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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Greetings from the anti-PowerPoint bunker

Dave's partial conversion means there is one less of us remaining in the bunker against PowerPoint--last one out, shut the lights.

But Dave's realization (if not epiphany) of three good uses triggers the question that I believe is at the heart of the debate: Is it about PowerPoint per se or is it about using visual back-ups to the conversation? It seems to me that two of Dave's three uses (all but # 3, more on that below) can be achieved as well (albeit perhaps more crudely and obviously less permanently) with an outline, chart, or diagram on the dry-erase board. In fact, I think it is more effective putting big-picture points on the board, because they remain up there throughout the lecture and I can keep coming back to them as we go. Is that enough, to give the material visually? Or is there also a demand for pretty colors and lights and striking images and whistles and bells? It seems to me that if it is the latter, then that changes the terms of the pedagogical discussion--from recognizing and respecting "different learning styles" (especially visual learners) to responding to shorter attention spans and the need for over-stimulation. Which may justify PowerPoint pedagogically--but it is a different argument.

Number 3--entertainment through counter-narrative--is the first good only-by-PowerPoint-use I have seen suggested. I can imagine exactly how this idea works and I must admit it is intriguing, even tempting. Ultimately, I think I would conclude that this limited beneficial use will not be worth the cost. But, like any recent convert, Dave is the best and most persuasive advocate for the cause.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 17, 2008 at 07:58 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I'm about to begin the first class of the year in about 55 minutes, so pedagogy is on my mind.

I have an aversion to PowerPoint borne of 12 years in the corporate world in which I observed every conceivable sin against effective public speaking made worse by the PowerPoint. But there were good uses. They were, however, spice rather than the main course.

The idea of an outline of key points is a good one, particularly if you get into debate or discussion that causes students to lose track where you are. My problem is one of room logistics most of the time. When Stephen Colbert (to cite an example from the other post) is using PowerPoint, he's not also trying to write on the board, and talk to students. When my kids were in high school, the teachers could put PowerPoints up on television monitors that hung in the corners of the room, leaving the whiteboard free. Moreover, the television monitors were visible without turning the lights down. In every law school so far, the use of PowerPoint means that lights go off, and a big screen comes down eliminating the use of the board.

I compensate by posting (on TWEN) ahead of time an outline of the class as a Word document, and I take five minutes before class to write that outline on the board. Many students download the outline and use it to organize notes. I use PowerPoint on the few occasions when it is singularly useful - for example, I have a flow chart of 2-207 for UCC 2 classes or of dissolution and winding up in partnership. For things like key elements, I still just write them on the board. I'm also experimenting this year with mnemonics. For example, the elements of agency involve Assent to Act, act on Behalf, and Control (ABC, get it?).

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Aug 18, 2008 9:17:15 AM

I found that my professors who used PowerPoints were generally more prepared and focused. There was less rambling and the PowerPoints made excellent study aids. Of course, I'm a visual learner, so I may be biased.

I have no need for fancy transitions/graphics/etc., but I do like having a set of slides to follow with in class and study with at home.

I also suspect that proper handouts make us more efficient note-takers. For example, when discussing a cause of action, everyone with a brain is going to write down the essential elements. If they're already on the slide for us, we're spending our time writing down details about those elements that will help us remember/grasp them.

Posted by: Justinian Lane | Aug 17, 2008 12:40:23 PM

The pre-PowerPoint world was not limited to scratching white chalk on a blackboard. In those days, lists of points and graphic aids were typed or printed onto plastic transparency pages and displayed on a screen using an overhead projector, although some more agressive speakers created 35mm slide presentations. Pregenerated graphics are easier to read than handwriting and take less classroom time to display. The test for such presentations is that they use a plain white or black background and no fancy transitions. Most objections to "PowerPoint" really arise from special effects used by bad speakers to mask the fact that a presentation contains no actual intellectual content.

Posted by: HowardGilbert | Aug 17, 2008 10:16:51 AM

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