Teachers / Tools

Bullets-Charts-Graphs – click
Bullets-Charts-Graphs – click

If you went to college, even for a semester, you know what I’m talking about. It’s used in presentations. Professors use it in lectures. It’s not a bird, a plane, or superman (though some treat it as though it were) — it’s PowerPoint!

If students too often take shortcuts in their work, the lessons they have learned about “productivity” and “time management’ are no less relevant or applicable for professors. The Freakonomics blog even calls PowerPoint Another Form of Teacher Cheating.

The key, as with all technology, is for the teacher to use the tool, not to become a tool of the technology. Jeffrey R. Young writes this for The Chronicle of Higher Education, in When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom:

José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts, has challenged his colleagues to “teach naked”—by which he means, sans machines.

More than any thing else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool.

At the small liberal arts college I attended, teachers discouraged the use of PowerPoint for student presentations for the same reason Mr. Bowen cites. He’s correct when he says, “When students reflect on their college years later in life, they’re going to remember challenging debates and talks with their professors [instead of a moving PowerPoint].”

That’s not to say challenging debates and a moving PowerPoint can’t both be in the classroom, but if one must take priority, it should be the former. Like watching television, viewing a PowerPoint is an essentially passive activity. It lacks the engagement that assists with deep learning and memory.

No single group is to blame. Lest we place an unfair burden solely on the shoulders of teachers, it is necessary to remember that there is student complicity in techno-rich, interaction-poor education. Young points out,

The biggest resistance to Mr. Bowen’s ideas has come from students, some of whom have groused about taking a more active role during those 50-minute class periods. The lecture model is pretty comfortable for both students and professors, after all, and so fundamental change may be even harder than it initially seems…

The roots are there: we watch the movie instead of reading the book (or the Cliff’s Notes). We Tweet instead of writing letters; we text instead of making phone calls.

Abbreviation may be simpler, but that simplicity comes at the risk of divorcing communication from thought, discussion, and contemplation; and with them, wisdom.

Isn’t that the goal of higher education in the first place?

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