a trial run this semester. For 2 weeks I used PowerPoint in my 1320 class.  After the trial run, I did a poll in class.  Not particularly scientific, but the results were quite surprising. Of some 150 students in class that day, only 3 wanted me to keep using PowerPoint.  All the rest thought the class was better – and they were more engaged – without it.

What are the lessons to be learned from this? Well, I think it says something about how students respond to PowerPoint generally.  I pressed students about it and they had a mostly negative opinion of power point and liked classes that were "old school."

I also think it says something about my teaching style — I am best (and apparently most interesting) when my lectures are not overly scripted.  The PowerPoints frustrated some of the spontaneity of my lectures.  But a general point might be drawn from this too.  It is easy to overrate all the high tech classroom aids and even low tech materials that teachers use and distribute.  Using these can actually interfere with something more basic and powerful in education – the immediacy of the personal encounter with a human teacher as opposed to a teacher who is endlessly mediated through various filters (PowerPoints to stare at, handouts that draw your attention away, etc).

Still, it is hard not to feel a bit backwards in this opinion. To hear some speak of it, you are just outdated if you don’t use every new bit of technology around. And yet, it is hard to avoid this correlation – as technology use has increased, student outcomes have decreased (see here). Granted, there are many causes for the downward spiral in rigor and learning at America’s colleges. It just doesn’t seem to me that lack of technology is one of those causes.

If anything, the use of high-tech aids might be too much hand-holding and might be encouraging the other bad habits that do have to do with the overall decline in student performance. One of the things Academically Adrift points out is how little students read these days. But of course no one reads – why bother when PowerPoints encourage an expectation that every great idea can be reduced into a tidy set of bullet points?

So I am back to not using PowerPoints and to my “old school” view of education. For a long time people got fabulous educations by reading, listening to good lectures, and having a good discussion. If that ain’t broke, why fix it?


About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
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