September 7, 2007

Profs Give PowerPoint a Mixed Review

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Remember the days of yesteryear when the sound of chalk to a chalkboard was the background noise of a typical school day? Perhaps you have a vague recollection, but to most these days are long gone, lost to technologies such as PowerPoint and Blackboard, which have found their place in the classroom, leaving chalk behind as an archaic sign of the past.
Prof. Jeffrey Hancock, communication, is an advocate for the use of Microsoft PowerPoint, a presentation program widely used by professors and students alike at Cornell and other institutions. Since Hancock began teaching, he has always used PowerPoint, arguing that its ability to provide visual support to lecture notes is extremely beneficial.
According to Hancock, improvements in PowerPoint technologies have eased the integration of video and audio into lecture material and, in turn, “the spectrum of support for the ‘talk’ part of the lecture gets better and better.”
For most students, attending a lecture based off of PowerPoint is extremely common. Vincent Davis ’10 said that all of his classes are taught primarily using the program.
“I prefer PowerPoint-based lectures because they tend to be more organized than spoken lectures accompanied by chalkboard diagrams,” Davis explained.
PowerPoint allows professors to post their lectures online, enabling students to view the material outside of the classroom on their own time. Though less common, professors such as David Levitsky, nutrition, who teaches NS 115: Nutrition, Health and Society, provides his students with audio recording of the lectures in addition to the lecture slides.
Davis admitted, however, that with such technology “there is less motivation to actually attend lecture. Why would I wake up and walk through Ithaca snow to go to lecture when the audio and slides are available online?”
Though PowerPoint does seem to be a prominent medium in conducting lectures, there are a number of professors that rely on more conventional means of teaching. Prof. Paul Sawyer, English, has never used PowerPoint to teach any of his classes.
“I do see how PowerPoint presentations may be pleasurable, delightful and clarifying for the audience,” Sawyer said.
However, he claimed that his lectures are not always structured in such a way in which PowerPoint would be beneficial.
“PowerPoint presentations would over-focus the lecture on delivering information and would make other components of the lecture, such as dramatic readings, seem out of place. I like to raise questions and leave them unanswered to stimulate thought and future discussions,” Sawyer said.
Hancock agreed that an over reliance on PowerPoint is a concern.
“I think students that don’t take notes and rely on slides don’t learn as well as those that do take notes in class. I hate PowerPoint presentations that are just all the text and of the person’s talk,” Hancock said.
In addition to PowerPoint, a great number of professors rely on Blackboard, an educational software that serves as a medium for faculty to post lecture slides, assignments and other course material, and in addition serves as a discussion forum for students.
Hancock praised Blackboard for its ability to communicate to the entire class as well as its use as a resource for readings. Furthermore, aside from his use of Blackboard, Hancock requires his students in Communication 245: Psychology of Social Computing to post weekly on a Blog through which students share personal reflections and experiences about current course material and content.
In terms of future developments of educational technology, Hancock foresees the possibility of technology further facilitating interaction in lectures. He also hopes the use of Blogs will become more widespread. “Going public with your work has many benefits, I think, including getting comments from your peers and the world,” Hancock said.