Sleeping Through PowerPoint

The place of technology in the classroom is a topic being debated on many college campuses, including Princeton.

The two biggest problems identified so far? PowerPoint presentations and laptops in the classroom.

Concerning laptop use, faculty members said one of their worries is that the internet’s ocean of resources makes it more difficult for students to decide what information is trustworthy. But for the most part, they said, the chief annoyance is when students use laptops in class for purposes other than academics.

The first part of that concern is really a red herring. Teaching students to evaluate information, from the web or anywhere else, should be a key part of the curriculum at every level, even an Ivy League university.

So, faculty members are mostly annoyed that students are surfing the web instead of paying attention to their lectures. Who’s fault is that?

Then there’s PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slideshows were another concern addressed during the meeting. Though they are the standard format for many Princeton lectures, doubts surfaced yesterday regarding their merit as a method of instruction.

“Princeton prides itself on its precepts and lectures,” history professor Graham Burnett said. “Those very precepts and lectures are now under siege … [PowerPoint] induces a very static and ultimately boring presentation.”

Again, who’s fault is that? PowerPoint doesn’t “induce” anything. Boring lectures are going to be boring with or without the accompanying slide show.

Beyond slide shows being the cause of poor teaching, some also blame them for truancy.

Slideshows posted on Blackboard, suspected to be a widespread excuse for truancy, are PowerPoint’s second pitfall, the panelists said.

“I post presentations online so that my students are not scribbling furiously in class,” computer science professor Brian Kernighan said, “but that can also inspire [students] to stay in bed and download all the notes.”

Other than the fact that someone is paying big bucks for them to attend Princeton, I’m not sure I blame the students for staying in bed.

If they can learn the material by viewing the slide shows online, pass the tests, and not have to sit through boring presentations, why not?

Mmmm…. laptops, PowerPoint, Blackboard. That sounds like the edtech foundation of a certain overly-large school district around here.

No connection implied, however. :-)

[Thanks to edtechNOT for the link]

11 thoughts on “Sleeping Through PowerPoint

  • February 19, 2007 at 7:10 pm
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    Absolutely– don’t blame the technology; blame those who mangle it. However, my students are now under the impression that a PowerPoint presentation has some rockin’ music, a lot of pictures, and a few lines of text that are read right at you– as if the audience can’t do that themselves.

  • February 20, 2007 at 9:07 am
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    Well, in my university it’s like that, too. And, frankly, most of the classes are boring. But some teachers actually do bring more than what’s written on the slide. When they do, it’s worthwhile to be in the class. Otherwise, not so much.

    I don’t think it’s so much about the laptops or the fact that it’s PowerPoint. If a class is boring, it’s the teacher’s fault and they should work on it instead of blaming two tools that, as the article said, are mangled by some people.

  • February 20, 2007 at 9:08 am
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    I think they should use technology, the whole point of education is to make students better equiped for jobs in the real world. I imagine that the type of people that use laptops in classes and work with technology will work with a similar sort of set up when they get a job, work on a laptop and possibly give a presentation using powerpoint.

  • February 20, 2007 at 10:22 am
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    The problem here as I see it is that professors are not digital natives, nor are most of the teachers in our high schools. What they know of powerpoint is gleaned from movies and stories their spouses tell about presentations they had to make at their “real” jobs.

    That is bad enough, but the real danger is that students model their teachers more often than not, and these bad PPT habits get passed along.

    Maybe a mandatory freshman class should be “Multimedia Presentations in the 21st Century” or something like that.

  • February 20, 2007 at 11:45 am
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    The big problem I see with the way people use PowerPoint is that they confuse the slide show with the presentation. If the audience can get all the information they need by simply viewing the slide show, why does the speaker need to be there?

    I agree with Eric that many of our students get their bad presentation habits from us. We do need to teach them to use the tools but more than that we should be teaching communications skills.

  • February 21, 2007 at 3:25 am
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    Menge said: But some teachers actually do bring more than what’s written on the slide.

    Tim said: The big problem I see with the way people use PowerPoint is that they confuse the slide show with the presentation. If the audience can get all the information they need by simply viewing the slide show, why does the speaker need to be there?

    I agree with both Tim and Menge. What key features would they both see that should be *in* a presentation, and what not in, so that teachers have the opportunity to bring more than is on the slide.
    Eric suggested that a course “Multimedia Presentations” should be compulsory, though he mentioned it being for students, I assume that he’s also intending that it should be for lecturers (faculty). If more and more “multimedia” is included, then at what point does the lecturer become redundant. In addition, how long would you anticipate that it would take to prepare a “Multimedia Presentation” compared to the length of time that it lasts?

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  • February 26, 2007 at 9:06 pm
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    There is no Soviet Union anymore, but everybody remember those great victories and defeats. We trusted in idea and we made our history through great losses…
    http://backinussr.com/

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