Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring
An article in The Conversation recently argued universities should ban PowerPoint because it makes students stupid and professors boring.
Originally for Macintosh, the company that designed it was bought by Microsoft. After its launch the software was increasingly targeted at business professionals, especially consultants and busy salespeople.
As it turns out, PowerPoint has not empowered academia. The basic problem is that a lecturer isn’t intended to be selling bullet point knowledge to students, rather they should be making the students encounter problems. Such a learning process is slow and arduous, and cannot be summed up neatly. PowerPoint produces stupidity, which is why some, such as American statistician Edward Tufte have said it is “evil”.
Of course, new presentation technologies like Prezi, SlideRocket or Impress add a lot of new features and 3D animation, yet I’d argue they only make things worse. A moot point doesn’t become relevant by moving in mysterious ways. The truth is that PowerPoints actually are hard to follow and if you miss one point you are often lost.
While successfully banning Facebook and other use of social media in our masters programme in philosophy and business at Copenhagen Business School, we have also recently banned teachers using PowerPoint. Here we are in sync with the US armed forces, where Brigadier-General Herbert McMaster banned it because it was regarded as a poor tool for decision-making.
Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.
A review of research on PowerPoint found that while students liked PowerPoint better than overhead transparencies, PowerPoint did not increase learning or grades
Research comparing teaching based on slides against other methods such as problem-based learning – where students develop knowledge and skills by confronting realistic, challenging problems – predominantly supports alternative methods.
PowerPoint slides are toxic to education for three main reasons:
- Slides discourage complex thinking.
- students come to think of a course as a set of slides. Good teachers who present realistic complexity and ambiguity are criticised for being unclear. Teachers who eschew bullet points for graphical slides are criticised for not providing proper notes.
- Slides discourage reasonable expectations
Measuring the wrong things
If slide shows are so bad, why are they so popular?
Exams, term papers and group projects ostensibly measure knowledge or ability. Learning is the change in knowledge and skills and therefore must be measured over time.
When we do attempt to measure learning, the results are not pretty. US researchers found that a third of American undergraduates demonstrated no significant improvement in learning over their four-year degree programs.
They tested students in the beginning, middle and end of their degrees using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an instrument that tests skills any degree should improve – analytic reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving and writing.
more on [why not to use] PowerPoint in this IMS blog