I read an interesting article published on Slate.com over the weekend that I thought would be a perfect topic to kick off this blog. The article concerns the use, and more specifically, the abuse, of powerpoint by professors for lecturing.
I think we’ve all heard the usual arguments, so I won’t rehash them here. If you are interested though, the Slate article does a good job of summarizing them in a very enlightening format. In fact, it is actually a Powerpoint “lecture” itself,quite literally illustrating the reasons that the author, and many others, think that Powerpoint lectures are the source of higher education.
Full disclosure: I use Powerpoint and I love it. I love using it as a teaching tool and I loved it when professors used it when I was in college.
I make pdfs of my lectures available before lecture (whenever possible) for students to print and bring to class. I have found that most students still come to class, having printed the slides, and are more actively engaged in lecture. They are able to answer my questions instead of scribbling, word for word, my slides into their notebooks. They ask me questions, and not just “can you go back to that last slide?”, but thoughtful and reflective questions.
I don’t, however, read directly from my slides. In fact, I rarely even look at them. My slides have very little text on them, instead they have pictures and diagrams, and a few very brief main points.
In other words, students who don’t come to class get only half, at most, of the information that I lecture on. And those students do not do as well on exams. I know this to be a fact, because I checked. I looked at the data.
In my current class of 41 students, 28 attend lecture regularly (at least 75% of the time). For these students, the average grade on both of the exams so far is an 82%. Both times, same average!
However, for the students who attend lecture less frequently, regardless of any other factor, the exam averages are 71% and 74%.
Clearly, there is a greater standard error (that’s what the bars represent) for those who do not attend regularly (17 and 12 vs. 10 and 14, for exams 1 and 2, respectively) which isn’t surprising. There are lots of students who can do very well in class learning on their own; I myself was one of them. I used to see that as somehow taking away from my teaching skills, but I no longer do.
What is clears that, even in a small class, students who attend class regularly do better on lecture exams. In my class.
Is this trend universal? Is it a reflection on my ability to teach? Is it indicative of how useful my Powerpoint lectures are? I don’t really know. What I do know is that students overwhelmingly say, on both formal and informal course evaluations, that they like the structure of my class. Which I will take to mean that I should continue to do what I am doing, regardless of what articles like this Slate one purport.
Going back to Powerpoints and Slate article though.
Used well and made well, Powerpoint lectures as A tool, as opposed to THE tool, can be extremely beneficial. I can’t draw to save my life, so when I need to teach my physiology students about the structure of a neuron, or the process of neurotransmitter release across the synaptic cleft, I need to have a proper, legible, diagram to illustrate the concept. That is where powerpoint comes in.
The slide above illustrates what I would call a bad slide. Below, a good slide. (It’s my slide though, so I might be little biased.)
It’s also animated, so that each numbered step comes up with I click the button on my wireless remote. It keeps me on track and keeps the students focused.
What do you think about Powerpoint lectures – for meetings or for classes? Do you use them? Do you like watching others?