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  • Steven R. Crawford
    I know that this has been debated ad nausum here; however, I thought this article was worth sending out. ... The point of this column is not to trash
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2006
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      I know that this has been debated ad nausum here; however, I thought
      this article was worth sending out.

      -------- Original Message --------

      "The point of this column is not to trash transparencies and
      PowerPoint. We use PowerPoint all the time-in conference
      presentations and invited seminars, short courses, and teaching
      workshops. We rarely use pre-prepared visuals for teaching,
      however-well, hardly ever-and strongly advise against relying on them
      as your main method of instruction."

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      The posting below is by two educators, Richard M. Felder and Rebecca
      Brent. It continues the discussion that began with posting TP Msg.
      #663 THE PERILS OF POWERPOINT, on September 12, 2005. See also
      http://www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/RMF.html for a rich set of
      resources on science education.


      Rick Reis
      UP NEXT: Overview of Service Learning

      Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

      ----------------------------------- 1,308 words


      It's a rare professor who hasn't been tempted in recent years to put
      his or her lecture notes on transparencies or PowerPoint. It takes
      some effort to create the slides, but once they're done, teaching is
      easy. The course material is nicely organized, attractively
      formatted, and easy to present, and revising and updating the notes
      each year is trivial. You can put handouts of the slides on the Web
      so the students have convenient access to them, and if the students
      bring copies to class and so don't have to take notes, you can cover
      the material efficiently and effectively and maybe even get to some
      of that vitally important stuff that's always omitted because the
      semester runs out.

      Or so the theory goes. The reality is somewhat different. At lunch
      the other day, George Roberts-a faculty colleague and an outstanding
      teacher-talked about his experience with this teaching model. We
      asked him to write it down so we could pass it on to you, which he
      kindly did.

      * * *
      "About five years ago, I co-taught the senior reaction engineering
      course with another faculty member. That professor used
      transparencies extensively, about 15 per class. He also handed out
      hard copies of the transparencies before class so that the students
      could use them to take notes.

      "Up to that point, my own approach to teaching had been very
      different. I used transparencies very rarely (only for very
      complicated pictures that might be difficult to capture with freehand
      drawing on a chalkboard). I also interacted extensively with the
      class, since I didn't feel the need to cover a certain number of
      transparencies. However, in an effort to be consistent, I decided to
      try out the approach of the other faculty member. Therefore, from Day
      1, I used transparencies (usually about 8 -10 per class), and I
      handed out hard copies of the transparencies that I planned to use,
      before class.

      "After a few weeks, I noticed something that I had not seen
      previously (or since)-attendance at my class sessions was down, to
      perhaps as low as 50% of the class. (I don't take attendance, but a
      significant portion of the class was not coming.) I also noticed that
      my interaction with the class was down. I still posed questions to
      the class and used them to start discussions, and I still introduced
      short problems to be solved in class. However, I was reluctant to let
      discussions run, since I wanted to cover the transparencies that I
      had planned to cover.

      "After a few more weeks of this approach, two students approached me
      after class and said, in effect, `Dr. Roberts, this class is boring.
      All we do is go over the transparencies, which you have already
      handed out. It's really easy to just tune out.' After my ego
      recovered, I asked whether they thought they would get more out of
      the class and be more engaged if I scrapped the transparencies and
      used the chalkboard instead. Both said `yes.' For the rest of the
      semester, I went back to the chalkboard (no transparencies in or
      before class), attendance went back up to traditional levels, the
      class became more interactive, and my teaching evaluations at the end
      of the semester were consistent with the ones that I had received
      previously. Ever since that experience, I have never been tempted to
      structure my teaching around transparencies or PowerPoint."

      * * *
      The point of this column is not to trash transparencies and
      PowerPoint. We use PowerPoint all the time-in conference
      presentations and invited seminars, short courses, and teaching
      workshops. We rarely use pre-prepared visuals for teaching,
      however-well, hardly ever-and strongly advise against relying on them
      as your main method of instruction.

      Most classes we've seen that were little more than 50- or 75-minute
      slide shows seemed ineffective. The instructors flashed rapid and (if
      it was PowerPoint) colorful sequences of equations and text and
      tables and charts, sometimes asked if the students had questions
      (they usually didn't), and sometimes asked questions themselves and
      got either no response or responses from the same two or three
      students. We saw few signs of any learning taking place, but did see
      things similar to what George saw. If the students didn't have copies
      of the slides in front of them, some would frantically take notes in
      a futile effort to keep up with the slides, and the others would just
      sit passively and not even try. It was worse if they had copies or if
      they knew that the slides would be posted on the Web, in which case
      most of the students who even bothered to show up would glance
      sporadically at the screen, read other things, or doze. We've heard
      the term "Death by PowerPoint" used to describe classes like that.
      The numerous students who stay away from them reason (usually
      correctly) that they have better things to do than watch someone
      drone through material they could just as easily read for themselves
      at a more convenient time and at their own pace.

      This is not to say that PowerPoint slides, transparencies, video
      clips, and computer animations and simulations can't add value to a
      course. They can and they do, but they should only be used for things
      that can't be done better in other ways. Here are some suggested dos
      and don'ts.

      * Do show slides containing text outlines or (better) graphic
      organizers that preview material to be covered in class and/or
      summarize what was covered and put it in a broader context. It's
      also fine to show main points on a slide and amplify them at the
      board, in discussion, and with in-class activities, although it may
      be just as easy and effective to put the main points on the board too.

      * Do show pictures and schematics of things too difficult or complex
      to conveniently draw on the board (e.g., large flow charts, pictures
      of process equipment, or three-dimensional surface plots). Don't show
      simple diagrams that you could just as easily draw on the board and
      explain as you draw them.

      * Do show real or simulated experiments and video clips, but only if
      they help illustrate or clarify important course concepts and only if
      they are readily available. It takes a huge amount of expertise and
      time to produce high-quality videos and animations, but it's becoming
      increasingly easy to find good materials at Web sites such as SMETE,
      NEEDS, Merlot, Global Campus, and World Lecture Hall. (You can find
      them all with Google.)

      * Don't show complete sentences and paragraphs, large tables, and
      equation after equation. There is no way most students can absorb
      such dense material from brief visual exposures on slides. Instead,
      present the text and tables in handouts and work out the derivations
      on the board or-more effectively-put partial derivations on the
      handouts as well, showing the routine parts and leaving gaps where
      the difficult or tricky parts go to be filled in by the students
      working in small groups.1,2

      If there's an overriding message here, it is that doing too much of
      anything in a class is probably a mistake, whether it's non-stop
      lectures, non-stop slide shows, non-stop activities, or anything else
      that falls into a predictable pattern. If a teacher lectures for ten
      minutes, does a two-minute pair activity, lectures another ten
      minutes and does another two-minute pair activity, and so on for the
      entire semester, the class is likely to become almost as boring as a
      straight lecture class. The key is to mix things up: do some board
      work, conduct some activities of varying lengths and formats at
      varying intervals, and when appropriate, show transparencies or
      PowerPoint slides or video clips or whatever else you've got that
      addresses your learning objectives. If the students never know what's
      coming next, it will probably be an effective course.

      1.R.M. Felder and R. Brent, "Learning by Doing," Chem. Engr.
      Education, 37(4), 282-283 (2003). On-line at
      2.R.M. Felder and R. Brent, "FAQs. II. Active Learning vs. Covering
      the Syllabus, and Dealing with Large Classes," Chem. Engr. Education,
      33 (4), 276-277 (1999). On-line at

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      Steven R. Crawford
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