PowerPoints (versus?) Learning

PowerPoints (versus?) Learning

During the week, I read this interesting article about the downfalls of using PowerPoints as the backbone of presentations.  Ironically, I’m spending this weekend reviewing 7 PowerPoints worth of slides for an exam I have on Monday, and I can’t help but think how much easier my studying would be if I’d been engaged with the information during the lectures instead of staring at slides full of information that I now have to blindly memorize.  Many of the points brought up in the article are reminiscent of what a talk I heard in February said about the future of science education.  There is little difference between what has been identified as necessary changes to science education, and necessary changes to science communication at the professional level:

Engagement is key.

Sitting silently for an hour or more, listening to someone ramble on about pictures they’ve tacked haphazardly onto slides, and then being expected to remember that information days or years down the road seems like exactly the opposite of a productive way to learn.  As a learner, having a discussion with the speaker, or at the very least, being able to take notes in your own words on what is being taught instead of having to rely on the figures in the slides for context, should make the information much easier to recall later.  Learning is difficult if there is no personal connection to the material.

Yes, figures are important, especially in scientific presentations where data is pictures, graphs, charts, and tables.  That being said, there is a difference between presenting relevant information in this matter and relying on it to be the backbone of an entire presentation.  It is equally important to present good information and to convince others that that information is important, and I’d argue that the format of most lectures is not helping the second point come to fruition.  If your slides tell it all, why should anyone listen to you?  And therein lies the problem:  if the people you are talking to aren’t listening, the information you are hoping to convey is lost.

So I believe that the nature of scientific presentations- at any level, whether it be seminars, classes, conferences, or anything else- needs to change.  Change takes effort, but I argue that if scientists took the effort that they now put into designing PowerPoint presentations and instead put it towards improving their public speaking skills, this change would not be as difficult as it might appear.  In the long run, I wholeheartedly believe that it will change the nature of science for the better by engaging more learners and making scientists better able to communicate with each other, instead of just being passive observers to others’ work in the field.

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2 thoughts on “PowerPoints (versus?) Learning

  1. This is an important topic to me, looking back at my own undergrad and graduate course work, the courses in which I did the best, felt most engaged and retained the most were all ones which relied only minimally on powerpoints. Lectures were either carried out by hand using acetate sheets on an overhead projector or small group problem based learning . What is especially frustrating to me is the transition of powerpoint based teaching down into highschool and elementary school, as a tutor I see daily some of the negative effects of this low engagement stile of learning. Another pitfall of the powerpoint era is the ability for lecturers to present hundreds of slides in short periods, containing every piece of information available on the subject, rather that paring it down to truly teach the important concepts and facts. This leaves students with stacks of slides and often no clear focus for their studying efforts. I’ll have to go read this article for sure!

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    1. Definitely check out the article, it was very interesting! I totally agree with you about lecturers using it to present a ton of information. The worst part, I’ve found, is that they tend to test you on obscure, unimportant topics from the lecture instead of focusing on what’s actually important to remember for the future. There’s such a dichotomy between what is being taught and what you actually need to know to be a successful scientist (or successful in any field, I’d imagine). This is why I want to get into science education!

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