Powerpoint and Teaching Hearding

September 22, 2003

Powerpoint and Teaching

Hearding writes, on the Sunsword Forums,


Since I got out of the Army I've been going to Southwest Missouri State University, doing 6-12 credit hours a semester. I chose a Computer Information Systems degree program since that is the field I'm interested in. In a nutshell, here's what I've learned since spring 2001:

Powerpoint slide have replaced instructors.
Basic Accounting practices.
Basic level Visual Basic skills.

That's it.

Every class is the same, no matter if it's Systems Analysis, Business Communications, Marketing 350, or Object Technology (fancy way of saying Java 1). Walk in, sit down. The "instructor" fires up Powerpoint and proceeds to bore the #### out of you by reading what's on the screen. After 50 minutes you pack up your stuff and move into a different room to do the same thing. Every few weeks you have a test that covers random bullet points from the powerpoint slides.

The accounting classes I took (against my will...but it's in the degree program) did not use powerpoint. The Visual Basic course I took did not use powerpoint. This leads me to believe that any class where the teacher fires up powerpoint is one I should drop immediately, since those are the only classes I've actually learned anything in.

Yes, I once again have reached the point of wanting to chuck it all. It seems so pointless. I'll have a slip of paper saying I'm a graduate, but I won't know a #### thing. Today I got so disgusted, I skipped all my classes, went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book on C++ and tore into it. I remember saying to myself, "Well if they're not going to teach me anything I guess I'll have to do it myself." I'm on chapter 2

There's no point to this...just gotta rant. Maybe in the process of ranting I'll find the value in this so called 'education'.

After reading this I did a little digging around. There are apparently a fair number of teachers who use powerpoint. As one student I checked with put it, "some use it well, some use it poorly." This squares with the argument made by the powerpoint defenders, and is in contrast to the well known critique of powerpoint as "stalinist software."

I used to work as a consultant teaching college professors how to use multimedia technology in the classroom. One of the options we presented them was Powerpoint. I went with the position that Powerpoint was a good way to quickly present a couple of graphs and charts - about the same amount of information that you would get from an overhead projector. Or, it was a good way to organize a highly technical lecture with lots of graphs and formulas.

Here I drew on what one of the Econ professors at Large Southern Research University did - he made up 120 slide PPT presentations for each meeting of the 300-level econ theory class. These powerpoint files were posted on the class website for the kids to download and review. He also created a sheaf of paper for each student each day - in a large lecture hall - so that they had the text of every slide at hand and could save their writing time for annotating the slides. He then would start moving at light speed through the material. Every formula, every x/y chart he referred to had a slide. He spent no time scribbling on the board but instead was constantly explaining and teaching. I talked with one of the students from that class, who commented that it was like "drinking from a firehose." At the end of every class meeting he walked out stunned and exhausted, numbed by the amount of material he had just swallowed.

That professor got absolutely spectacular course evaluations, and he increased the material he covered by about 20 percent over the previous form of the 300-level Macro/Micro sequence. It was a rigorous class and the students had pretty good retention of the increased volume of material.

So, Powerpoint is indeed just a tool. Powerpoint does not make crappy lectures, crappy teachers make crappy lectures. If some of these bozos who stand up and read their slides had their powerpoint taken away, they might very well sit there with the textbook open in front of them and spend their class time explaining the textbook paragraph by paragraph. (Don't laugh, I know of one tenured community college history professor who does exactly that in her classes, using Spielvogel's mighty simple-minded textbook)

How, then, might I use powerpoint effectively the next time that I am teaching history in a wired classroom?

I use the blackboard to


  1. Write a skeleton outline of the class on one side

  2. Write down particular names and dates that I want the kids to copy
  3. Do board exercises, often in the compare/contrast category
  4. Draw really ugly maps and then sketch all over them
  5. Put words on the board when one of the kids does not know a vocabulary word I used

In addition, if I have an overhead projector available I will bring maps and use those instead of maps drawn on the blackboard. The projector maps have the advantage of being geographically accurate - mine are rather blob like - and the disadvantage that I can not scribble arrows on them the same way. They are static and not interactive.

For now, I intend not to request powerpoint equipped classrooms. If I get one, teaching in a spiffy new building instead of the current old monster, then I might put together a few data slides. I will not turn my lectures into detailed powerpoint sequences, if only because my lecture notes are not that detailed. I post, verbatim, my current class planning for tomorrow:

3 part class. 1, Society at the start of the 18th century. Anne and Georges Imperial System - governors, legislatures, navigation acts, trade patterns Colonial tensions east/west, elite domination

2, Enlightenment - start first
Observation > Revelation
Logic to deduce the laws of nature - Astronomy --> Newton
Bacon, Scientific method, etc
Locke, epistemology
Extension of this practice to social realm
Observation, search for "natural" order in society
Question received knowledge
Does not, can not, question own assumptions about race, gender, status.
Moderns and Classics, presumption that the old must be idiots

3, Awakening
Worldwide movement
One starting point, Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Lockean imagery to produce religious conversion
Spread - Whitefield, Davenport, Tennants, Wesleyan movement, German Pietism
Letters and books, conversion narratives, expectations for behavior, public meetings
Change from formal to emotional religion, emphasis on individual choice
oddity about New England - liberal clergymen work out the theory of resistance, orthodox and new light types fill the ranks of the army carrying out that resistance
Never quite ends, just moves on.

That is not a powerpoint lecture, and it certainly is not when I move on to talk to the kids about who are the enlightenment guys, what do we know about the awakening, and so on.

Between now and 10:00 am tomorrow I will flesh this out a little, make notes to myself about dates, think about how to get the kids to talk, but that is the basic form. I teach from rough notes, I improvise to an outline. It works for me, and the kids like it better than when I read from a script.

This post is a bit of a mess, I think I will post it anyway.

Posted by Red Ted at September 22, 2003 06:24 AM | TrackBack