Naked Teaching From A Student Perspective

For next Monday’s class we have been asked to read a series of articles on the downfalls of technology, especially as it relates to the classroom. One of these articles is “Teach Naked” by Jeffery R. Young. To summarize, this article explores a movement at some universities to pull professors away from relying on PowerPoint presentations for their lectures, and instead encouraging seminar-style classes with active student participation.

While reading the article, to be completely honest, my first thought was “thank god!” Though McGill certainly didn’t have the resources described in the article (a PC and a Mac in the same classroom! – at McGill you generally got a connector that you could hook your own laptop to and maybe a CD/DVD player), I have suffered through more than my fair share of lectures by profs who simply read off their slideshows. Though I have had some professors use these tools effectively (well, two, maybe?) the vast majority of professors who use PowerPoints do so in the most boring possible manner. I think they may have had a bet to see who could have students fall asleep in class the fastest or something, to be perfectly honest.

Everyone knows the scenario: You sit down in class, a slide comes up on the screen, and you start reading it. Halfway through the slide, the professor starts talking, saying word-for-word what is on the slide. Not only is it annoying to have your reading interrupted, but what’s the point of going to class if the professor will just read off the slide? You could stay in bed instead of crawling to an 8:30am class, get up at 11 and read the slides in half the time it takes the professor to lecture on them! (In my second year I stopped going to a class because the professor’s lectures were literally just him reading word-for-word the readings that had been assigned for that week. No embellishment or additions, just droning on and on about stuff that any prepared student had already read. I pulled an A in that class too, despite going to maybe 4 classes and the midterm, so clearly something was off there).

So the idea of professors being unable to rely on these slideshows in classes is exciting to me. Maybe these professors will have to actually learn how to teach and engage students! Students will be more motivated to show up if slides aren’t readily available online, too, and seminar style discussions are a favourite of mine.

That being said, there are some downsides to this. Let me tell you a story of the oldest professor I ever had, and quite possibly the oldest professor in the universe. This professor was so old when I took a class from him in 2011 that he mentioned his grandfather had fought in the Franco-Prussian War (yes, that one). I did the math and if his grandfather had been 18 in the war and hadn’t had a child until he was 40, and then his father hadn’t had a child until he was 40, my professor still would have had to be over 90 years old.

This professor did not use PowerPoint in his class. He used no technology of any sort. Students weren’t allowed to record his lectures, either. In theory this should have made his lectures more engaging, and they were actually quite interesting, and if I wasn’t being graded and they weren’t at 8:30am three days a week, I may have really enjoyed this class! However, this professor loved himself some statistics. And he could talk fast. So if you couldn’t make a chart of how much steel Germany produced in 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917 in the 3 seconds it took for him to rattle off the figures? Well tough luck for you! (The class was on the First World War, so these figures were actually kind of relevant). There were no slides to refer to and no recordings to turn to. And for the exams he expected you to know these figures. And no one wants to be that kid going to his office every single week to ask him to repeat half his lecture.

If he’d used PowerPoint, his lectures may not have been as interesting, but I would have been a lot less panicked about the number of ships in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s navy in May 1915!

So basically well my first reaction to this shift away from computers in the classroom, I also have reservations about the idea. I’m a fence-sitter here!

I’m really interested to hear what other people think about this shift. Good idea? Bad? Can’t decide? Let’s hash it out here!

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6 thoughts on “Naked Teaching From A Student Perspective

  1. I had so many conflicting ideas while reading that post. I tend to think that PowerPoint tends to be used ineffectively more often than effectively. The profs I’ve had that used it most effectively have used it a) for the examination of images, or b) to put up statistics or key terms, especially if they’re difficult to spell. So, when it comes to that, I tend to agree with the president of the school in question. Down with PowerPoint!

    However, I do have some concerns about accessibility of digital materials for some students. It’s strange to think about in this day and age, but there are still some areas of North America that do not have reliable internet access – rural Appalachia is an example, and Grey County, Ontario (where I’m from), has had high-speed internet providers for less than six years, and some areas still don’t have it. Now, podcasts, like course readings, can be downloaded on campus and listened to later, but if your prof is asking you to stream video – like, for example, a lecture posted online – that can cause a serious problem if you still use a dial-up connection (or don’t have internet at home at all). Obviously this is a problem for a very small minority of people, but for that minority, it causes a serious accessibility problem.

    I also think that PowerPoint has become a bit of a red herring in this scenario – what they seem to be most concerned with is student engagement. Class discussion and PowerPoint are not mutually exclusive, and you can have a primarily lecture-based class without PowerPoint. If students do their assigned readings (or viewings, or listenings, in the case of video or podcasts) before class, then they should be able to contribute meaningfully regardless of whether or not there’s a projector in the room. It’s not so much about the technology, but about the instructor and how he or she structures the class time.

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    1. I wrote a reply and then it disappeared!

      Anyways, I think you make some great points. The gist of what I was saying in my now mysteriously missing comment was that perhaps the issue isn’t that technology such as PowerPoint is being used, but rather that it’s being misused? I definitely think that keeping accessibility for students who may not have all the latest devices is a very important idea as well. It would be interesting to have the profs who just read off their slides sit through some workshops on how to effectively use PowerPoint and see if it changed their lecture style!

      I think ultimately, a boring prof will be boring whether or not they use PowerPoint, just different kinds of boring.

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  2. Hi Katrina,
    I completely agree about the use and overreliance on PowerPoint slides. I myself had too many professors who simply read off the slides and put half the class to sleep. It’s too bad I didn’t have insomnia at the time otherwise I might have gotten my money’s worth. When I did TATP, I had to make a PowerPoint presentation and I used the slides as digital cue cards. I placed the important points on the slide and left it at that. For the second lesson, I simply used pictures on the slides and that proved more interesting to my audience. The way I look at it, PowerPoint can be useful if it is used intelligently. It’s too easy to become dependent on it and once that happens, lectures can sour very quickly.

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  3. I agree with Phil here. In my favourite undergrad class the professor used not so much powerpoint but the equivalent of an overhead projector (I think he used his computer, but the idea was the same). Regardless, the result was similar to Phil’s “Digital cue cards”. The hour and a half lecture was summarized in one page of talking points, organized by topic and in order of the lecture. This meant that we always knew where the lecture was going, and I could organize my notes based on his overview. The result was that I had the important points written down (from the projector) supplemented by additional information that he talked about. I could concentrate on listening to what he was saying because I didn’t have to worry myself about what was really important. I also found that I left each class feeling that I had a thorough understanding of the topic, and that I was sadly disappointed with other classes that semester because I felt I wasn’t learning anywhere near as much! Using digital technology such as Powerpoint to prompt lectures and guide students, but not to define lectures or make them superfluous is a tricky balance.

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  4. Have you ever thought about writing an ebook or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stonoes/informatiir. I know my viewers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

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  5. Congratulations on the new job, finishing the old one and getting your feet wet at your new location. Hope all goes smooth and the family atmosphere prevails. Yummy chicken and now soup….Sorry the frog has been to your house. The project is really coming along. Love your new exchange ornaments. Chris did a wonderful job with the one she made.Rest up and have a great week.HUGS, Dee in Tn

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