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!