Is PowerPoint a teaching crutch or helpful technique?

Story by Katie Bane, NewsNetNebraska

PowerPoint has simplified the presentation process and given a structured shape to lectures everywhere.  But sometimes watered-down bullet points can do more harm than good, according to some educators. 

‘In some sense, I think PowerPoint makes us all lazy,” said Kevin Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

PowerPoint started off as a great way to convey ideas visually, he said, but has become a “teaching crutch” and a shallow way to educate students. Smith said his students weren’t taking in information like they used to and he felt it had a negative impact on their education.

They ignored information that wasn’t on slides and solely relied on what was already posted on the PowerPoint for taking tests.  By not adding additional information from the lecture and from required readings to their notes, he said, exam scores fell, partially because students weren’t drawing their own conclusions and applying them to the lectures.

Barney McCoy, an associate professor of broadcasting, said PowerPoint is part of a larger educational evolution spanning the last two decades.

“Students grow up learning to be proficient taking tests,” he said. “They found a more effective way to beat everyone around them.”

As lectures adapted to new educational standards, McCoy said, it became more important for students to pass tests to prove their understanding of course material rather than actually apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.

And that learning process that started in elementary school made its way into college, where PowerPoint was one of the easiest ways to show information to students who were used to professors teaching to tests, McCoy said.

Smith noticed his students expected PowerPoint lectures and requested that slides to be posted before class for easier note-taking.  But he wanted them to get more out of his lectures than just bullet points.

“This really forced me to do stuff I hadn’t done before,” Smith said. And he adapted technology to better fit what he thought students needed to know and understand.

He now only uses PowerPoint as a tool to show pictures, graphs and charts to make essential points. Smith used to post the majority of lecture, in written form, on slides.

“I’m trying to use PowerPoint as a tool to help me emphasize important points in the content I’m trying to convey rather than using it as a substitute.”

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