The Chronicle Online has a free article today about how much more engaged students are when laptops and computer presentations leave the classroom. In When Computers Leave the Classroom, So Does Boredom, Jeffrey R. Young covers removal of computers from classrooms at Meadows School of Arts at SMU. He also briefly mentions an article in the British Educational Research Journal, April issue, which surveyed British undergraduates to find that students found that PowerPoint presentations were the most excruciatingly dull lectures of the 50% of the boring lectures they endured. At the SMU school of Arts, the dean removed computers from lecture halls, partly because of budget as they needed to upgraded or trashed. But then many professors found that students became more engaged in classes.
More than anything else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web. When students reflect on their college years later in life, they're going to remember challenging debates and talks with their professors. Lively interactions are what teaching is all about, he says, but those give-and-takes are discouraged by preset collections of slides.Dean Bowen is not an anti-technology Luddite. He has used podcasts and videogames he helped produce to teach his students about jazz history. But he avoids PowerPoint, and he does rely on debate and class discussion to draw students into using the knowledge they just got from lecture and reading. This sounds so much like the discussions I hear from my colleagues at the law school, who want to get the students to close the laptops and talk to them. Law school is about student engagement -- it has to be, finally, more than note-taking and transcription. And the best professors realize this and push the students.
The article in the Chronicle notes that the biggest resistance to the changes comes from the students. At the undergraduate level, they are expecting lectures. They did not sign up for Socratic dialog, dammit and expect to be spoon-fed, more than law students, I imagine. But the professors manage to shift student expectations, when the students begin to realize that it's better than being bored senseless by dry lectures and death-by-PowerPoint. The article also makes a nice point that not all PowerPoint is bad... it's just over-used and often done poorly.... and used as a substitute for engaging students in dialog.
And Just for fun Here is Stop Killing Students with PowerPoint (with a cite at the end to Don McMillan's Life after Death by PowerPoint here on YouTube).