Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PowerPoint Haze

This semester I discovered a new phenomenon that I call PowerPoint Haze. It's what happens to a previously-talkative class when confronted with too many PowerPoints. It isn't that their brain shuts off; it's more like they go into TV-mode. Even an interactive PowerPoint that calls for audience response seems to have this effect after it's over.

At the beginning of the semester, I was teaching an upper-level majors class that was very engaged. Because we're surveying a broad range of literature and culture, I developed a PowerPoints for them for almost every class. I was pretty proud of the presentations. They're a far cry from the plain black-and-white slideshows I used to produce. I was also congratulating myself on having multiple modes of learning, of having visuals to accompany my explanations and their readings. And then . . .

The class became silent. They were awake and paying attention. They were listening. But only four or five students were responding anymore. What had happened? 

After midterm, I started a new practice: any PowerPoints I had, I would post to Blackboard before class. That way we could spend class time having a discussion instead of me lecturing. They could listen to lectures on their own; our class time is precious. The solution seems to have worked. The class is responsive again. Because I'm often not organized enough to have PowerPoints ready ahead of time, I've reverted to using photocopied handouts on occasion. This somehow doesn't cause the same effect as a projected slideshow. It may be because they're more focused on what's right in front of them.

Let me give another example to explain. In my composition class last month, I had an amazing PowerPoint on Visual Rhetoric. It was a fantastic lesson. It asked for student feedback and a group activity. The class was engaged and participated well. But the next day--a traditional, non-tech day--several of them forgot their books. When I suggested they bring the essay up on their computers, they had to ask classmates what the title was. They had completely neglected to even consider preparing. Now, I understand being short on time, but there's a minimum amount of faking-it that I expect, and part of it is knowing what the homework is. This class was normally better prepared. While many factors could have contributed (midterm being one), I believe the PowerPoint was largely to blame. They had switched back to the idea of being entertained rather than being active learners.

PowerPoint is a wonderful tool for engaging students, and it can contribute to an active learning environment. I'm not denying either point. But too much of it hurts the class. In future, I hope to be better prepared so that I can post more of my lectures online and use class time for active learning activities.

1 comment:

  1. I've been using powerpoint more regularly than normal this semester, primarily because I've got 35 students per class, and I want to make sure they can see how to spell things and stuff. However, I've only used it sporadically--I've noticed a similar haze happen, too!