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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Powerpoint killed the lecture

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Let me be blunt, PowerPoint killed the concept of a lecture. Controversial? I don't know. I don't think so. I'm a biology major and consequently, most of my experience comes from science classes. I'm now in the final weeks of my senior year of university. I've taken my fair share of classes now and if anything has remained the same over the past four years, it's my distaste of PowerPoint based lectures. I understand the logic behind it – take two-hundred plus students, cram them in a lecture hall and “teach” them all at once.

The best classes I've taken have either had little to no emphasis on formal lectures, or have had lectures with little to no usage of PowerPoint presentations. Amongst the classes I've taken with a lecture format, the ones that were the best told a narrative. I'd argue I learned the material better since not only did I have to pay attention (and in order to pay attention, I had to show up), but different parts of the material were woven together into a coherent, overarching idea. Most often than naught, PowerPoint slides either contain just the bare-bones or contains is basically contains everything and the entire lecture is just regurgitated verbatim from the PowerPoint.

If you're just going to read off the PowerPoint, let's just make the entire class e-based. At least, I wouldn't miss a class then. I wouldn't have to live so close to the university too. If it's just the bare-bones, then make sure you add the “fat” and everything else. And let's not even get started on slides that have barely changed from 1996, both in content and design. In my opinion, doing it without a PowerPoint forces the professor to know his material well enough to present it with the requisite amount of "fat" and other material. It also frees up space to use on the blackboard, and limits my visual attention to a smaller range.

At this point I'd like to mention I had a professor who used an overhead projector once. Let me repeat myself, an overhead projector! It was angled to a corner of the lecture hall and to make matters worse, her handwriting was often hard to read (this might be a compliment). Are you kidding me lady? An overhead projector! That's worse than the PowerPoint! And for those wondering, yes, she did do nothing but constantly write on the one transparency after another. And yes, those transparencies were probably washed away after the lecture. She also spoke while writing (therefore, she spoke while her head was tilted down). As you can imagine, it was a truly wonderful experience and joyous journey from knowing next to nothing about a subject, to knowing next to nothing.. In her defense though, she did post PowerPoint slides that covered that very broadly covered the lectures.

I know my generation is pathetic and you also have your research, journals, book or personal memoirs taking up large potions of your time, but please don't shortchange me. After all, my generation is has to fix your generations problems too, or at least half-heartedly try and just make sure not too mess things up even more.

A lecture should be a narrative. I realize that's not always possible, but more often than naught, I feel like it is possible. Reading off a PowerPoint verbatim just tells me you're lazy. Odds are, I probably will be too. But wait! I pay for this crap! I pay for you to come and read off a PowerPoint slide? That's ridiculous. That's life. There is a benefit to using PowerPoint and I do realize this fact. That doesn't mean that every lecture should have a PowerPoint to it. Variety is the spice of life of after all.

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