When I started teaching Biology, there was no PowerPoint. But still, somehow we managed!
I was never really in to writing lots of notes on the board for students to copy, but there were a few things that I did get students to copy / draw for themselves. For example, when discussing the function of the kidney nephron (usually portrayed by quite a complicated diagram in the text books), I did draw out the key diagram on the board and would expect the students to draw it in their notes at the same time. Whilst drawing, I would be talking about the structures and their various functions. I would emphasise the ways in which the shapes of the elements contributed to their functions, and I would invite students to ask questions as we went along. In all, this might take half an hour or so. Quite a long time to ‘copy a diagram’. But there was so much more than just getting the diagram in their books. It was all about engaging with the material and understanding what was going on – not just memorising it. Students would then come up to the board and trace the pathway taken by various molecules – generating more discussion and questions.
This could have been done much more quickly by just referring to the diagram in the book. But that wasn’t ‘their’ diagram. And passively looking at a diagram does not require much engagement. Even in the days of PowerPoint, I would much rather discuss the kidney nephron with a ‘living’ diagram, than with a pre-packaged version that I could download and project with very little effort on my part.
Discussions in the literature don’t seem to focus on the central issue of whether or not we should be using PowerPoint at a particular time, but rather authors are engaged in fringe debates about when to make slides available to students (e.g. Chen and Lin, 2008; Cannon, 2011; Worthington and Levasseur, 2015). There is also an assumption among colleagues that a lecture either has PowerPoint, or it doesn’t. The idea that you might want to project two or three slides and then turn it off never seems to occur to anyone. This is partly due to the perceived complications of shutting the projector down and/or restarting it during a session. Something that can be easily overcome by pressing ‘B’ on the computer keyboard – this turns the screen black when in presentation mode. Pressing ‘B’ again turns the slide back on.
It is clear that, to some extent, we are suffering from PowerPoint fatigue. Conferences on innovative pedagogies or student-centred learning are still largely populated by standard PowerPoint-centred presentations that are neither innovative nor student-centred. They are reminiscent of lectures described by one observer as, “stand-and-deliver lectures by god-Professors that would make Freire weep with despair” (Hay, 2015:1).
In a conference paper I attended a while ago, the presenter didn’t use PowerPoint at all. He just sat on the corner of the desk and talked with his audience. At the end he got an enthusiastic round of applause – not only for the content of his presentation, but also for having the courage not to use slides.
Cannon, E. (2011) Comment on Chen and Lin ‘Does downloading PowerPoint slides before the lecture lead to better student achievement? International Review of Economic Education, 10(1): 83 – 89.
Chen, J. and Lin, T-F. (2008) Does downloading PowerPoint slides before the lecture lead to better student achievement? International Review of Economic Education, 7(2): 9 – 18.
Hay, I. (2015) ‘Darkness on the edge of town’ (or how higher education has improved …). Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 39(1): 1 – 3.
Worthington, D.L. and Levasseur, D.G. (2015) To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance. Computers & Education, 85: 14 – 22.