UPDATE: Follow-up here.

This sounds like a survey whose broader implications I might wish were true, but probably aren’t:

A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. The survey consisted of 211 students at a university in England and was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire.

Students in the survey gave low marks not just to PowerPoint, but also to all kinds of computer-assisted classroom activities, even interactive exercises in computer labs. “The least boring teaching methods were found to be seminars, practical sessions, and group discussions,” said the report. In other words, tech-free classrooms were the most engaging.

My confession: I use Keynote (the Mactastic replacement for PowerPoint) for big lecture courses, particularly the survey of US history 1865-present. But pretty reliably once a year the system flakes out and I end up teaching the class without it. Which bothers me not at all. But I believe I can see the students getting restless. For US intellectual history I don’t use Keynote, as the concepts generally don’t benefit from visual representation. Increasingly I use it for my research talks, though. I believe it’s becoming a norm.

If there’s any truth to the survey, I believe it’s that most people use these tools badly. You see an awful lot of computer presentations with way too much tiny text per slide, or slides that are basically the lecturer’s notes, or the PowerPoint version of Ken Burns: show somebody’s face while you’re talking about them.

Whereas there are of course perfectly good uses of visual media in lectures. Such uses can even engage the students: “What does the graph tell us?” Or, “What do you think this map shows?”


Answer below the fold.


Originally here; it’s hard to draw this picture with chalk.