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Prof. Rob Fovell (UCLA) on PowerPoint and Teaching

March 20, 2010 Filed under Blog, Featured, Potpourri, Presentations 

I do not use PowerPoint in class. PowerPoint is virtually a necessity for scientific talks, but I think they often hurt classroom lectures. They lock me into a particular order, and they tend to make me go through material too fast. My handwriting is poor, but I write in class so I don’t go too fast. And I make the students write to keep them physically involved in what I am doing. I make them draw most figures, after I simplify them, and they follow me as I sketch the figure step by step. (Then I may hand out copies of the figures to them, so they have something neat and more completely labeled.)

Keeping the students writing non-stop isn’t good either. While they are writing, they are not thinking, So, I build in “switchbacks” where I cover material again in a manner in which the students don’t have to write. Thus, I’m talking to them directly, not “through their arms”.

Teachers that use PowerPoint are usually asked to post their slides online. This encourages students to skip class (as does podcasting, another thing I don’t do… at least not yet.) In all my teaching evaluations, I have only ever had one student complain about my not using PowerPoint. In contrast, perhaps 25 or 30 students have explicitly thanked me for NOT using that program. After one class, one time, a student asked me why I didn’t use PowerPoint “like all her other professors”. I told her all my reasons I’ve just mentioned and one more: I’ll never make it easy to skip my class.

Posted slides, podcasts, textbooks… all give the student a false and very transient sense of security that they don’t need to go to lecture because all they have to do is peruse these materials. They are fooling themselves, in all but the classes that have the least conceptual, and the most rote, material.

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