The always interesting Timothy Burke has a good post about PowerPoint in classes, spinning off a student complaint. I’ve been lecturing with PowerPoint– my own slides, not something sent to me by a textbook company– since day one, so of course I have opinions on the topic.
For the most part, Burke’s points on the pros and cons of PowerPoint are excellent. There’s one motive for using PowerPoint that he leaves out, though, and it’s slightly at odds with the rest of the advice.
One of the nice things about PowerPoint is that it can be used to provide a record of the lecture, for the sake of students who missed class for some valid reason (the current wave of “Influenza Like Illness,” for example), or for those who missed something in the notes. For this to work, though, there has to be enough information in the slides for them to stand on their own, without the professor explaining them. But, as Burke notes, the best slides rely more on images or other media than on explanatory text. Making slides that can be read later that aren’t stultifying when used in class is a difficult balancing act.
I struggle with this myself, so I don’t have any brilliant advice to offer. My ideas of what makes a good PowerPoint lecture have definitely evolved over time, though, as I found when I taught our first-year seminar this term for the first time in three years, using slides that I initially made eight years ago (I used a lot more text back then than I do now).
It’s a hard problem, and there’s no single solution. But it’s something to keep in mind when thinking about the proper role of presentation tools in academia.