PowerPoint. Can’t live with it…

Dr Patrick Ring presents some thoughts about the use of PowerPoint in lectures…

It’s the staple of many lectures, my own included. But what is the point? Really.

Am I walking through a pre-prepared route-map, treading from one bullet point to the next, squeezing the life out of a class that hopes fervently the next slide might be more interesting than the last one? Or are the students hanging on my every slide, treating it as the last (and for a few less industrious students, only) word on the matter? The latter is quite a thought if, for whatever reason, I had to hastily ‘bash out’ a presentation the night before for my 9am lecture.

I should say at this point, my purpose is not to share my personal tribulations in the lecture room – that might require a much larger discussion! But considering my use of PowerPoint raises for me the nature and purpose of my lecture. Is it a performance? An experience? Are the students meant to leave with a sense of enquiry, or a set of notes? Is it an interactive exchange, a call to investigate, a challenge to think? It may well be a bit of all of these things – but is PowerPoint really helping?

Here’s the thing. Interactivity doesn’t arise out of a pre-scripted set of slides. Enquiry and debate doesn’t come in bullet point format. The structure of the PowerPoint Presentation won’t adapt itself to alteration through my students’ input or questions. When students don’t turn up to lectures and decide to get the information from their VLE, is it such a surprise? If we can all tell where the next hour is going after 3 slides, but need to be walked through bullet point after bullet point and slide after slide to get there, then if I were the student I might also consider whether it’s better to save the transport costs and take the PowerPoint ‘journey’ in the comfort of my own home.

There’s always Prezi or Impress, but if something is dull and unchallenging, then making it more mobile doesn’t make it less dull and unchallenging. And given the kinds of audio-visual experience that can be gained in theatres, cinemas, and clubs, even liberal use of YouTube embedded into my slides is only going to get me so far.

So there’s nothing else for it. Let’s create the self-actualising, independent-thinking students our university wants. Abandon PowerPoint. I’m going to interact, improvise, intuit with my students. Together, we are going to ask questions, look for problems as well as solutions, and challenge each other to seek out and experiment with knowledge. Let’s get them enthusiastic about coming to my classes.

Oh, but I forgot, my lecture has 300 students in it. For a significant minority, English is not their first language. And student feedback tells me most of them want to come away from a lecture ‘with a set of notes’. And I’ve got 10 hours contact this week, which is a lot of planning if I’m going to manage all of that. Oh well … on with the next slide.

Dr Patrick Ring

Dr Patrick Ring

Patrick is a qualified solicitor who worked the corporate area of private practice after qualifying. Thereafter, he worked as a solicitor for a number of years with a large life assurer. Subsequently, he worked in the civil service before entering academia.

Now a senior lecturer in financial services, his current academic interests relate particularly to pension policy and reform, the nature of risk in financial services, and the position of the consumer in retail financial services.