Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is PowerPoint the "Miller Lite" of learning?

Many teachers have strong feelings about PowerPoint. Some love it, others don't. For certain applications, it's the best way to communicate ideas or illustrate key points. For instance, I couldn't teach my art law class without it. On the other hand, there's a risk of overuse which can undermine student learning when sophisticated, nuanced ideas are over-simplified in order to fit the slide format.  Students may mistakenly believe that memorizing bullet points is the equivalent of learning.  Teachers may be tempted to substitute difficult explanations with slides that appease students' desire to be spoon-fed. In that respect, PowerPoint can become the Miller Lite of learning: "Great taste . . . . Less filling!"

Whether you agree or not, you may want to check out this column from U. of Washington Professor David Barash from the Chronicle of Higher Ed called "My PowerPoint Boycott."

I have . . . sworn off PowerPoint, at least most of the time. Accordingly, when spring quarter begins at the University of Washington this Monday, I will tell my large-enrollment “Introduction to Animal Behavior” class that this course will be taught the old-fashioned way: Just them, and me, and an antique overhead projector on which I’ll draw the occasional graph and spell out any unusual terms.

I know, there are lots of arguments pro and con regarding PowerPoint and pedagogy; like most other things, it is a technology that can be overdone to the detriment of all, and underdone, too—which, I admit, may well be my current situation.

And click here to check out the always interesting reader comments which, as of this writing, are mostly disapproving too.


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