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How can we PPT that satisfies us and the students as well?
April 27, 2009 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Undergrad teaching and PowerPoints. What to do? Instructors, please give some feedback.

The undergrads DEMAND copies of the PowerPoint slides to be posted on the course management site before class. (We've collected data on this. It is the Number 1 request.)

- We have tried to offer slightly modified ones as to encourage attendance. This usually means 2 layers deep of a 3 layered/bulleted slide. Students, on course evals, ask for the entire slide.

- We have tried giving the entire slide set but then testing on concepts discussed outside of what the slide said. Then a lot of people do poorly on the exam.

- I've seen other professors give out the PPTs after the lecture, but that makes it harder for note taking, I'd guess.

- PPTs that basically outline the readings? This seems popular but still students want more.

- IMHO the most bare bones PPT and lots of discussion would be good, but the students want more.

- Everyone in our department does something different including not giving out the PPTs at all and not using PPT. I'm not sure where this student expectation came from.

So, my question is - what do you do? What works best for you? I'm more interested in instructors' POVs than students. I know the student POV quite well.
posted by k8t to Education (54 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Read Edward Tufte's Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

Stop doing PowerPoint presentations that are two or three levels deep in a class!
posted by JakeWalker at 9:47 AM on April 27, 2009


I would say, watch a few of the TED lectures, and then develop a method of using PowerPoint similar to the ones used there. They don't contain much text, are used for illustration or contrast or humor, rather than to lay out the class notes that you will be about to cover.

If the slide set they are receiving is mostly pictures and not a form of shortened class notes, they're going to have to pay attention.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2009


Also, we have tried not doing PPT. They were NOT happy about it.
posted by k8t at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2009


I know you don't want my input as a student, but what has worked for my professors was providing a PDF that had the same structure as the PPT you use in class, but with some of the information removed. This way the student prints out the PDF to take notes in class, writing the notes where the information has been redacted. I like this approach since it forces me to take notes that otherwise I wouldn't have to. I think most of my professors have adopted this approach to avoid students skipping class because they could just download the PPT to get all the info online.
posted by schyler523 at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't give out PPT slides before class, but do generally make them available afterwards.

IMHO, this has a lot to do with how effectively the instructors incorporate powerpoint into their teaching. If an instructor has slides packed with tons of information that is not fully reviewed during the lecture, then the students can legitimately complain that they need the slides to effectively follow the lecture. But if the lecturer reduces the amount of information on the slides and uses them as illustrations rather than crutches, then having the slides themselves is less important. I have found that repeatedly stressing that the data that is on the slides simply illustrates important concepts, and that students are not responsible for remembering the details, relieves a lot of the anxiety around ppt slides.
posted by googly at 9:51 AM on April 27, 2009


schyler523 - we did that and the students were confused about where we were in the slides. Thanks tho.
posted by k8t at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2009


When (and I say when, because I avoid ppt as much as humanly possible) I use ppt slides, they are available (not in their integral form, just the first level - main ones) on the university online platform after class. I don't see how this affects note taking; the students are in class, must listen more attentively, and can always check back after class what they missed. They are aware that class content is the most important thing, and that they can't get away with just the slides.
posted by ddaavviidd at 9:53 AM on April 27, 2009


k8t, It's unclear to me if the fact that "they were not happy about it," or that they did poorly when they were quizzed on stuff that wasn't in the powerpoint is dispositive of the question. First of all, they may not be happy, but that may change over time as they get used to engaging in class; second of all, they may change their studying after a few poor results on quizzes where they didn't pay attention.

Several classes I've attended in the past two years have banned the use of laptops by students in the classroom. At first, most of the student body thought the ban was ridiculous and paternalistic. I'd say that many to most of them, after a while, have come around and realized that even if it is paternalistic, it helped them learn better.

It sounds like you may be way too quick to react to unhappiness or poor performance.
posted by JakeWalker at 9:53 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think many of those options work fine, but I see two key points to any decision: 1) There should be a clear pedagogic purpose to whatever the instructors decides to do; and 2) the instructor should clearly explain to the students what his/her policy is and why.

I do agree in general that it's advantageous to have slides posted prior to lecture. It can make organizing notes easier since notes can be taken directly on the slides, and some students may choose to review the slides prior to the lecture. Going over slides ahead of time can be helpful -- either to prepare for the lecture itself, or to guide reading.

Omitting material from students' slides and having additional content given in lecture is useful to facilitate participation, but I would only do it if participation is expected. If it's not going to be an interactive lecture, there's no reason to omit material. In addition, students should be aware of this ahead of time... if instructors' slides are different than what students have, and they are not prepared for it, students get distracted trying to figure out their slides and stop paying attention.

And lastly, no slides at all is also fine. Some subjects are not conducive to slides. So long as students know the expectations, this can alleviate much of the pointless fussing that seems to occur.
posted by davidnc at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


- Everyone in our department does something different including not giving out the PPTs at all and not using PPT. I'm not sure where this student expectation came from.

C'mon! It comes from not wanting to do the reading, really study concepts, or go to class.

As an instructor, I'm interested in keeping the students' engaged and learning. In my experience, as a student and an instructor, powerpoint presentations do neither.

I usually assign readings and have students write two page reading responses every week. Then, I use these readings as a start off point for discussions. Granted, I'm an English instructor. And this creates a ton of grading. And hemming and hawing from students. But by the end of the semester, my students are much better writers and have a really good grasp of the topics I want to cover.

You don't have to give students everything they want. In fact, if their desires are to just make things easy, rather than to facilitate mastery of concepts/learning, I'd advise against it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Unhappy = bad evals, complaining emails, ratemyprofessor comments. This is over years.

Items on exams that weren't on the PPTs that were handed out were in the readings and on the PPT slide on the board. They were also harped on so that if a student was there, they'd know it was important.

They do average on the exams, so we grade liberally on papers so that they do a little better as a group.

Maybe doing a few short quizzes to give students a sense of where they should be at would be helpful. Maybe doing clicker-based quizzes to give them a sense of where everyone else is would be helpful too.
posted by k8t at 9:57 AM on April 27, 2009


And these classes are often ~200 students. :( Yuk.

I like PhoBWanKenobi's writing assignment tho. That always motivated me as a student.
posted by k8t at 9:59 AM on April 27, 2009


Stop doing PowerPoint presentations that are two or three levels deep in a class!

Did you take JakeWalker's advice and actually read Tufte's position? It is spot on. Your student's expectations are that the PowerPoint file represents the lecture. This is an incorrect expectation/assumption, but it is entirely understandable given how presenters generally use the software.

You say you tried not using PowerPoint but this didn't make the students happy. Why is this? Probably because they feel that the PPT file is the lecture. Make it clear that this is wrong. Use PowerPoint only as a slide-show driver. Absolutely nothing more than that. Slides should not "follow" your lecture, or vice-versa.

Again, if you want to do this right, read Tufte.
posted by odinsdream at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2009


I agree with previous posters: use presentation graphics as speaking tool, not as a lecture summary. Not much of the actual information need to be on those slides. You'll avoid the entire dilemma and improve the quality of your lectures.

This is not to say you shouldn't reveal the structure of your talks in advance. Students tend to appreciate the gesture of roughly outlining the topics you are about to cover. It helps them follow the lecture better and, if they can't make it to a specific session, know what they need to learn independently.
posted by Orchestra at 10:02 AM on April 27, 2009


Yeh, seems students are very, very vocal these days.

I teach econometrics so lots of formulae. I simply refuse to hand out printed notes until the end of class. Admin backs me as I'm the prof who gets rated by completions / pass fail rates, not them. My PPTs are high level, and generally contain no more than six points per slide. I may take three to five minutes to talk through a slide, without questions (questions are the best part!!). A formula may be presented with those points, but often not. Many times the formula is derived on the white board as we verbally discuss and present input parameters, and sometimes building from simpler formulas.

I purposely don't capture in PPT a great deal of what students like my lectures best for - real world market anecdotes.

For instance now we're talking about securities pricing and how prices shocks in one market can and often do ripple through others; lots of formulae, bullet points and citations to research papers formalising the relationships between markets, but I don't include on the PPT my own experience trading US Equities in New York when LIBOR shot up by 100bps in five days. Or trading credit default swaps in London when default rates on a specific class of paper soared in 2004.

They want the theory they don't need me. I'm up front up that in my first lecture - get the reading list and see you at the final. But if they want to understand how this stuff, the markets, the instruments work outside the class, they'd better come to class 'cause I'm not writing it down.

So to summarise: no more than six points per slide. Formulas are derived with the class. We spend a lot of time chatting about real world market events, roughly about on fifth on average but sometime as much as half the lecture time. They get their PPTs at the end of the class, but my PPTs are probably 20% of the classroom experience.
posted by Mutant at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure where this student expectation came from.

Probably from students at other schools and in other departments ar your school. There is a wide variety of approaches to providing material for students to use outside of class. At a recent meeting I was talking to a faculty member at another school who said that they were podcasting the entire curriculum; the classroom attendence had dropped quite a bit but the students were doing well on exams and standardized tests, so the material is getting out there. I would avoid giving a partial version of the material; students these days are more used to getting information electronically and there is less face-to face teaching going on in many places.

It would make a difference to me if I knew what subject you were teaching; some subjects require more discussion in the classroom than others.
posted by TedW at 10:05 AM on April 27, 2009


if they can't make it to a specific session, know what they need to learn independently.

As a former student (yeah, yeah, not interested in my opinion), this was a big part of wanting slides. I wasn't part of the "skip every other class" contingent, but in many of my classes - especially the superhuge lectures - I didn't really know anyone in the class. "Oh, just get notes from one of your classmates!" isn't easy when you don't know any of them, and most of them take shitty notes. Being able to recover from missing a day due to sickness is pretty damn important, and that often means having complete-enough PPTs to work off of.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:05 AM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always liked full PPT presentations given out before class. That way I could take notes on the PPT itself and save them. Otherwise, I'd have a notebook filled with illegible half-complete notes that are useless to me a few years later when I try to review what I learned.

Perhaps this method enables bad habits, but I always resented being "tricked" into attending class or taking notes a certain way. And a full set of PPT slides are much easier to save and go back to years later.
posted by mullacc at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, we have tried not doing PPT. They were NOT happy about it.

You know what? Tough shit.

As an undergrad, I loved easy classes like that - who didn't? You could skip class every day, pull the powerpoints off the web, then show up and regurgitate info for the exam, all without ever learning anything. Now that I'm a few years out and have some perspective:

Fuck That.

Resist the urge to give the students what they want. Instead, give them what they need. The best lecturers I ever had all used chalk and a chalkboard. There's nothing inherently wrong with PPT, but for pete's sake, don't fill the slides with all the information you're lecturing on. Throw up a picture and talk about it for 5 or ten minutes.

Look, if someone misses class, they SHOULD be missing important information. If they're sick, they can talk to their classmates and get a copy of the notes. Your job is not to pamper these young adults, it's to teach them.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:10 AM on April 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


Regardless of how in depth the content of the slides are they can only take a student so far. I recommend providing them as-is and poll students after an exam (you don't test directly off the slides do you?). The highest grades, I believe, would come from those who had the slides and attended class. The majority of those complaining will be the ones who did not go to class but had the sildes.

As far as encouraging attendance announcing these results at the beginning and middle of the semester should do just that.

i'm not an instructor
posted by doorsfan at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2009


What material are you covering in these classes? Why do you need powerpoints? What are you trying to get across with visuals? I ask for clarity, not to say PPT is useless.

If possible, use PPT for visuals only, maybe to higlight the key points. If you need to get across some precise wording or bit of text, including that could be helpful, but leave off context that you would provide in class. PPT should be the skeleton on which you hang your words.

What happens to you personally from these complaints? I know you're a grad student, does this somehow reflect poorly on you?
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on April 27, 2009


As a fellow teacher and past student I've seen this done a lot of ways. Honestly I try to make my powerpoints very minimal in the words and use graphics, because part of my whole deal is that the graphics are what is often hard to reproduce on your own, especially when a teacher is talking and your drawing skills suck. Plus if your slides are filled with words, the kids spend the whole time trying to write down everything you have up there and not listen to anything you say. You can tell if there are too many words if you finish talking about a slide and then kids whine and say "Can you go back? I wasn't finished with that slide."

I always give all my ppts to the kids before class, and try to have them done the night before so they can print them out and bring them with them to take notes on. However, I make it very clear that these are just bullet points and that they will need to take notes to make sense of things.

And yes, many do use them as an excuse not to go to class, but honestly that will reflect in their grades, and is their problem, not mine. I think removing selected bits of information from the slides is immature and obnoxious. At least in the college level, these are adults. You don't need to force them to come to class through tricks. They will come or won't and their grades will reflect that. Granted I'm not big on the handholding, so that influences my point of view here.
posted by katers890 at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a student. Your mileage may vary and I know you've got the student POV, but I have a suggestion.

One thing one of my professors did that really works well is to hand out an outline. No powerpoints. Just an outline. Put a space to write notes, organize it in a helpful way, and provide occasional questions and blanks for important stuff that takes a short amount of space to write - for example:

Sequence of DNA encoding into a protein:

________________ -> _______________ -> ______________

Four lobes of the brain:

_____________, ____________, _____________, ____________
posted by kldickson at 10:24 AM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]



I don't use PPT, even in a lecture class of ~130. (Humanities, though.) I use the blackboard. I am so old school!

-- I like to be able to modify what gets written on the board based on how class goes. I don't like it to be prefab. At a minimum, I like to walk over and circle something, or cross it out, or whatever. I'll make lists of student ideas. I do take questions and a bit of discussion even in lecture, and writing on the board allows stuff to unfold, with student input, in real time.

-- Spending time writing on the board allows them to catch up in their notes -- it gives them a second to write. Maybe one reason you're getting demands for the slides is that you're moving too fast for them to write anything down?

-- I try to be sensitive to the fact that it might be hard to read from the back, and repeat things three times sometimes.

-- I'll type up a handout in advance if something is going to be particularly complicated. I don't do this very often in the big (i.e., intro) class, though.

-- I've never had a student complaint about this, and have in fact had a couple of them tell me, unprovoked, that they LIKE it. (I also once overheard some undergrads in an airport having a conversation about the same thing, vis a vis some other class at some other school.) It keeps them focused and engaged, and feeling like they are part of something active rather than passive. In those big classes, trying to avoid passivity is definitely a goal.

All that said, though, I'm not at all sure that a blackboard would work in, say, math or chem -- it's probably discipline specific, both in terms of student expectations, and in terms of what actually works.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:28 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's very obvious when PPT becomes a crutch for professors (as well as students). Some professors use it as an excuse to not lecture in interesting ways, some professors use it as an excuse to disconnect from the class they're teaching and literally read off their slide. I (and a lot of other students, as Kestrel said) really prefer when professors LECTURE and write things out and class becomes less of a formula and more of a conversation, or at least something that can vary within its framework.

I've had classes where professors printed out the slides and gave them to us every day at the beginning of class - nothing made me disconnect more from what was going on because taking notes was not nearly as important, and I don't think I retained a lot of information. It may help if the department comes up with a single policy on slides and power point accessibility, because it *is* frustrating if you know that in one class, you'll have access to all the material beforehand, another won't give you slides ever, and another professor puts them up to review with. I suggest putting up powerpoints before exams and such - they are useful for review. But not necessary on a day-to-day scale. That just disengages students from lecture.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:47 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


A blackboard/whiteboard works just fine in chem, physics, and math. I've learned and taught all of the above that way. The experience is much as Mutant describes. I'm not even certain how you could do a class in c, p, or m in just powerpoint. How are you going to derive anything or work out a synthesis?

One of the best methods of engagement I've seen was an old Hungarian who would give out quarters if you caught a mistake on the blackboard. I'm sure he made a few deliberately every class. Several people counted on him to get coffee money every morning. This in a class of 100 or so.
posted by bonehead at 10:53 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


For me, having full PowerPoint slides mainly helped for the final exam. Obviously I learned a great deal from every class just by going to the lectures, reading the textbook, doing the homework, writing papers, etc. Studying as effectively as possible is key though, especially if you're in a tough program competing against other students for a good spot on the grading curve.

Admittedly, I don't take good notes. A lot of people say that taking notes helps reinforce the information, but for whatever reason writing notes down just distracts me. I would hear something important, take the time to paraphrase it into something I can write down quickly, write it, start listening to the lecture again, and then try to figure out what I missed while I was busy writing the last thing down. If lectures had a pause button it would have been much easier. And the worst part is, out of the context of the actual lecture, most of my carefully written notes made little or no sense months later when I was trying to study.

I had classes where the slides were not given, and I spent most of the time ignoring the professor and frantically copying down the information from the slides. There were even a few classes where the students would actually ask the professor to stop or go back one slide so they could catch up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there was a class that posted video records of all of the lectures online. I went to the lectures and just listened without taking notes, and then watched all of the lectures in a big marathon before the major exams and final. It was incredibly helpful to be able to go back through all of the lectures and hear everything in context, because some of the early lectures made more sense once I had learned more of the material and done the assignments.

Overall I don't think providing or withholding the slides made much of a difference on how much I learned or whether I showed up to class. For me not having access to the slides was mostly an annoyance, and seemed like a relatively artificial way to make a class more difficult by simply holding back information rather than by actually challenging the students.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:56 AM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


If the only thing a student needs to do well on an exam is a copy of the slides, either they're incredibly smart or the class isn't very challenging. Either way, what are you really losing by handing them out?
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:24 AM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a big believer in the cognitive method of PPT presentation, and not just because I agree with the research. Looking at my latest PPT and discussion notes that I just finished, it's the notes that tell the narrative of what it is I'm talking about. There's not a single bullet point on my slides. There are no subordinate levels. They are built from complete sentences and visual representations that complement and highlight the narrative. I will not read a single sentence off a single slide. You could download the slides and read them as their own narrative and feel like you've taken something away, but it would only be 1/2 the story and missing the most meaningful parts, i.e. the point of each slide, which I give in person. I would happily give my slides out in advance with the caveat that they are not a substitute for the discussion itself and a student treats them as such at their own peril.
posted by mrmojoflying at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2009


My philosophy is simple: You can have the ppt after the lecture, or not at all. Your choice.

Two reasons for this:
1) I think too many students use the ppt slides as a crutch. "But it helps me take better notes!" No, no it doesn't. You know what actually helps you take better notes? Reading the assigned material, before coming to class. Then, instead of focusing on learning everything as it flashes by, you're taking notes to remind yourself which parts of the reading are important, which parts you already understand, and hopefully use the rest of the time to get more information about the parts you didn't understand - writing down specific questions to take to office hours (which 95% of students don't utilize, but that's another problem altogether).

2) To be perfectly honest, when I teach, I am quite often editing the ppt slides up until I leave for class to present them. Why? Teaching takes a lot of time, and I have other obligations, so sometimes I am running short on prep time. Also, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I often tweak slides or double-check them before using them. Finally, more often than students realize, the person teaching the course doesn't know the material as well as he or she would like, and is VERY often refreshing his or her memory (and/or learning new details as he/she goes) just before class. This applies to new profs as well as seasoned hands thrown into a course not in his or her main field of study. (The difference between a student and the prof isn't the details, it's the framework the details fit in. Profs know the framework. Students generally don't.)

As for the slides themselves, 90% of what I put on slides is images. Pictures. Taken mostly from the textbook, with the fig. number pasted below so students can find it. (Other times, the stock images suck, so I pull out Illustrator and make my own.) The rest of the time, it's me talking and asking questions. Ideally, I run with a chalkboard or overhead projector on one screen, with the ppt on the other, so I can write as I talk and point out things in the image. It's simple, really - students write when I write, and by writing it down I force myself to go at a slow enough pace that they can keep up. (If I am talking too fast, I can't keep up with myself, or write legibly. It's a good self-pacing device.)

The words I do put on the slides are simple - long words that are hard to spell, so they can see what I am writing. Simple, single-sentence summary statements. Basic outlines of what we will cover, or what we just covered. Complicated drawings (such as chemical formulas, DNA sequences, etc.) that might be too hard to read or take too long to reproduce when written down as I talk.

Half the time I black out the ppt projector, while keeping it up on the screen facing me, and recreate drawings by hand as I talk. This lets me put focus on specific parts of complicated drawings as I go, and scribble lines all over it (...then the electrons go HERE, and do THIS...). When I'm done, I reveal the textbook image, and quickly recap what I just worked my way through.

So far this has worked for me in class sizes ranging from 20 to 500+ students. My reviews are generally favorable. Then again, students generally complain that my exams are hard because I expect them to answer questions that are not simply fact-based (that is, take what you know about topics A and B, and figure out what this means for topic C... they all go together, but can you see how to put them together?)

In the end, no matter what you do some students will complain, and some students will get bitchy with you on some ratings website. More often than not, the nasty responses are from students that did poorly and blame you. BUT - your job is to be objective enough to realize that sometimes the students are right and you DID do a poor job. God knows my first batches of students would have been happier with me if I had known then what I know now. I did a lot of reading, looking at the comments I received in reviews and making some major changes in my style and approach as a result. I've also spent a great deal of time talking to other people to see what works for them, and adjusting my own approach to try things I might not have been comfortable with at first.

Remember: PowerPoint is a tool. It's a commonly used tool. But that doesn't make it the right tool for the job. It also doesn't make it the wrong tool, though. It's all in how you use it.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:28 AM on April 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I teach college, and often to 300 students at a whack.

So let's make this practical.

WHAT ARE YOUR INCENTIVES?

Unless you haven't updated your profile page, you're a grad student. So...

(1) Is this your course, or is this the course that the other professor is running that likes to pawn problems off onto you? If that's the case, if the prof is asking for advice about power points, then I'd suggest again that you make some sort of minimal acceptable response and get on with your work (Note: does not apply if the prof is on your committee). You have a nearly infinite set of things that you should be worrying about before you worry about the powerpoint practices of someone else.

(2) If it's your course or discussion section, or something that you're actually responsible for, what incentives are before you? Does the department insist on good student evaluations? Then that's your answer -- give them what they want and move on. Does the department apply some sort of pretest/posttest or other learning evaluation such that you want to maximize "learning"? Then try a couple of different things and do whatever gets you the highest average scores or fewest failures or whatever the metric is.

(3) What does this have to do with your longer-term career plans? Are you trying to build a teaching portfolio for applications to SLACs? Then I'd suggest that many SLACs probably won't care about what you did in Big State U's 200+ person class, and that you should be trying to teach your own smaller sections where you apply some variety of whizbang or touchy-feely pedagogical techniques.

(4) Following others, I'm not sure I'd care too much about what the evaluations said except to the extent that you're directly given incentives to care. Individual undergraduates are/can be wonderful, curious, diligent things. 200 or 300 undergraduates together are a mob screaming GIMME GIMME GIMME. You could spoon-feed knowledge directly into their heads while giving them blowjobs and forcing money into their pockets and your stereotypical Big Intro Class still won't be satisfied.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:31 AM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


What did I actually do:

I've tried putting them up online, and I've tried refusing to do so altogether (bar medical excuse for the day). It doesn't make much difference to evaluations, test scores, or anything. When I've experimented within courses (putting them online for the first exam but not the second, etc), then at whatever point I put them online, attendance drops to 40--50% and doesn't improve when I stop putting them online.

Next time I teach the big intro course, I figure I'll put them online after the fact but also assign seats and make my poor TA take attendance by just checking whether there's a body in each seat, and pretty harshly punish nonattendance. Annoying, because they're supposed to be grownups, but if that successfully pulls their test scores up.

Also: they're all effectively online after the fact, because students can and do take photos of the screen with their cell phones or laptop webcams.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:40 AM on April 27, 2009


In general, I agree with caution live frogs. But the time to be exploring how you can be the most effective teacher is not now. Now is the time to acquire credentials expeditiously, and to do things that are effectively just moneymaking employment with as little fuss as possible.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:45 AM on April 27, 2009


You know what actually helps you take better notes? Reading the assigned material, before coming to class.

This is a good point, but can vary wildly depending on the format of the class. I would say about half of my undergrad classes did not have readings that matched up directly to the lectures. In around one class per semester the professor would actually say in the first lecture that the textbook listed in the course catalog wasn't going to be used at all, and by my second year I started waiting to buy my textbooks until after I verified that they were actually going to be needed. Even in cases where the course did have a textbook, the readings would often be supplemental (such as, say, critical essays in a film class or programming language reference in a data structures theory class) and the actual lecture content would be all new material.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:47 AM on April 27, 2009


I've been using the same basic method for years, and honestly, I've never had students complain about the PowerPoints, even when I was at schools with super-complainy students. But I've also never had to teach a class with more than 30 students, so I don't know how well my experience will scale.

I always make my PPTs available online before class, sometimes several classes ahead if I've got my shit together (and it's a class I've taught before). I make them available as PDFs printed in the 3 slides/page notes format.

My PPTs are always outlines/bullets/graphics that basically serve as a guideline for what we're going to discuss in class. As often as not my bullets are phrased as questions, rather than information, and I encourage my students to use the PPTs as reading guides as well as using them in class to take additional notes.

I should point out, though, that I don't really lecture in the traditional sense. Depending on the class (b/c some do require more actual lecturing over the material) mostly what I do is try to spark and facilitate discussion, and so we use what is on the PPTs as starting points for this conversation. I often combine this with a lot of writing on the board to keep track of the points people raise during discussion. I actually prefer it when students don't focus on writing down every word I say, but rather get involved in discussion. But I also have moved away from testing in general as an assessment tool (and when I do give tests they are open-book essay exams, but I don't think that would be practical for the class size you're talking about).

I've never noticed any relationship b/w PowerPoints and attendance, but I give points for attendance (40% of the participation grade, which itself is usually about 10% of final grade), which I know is controversial.

But honestly, ROU_Xenophobe is right, b/c historically large classes, particularly large required, introductory classes, simply generate poor student evals, and the only thing you can do to *really* satisfy them is to guarantee them all an A for paying their tuition. Satisfaction does not equal learning.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:28 PM on April 27, 2009


I teach art history, so rely heavily on PowerPoints (actually, Keynote!). But the only things on my slides are pictures, "vocab" words (like, "trompe l'oeil" or "synesthesia," which students don't know and can't spell), and unexplicated key quotes from the readings (which I then explicate verbally, in the lecture). Everything else is available in the textbook or, after lecture, in the study image list I put up on the course website.

I get the same complaints you do, but I agree with everyone here who says that it's a bullshit request designed to allow students to be lazy. Somehow, amazingly, even without my powerpoints ahead of time, a full quarter-to-a-third of my students get grades in the A range. Equally, some of them fail.

Also, everything that caution live frogs said.
posted by obliquicity at 12:30 PM on April 27, 2009


I LOVE studying from powerpoints combined with my own notes. I usually try to redraw diagrams for my own notes, but the powerpoint files are tops for referring back to key diagrams and refreshing my memory visually. I know I am a visual learner, so the images are key for me.

Some of my favorite professors use powerpoint exclusively for images, and downloading the pictures helps me anchor the concepts they were illustrating. This works particularly well when the professor has a well constructed narrative and/or a text book that we can read from.

Many of my classes have no text book (either because the material is too new, the professor prefers online sources, or the information is based on journal articles) and in these cases the powerpoint subsitutes for the text book. My genetics class was structured this way, we had two optional text books (which were helpful for the fraction of the material they covered), but each lecture included a 50 slide presentation and I was SO grateful for having the presentations to study from.

I never download the lectures before class, mostly because it's a hassle, but also because I tend to get a little lazy with the note taking if I actually have the presentation in front of me. Listening, processing and writing definitely help me retain new information. Also, some of my professors work up to the last minute making the presentations so they aren't available until the next day anyway. So I think you'll be helping your students a lot by making the full presentations available, but don't worry too much about making them available before class.
posted by ladypants at 12:31 PM on April 27, 2009


It depends a lot on what subject you are teaching. In my biochemistry classes, for example, printouts of the slides were incredibly useful for notetaking. Usually, they were printed out with a slide on the top half of the page and the bottom half was left blank for notes. Taking notes that refer to complex images/diagrams/formulas/tables/graphs/etc. is a lot easier if you can focus on explaining them rather than reproducing them. Even when the images are from the textbook, it was still very useful to have them printed out for notetaking: I don't like writing/drawing in textbooks, and it's nice to have all of your note information in one place. On the other hand, some of my other chemistry classes used powerpoint a handful of time at most (this includes all of my orgo classes), and we copied down all of the formulas from the chalk board. The key to both formats was providing anything that would be complicated enough to be problematic for note-taking, and to present all of the other information in class.

You need to figure out what information you are trying to convey via Powerpoint that can't be conveyed in any other way; that should be the focus of your slideshow. If there's a lot of complicated information, or information that relies on graphics, I'd strongly consider providing either the slides themselves or printouts of the graphics before class. If there isn't a lot of graphic information, forcing the students to take notes during class isn't at all unreasonable, and it's something that they can easily adjust to.

I do think that it is a good idea to post the slideshows afterwards, though: occasionally I discover while re-reading my notes that I wasn't clear enough about some concept, and it's nice to have something prepared by the professor or TA to refer to. Notes taken by other students may or may not be decent, and most professors add concepts and details not covered by the book when lecturing, so neither the book nor other students are a good replacement. Same goes for classes missed due to illness. The slides won't be enough to reconstruct that lecture, but they're one of the tools students can use to learn what concepts they missed.
posted by ubersturm at 12:41 PM on April 27, 2009


Also, we have tried not doing PPT. They were NOT happy about it.
Did you try that mid semester? Or did you start a new semester san power point and still get flack?

I find that when I lay out exactly what is expected of students and what I am going to provide up front, I don't get any flack from anyone. It's when I waffle on something that people start expecting something else... Don't open the door to them expecting more. Don't tell them you used to do the class on power point. Don't tell them that you could give them any sort of hand out.

In all honesty, if you open up the class for dissent people will dissent. Ask them what can we improve and they will come up with something they don't like. Just do your thing help them out and listen to them but don't go soliciting for changes.

Oh and what kind of class is this? Are we in math/science/engineering or are we talking about a liberal art?
posted by magikker at 12:47 PM on April 27, 2009


Personally, I hate making PPTs available (whenever they were made available to me, I'd think, "I don't have to pay attention now because I can just read the slides later) but sometimes it's unavoidable.

A prof I TA for always makes his slides available but as PDFs in 3 slide, note-taking handout form. Most of the time, the font is too small to read on the handouts, so the students are forced to take notes, but the big formulas are there in a readable font (this is for a stats class). I like this approach because students think they're getting what they want (the full lecture as a handout), but to really get all the benefits, you definitely have to be in class. He also puts them on his personal webpage only, so the students have to go after the slides themselves, which puts a little of the ownership on them.
posted by messylissa at 12:54 PM on April 27, 2009


My suggestion: just stop giving lectures. Give a .zip file with the entire semester's ppts to every student, on the condition that they don't tell the administration that you're not actually holding class.
posted by aparrish at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2009


I should also add, the prof introduces the students to the website on the first day and has all the PDFs up at the beginning of the quarter, and never mentions it again. No one needs to be spoonfed their notes.
posted by messylissa at 1:05 PM on April 27, 2009


Get the entire department to change. Nobody gets PP before class. Zero. Every instructor indicates that what's taught in class is what will be on the exam. And that's part of the syllabus.

In fact, make it mandatory that every instructor has to teach something not in the PP.

Fuck 'em if they can't show up to learn.
posted by filmgeek at 2:00 PM on April 27, 2009


"Yeh, seems students are very, very vocal these days."

This is why I got out, Life is too short. Sorry I don't pertain, but now I feel better.
posted by notned at 3:14 PM on April 27, 2009


Okay, this is for a class that I TA for and the professor would probably like my opinion, since we grapple with it all the time. And I am interested for my future teaching.

And it is a social science.

Thanks all!
posted by k8t at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2009


I'd suggest that you suggest that the prof just try a different thing every time for the next few times. Put the whole things online ahead of time, or after lecture, or only parts of them, or whatever. Each time, look at the distribution of test scores or other grades, attendance patterns to the extent that you notice them, whatever metrics make sense to you. Then your prof will have information about what he or she can do to elicit measured learning from them -- what works for him or her. NB: this can be different from what works for you, when the time comes to face your own room full of 200 students.

I think you (and the prof) can reasonably ignore students asking for more and more. So long as the evaluations themselves aren't coming back really terrible, I'd think that even deans can accurately gauge the bogosity of such complaints, especially if it's an intro course. That is: as long as they're not so bad that they really draw attention to themselves, you don't need to worry about their demands.

I've found, to some extent, that being straightforward with them can defuse some of the worst arguments and whining. No, I'm not putting everything online right now, because I'm not going to lead you into temptation and I know that when I do that, attendance plummets and many people fail. But I am a moderately abrasive tall man who usually looks even more impatient and testy than he actually is, and the sad fact is that stuff like that matters with undergraduates.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:30 PM on April 27, 2009


I wanted to come back to add that although I don't provide my slides/notes (apart from study images), I do hold a 2-hour review session before every quiz or exam -- and I get very positive comments about this from my students on the end-of-semester evals (apparently most professors at my institution think that review sessions are too much trouble?). It gives students a chance to clarify things, holds me to a not-punitive schedule for updating the study image list, and reminds them that note-taking is useful (because I make them generate the content of the review session -- all I bring are sample questions; they then answer them and I correct/clarify/expand upon the answers they give, so we generate a better set of notes -- and, incidentally, note-taking techniques -- as a group).
posted by obliquicity at 9:59 PM on April 27, 2009


I have a really great psych professor who uses powerpoints a lot. His approach seems to be that most of the information is on the powerpoints, but we watch a lot of (highly relevant) short video spots (maybe 1 or 2 10-15 minute spots), that he then tests us on. Information from these is not generally in the powerpoint slides. There is also material from the book that isn't on the powerpoints, but is on the tests. The tests also don't just test materials directly, but rather applications of the material.
Get the entire department to change. Nobody gets PP before class. Zero. Every instructor indicates that what's taught in class is what will be on the exam. And that's part of the syllabus.
This attitude seems entirely wrong to me. It punishes the good students the most, while the crappy ones will still find ways to not learn anything. The professor I was referring to seems to take the attitude that students who want to learn will learn, and he's really there for them. As for the other ones, he likes to mention he has a thick skin. If a student gets a bad score, that sucks for them! Oh well! If they complain that the class is too hard, that sucks too! Maybe they should take something else! I realize that to some extent there are departmental pressures to keep complaints low, and to produce a good distribution of mostly As and Bs, but if you're firm and make your requirements fair, the students will generally fall in line.

That professor also makes his lectures really interesting (as best as he can, it varies with subject), and he makes tools available to help students, including powerpoints. I am a good student, but I sometimes miss his classes, and I use the powerpoint slides to make up for it. I don't learn the material as well as I would if I went to lecture, but I still learn it.

I don't like the idea that some people in this thread are portraying that lectures are the only source of learning. These days students have many many options for learning (lecture, books, wikipedia, other online sources, youtube, etc.), and it is (IMHO at least) your job as an instructor to provide the good students with as many options as possible. Fuck the rest of them.
posted by !Jim at 10:38 PM on April 27, 2009


I don't like the idea that some people in this thread are portraying that lectures are the only source of learning. These days students have many many options for learning (lecture, books, wikipedia, other online sources, youtube, etc.), and it is (IMHO at least) your job as an instructor to provide the good students with as many options as possible. Fuck the rest of them.

I don't think lectures are the only way to learn, but I think that it's incredibly difficult to use technological aides to teaching to good effect--because many professors don't really know how to do so well, because many professors use technology to replace other pedagogical methods, and because, quite frankly, it's really, really easy to do a bad powerpoint presentation. If this is just an issue of a professor making his or her lecture notes available, well, that's fine--but the problem with using powerpoint is that it introduces an element of rigidity into the lecture. Say that a student has a question, and is given space to ask it during class (as he or she, really, should be allowed to do). Say that it's not something covered by the powerpoint. Say that the student is bright enough to ask a question that's really, really pertinent and important and would help the rest of the students out. If it's not included in the powerpoint, many students--even those who are there--aren't going to write it down, because it's not "part of the lecture." Whereas, if a professor is handwriting his or her notes, it's very very easy to integrate new, but nevertheless important, concepts into a lecture. And as someone pointed out upthread, handwriting notes slows the professor down and forces them to pay more attention to the responses of his or her audience. But having a flexible lecture requires that the notes not be given out ahead of time. Why? Because, since the professor is answering the students' questions and addressing their needs directly, it will always be different.

As for the technological aides you named--lectures, books, wikipedia, online sources, youtube--twenty years ago, you could have just as easily listed lectures, books, encyclopedias, journal articles, and VHS tapes. There have always been a variety of sources from which students can learn, and sure, it's a good thing if a professor wants to bring in some of these things. But really fundamentally, it's also a professor's job to cull the most pertinent and best of these sources only, to provide guidance about what's important to a class and to the discipline. The best way, and easiest, way to do that is through a lecture. And no, it's not the professor's job to provide even good students with as many options as possible, No one is obligated to use multiple pedagogical methods at once, even if it's nice--as an instructor, you're only obligated to use one or two methods that work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:12 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this is just an issue of a professor making his or her lecture notes available, well, that's fine--but the problem with using powerpoint is that it introduces an element of rigidity into the lecture. Say that a student has a question, and is given space to ask it during class (as he or she, really, should be allowed to do). Say that it's not something covered by the powerpoint. Say that the student is bright enough to ask a question that's really, really pertinent and important and would help the rest of the students out. If it's not included in the powerpoint, many students--even those who are there--aren't going to write it down, because it's not "part of the lecture." Whereas, if a professor is handwriting his or her notes, it's very very easy to integrate new, but nevertheless important, concepts into a lecture.

I think you're creating a bit of a false dichotomy here - either a prof uses PPT, OR he/she hand-writes notes. Why can't they do both? As I mentioned up-thread, I use PPT for the outline of my discussion, so it's as much a tool for me as it is for the students, but because we frequently generate interesting or important points during class discussion, I write those down on the board as we go. Having a PPT displayed does not mean that I am no longer capable of using a white board marker.

PPT is only rigid if a professor uses it rigidly- it's not a technology problem, it's a person problem. The solution is to teach profs to use technology effectively, when it will suit the course objectives.

And frankly, if students don't write something down b/c they think it's "not part of the lecture," that's a problem with the students, not the professor, isn't it?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:47 AM on April 28, 2009


I think you're creating a bit of a false dichotomy here - either a prof uses PPT, OR he/she hand-writes notes. Why can't they do both? As I mentioned up-thread, I use PPT for the outline of my discussion, so it's as much a tool for me as it is for the students, but because we frequently generate interesting or important points during class discussion, I write those down on the board as we go. Having a PPT displayed does not mean that I am no longer capable of using a white board marker.

You can do both, but as odinsdream says upthread better than I could: "Your student's expectations are that the PowerPoint file represents the lecture. This is an incorrect expectation/assumption, but it is entirely understandable given how presenters generally use the software." This is especially going to be true for students who skip class and use the powerpoint notes/slides/outlines/whatever as "make-up." For this reason, if you're going to provide notes, in part, for students who are absent, I still think notes need to be handed out after lecture, to accommodate changes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:57 AM on April 28, 2009


You can do both, but as odinsdream says upthread better than I could: "Your student's expectations are that the PowerPoint file represents the lecture. This is an incorrect expectation/assumption, but it is entirely understandable given how presenters generally use the software." This is especially going to be true for students who skip class and use the powerpoint notes/slides/outlines/whatever as "make-up."

True, but I think this point just reinforces that this is a people problem, not a tech problem. Students are always going to have unrealistic expectations and assumptions, which is why it is vital to clearly lay out what they can expect from you, the professor, from day 1. For 14 years my syllabi have clearly stated that attendance is required, and that students who miss class are themselves responsible for finding out what they missed. I've honestly never had anyone complain about that policy.

For this reason, if you're going to provide notes, in part, for students who are absent, I still think notes need to be handed out after lecture, to accommodate changes.

If that's your goal, then yes, I agree completely. It doesn't happen to be my goal, however, and so I think really the upshot of this thread is that your tech use has to be related to your overall teaching philosophy as well as the needs of the material being covered. Obviously, this thread shows that people have different goals w/ regard to PPT or notes, so that leads to different practices, not one "best practice."
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:50 AM on April 28, 2009


I teach now but not frequently using powerpoint. I did find, both as a student and teacher, that more of the "outline" approach seems to work best, perhaps the slides with missing bullets like you said or something along the lines of kldickson's examples. It keeps people paying attention, coming to class, and yet not struggling extensively to determine what the key points are.

As a student, one thing that really bothered me was that professors who handed out complete powerpoint slides usually fell into the pattern of testing and focusing on ONLY what was outlined or stated on the slides. Students expected to be able to find any test answer in writing on their slides, and considered any question unfair if that was not possible. This frustrated me (as someone who did assigned readings, reflection and such rather than being satisfied once the easy part was done, assignment filled out and PP skimmed over) that what I learned seemed limited to some powerpoint slides because suddenly memorizing those was regarded as the goal of the course, rather than additional info, reflection, class discussion, what the prof says...

I really agree with those that say you shouldn't give in to everything the students ask for in this way. Nobody should ask for nor receive the easy way out for their education
posted by nzydarkxj at 12:38 PM on April 28, 2009


I am of the Do not hand out the PP before class-school. The times I have done so the students perform worse and they listen less actively in class, since they do not have to actively take notes of whatever I say.

But, whenever I tell them something Very Important I give them a handout with the appropriate graphs / systems, and the important stuff written down in bullet points.

I tell my students that I never give out the handouts and expect them to take notes in class, I also tell hem why I do not think just looking at my PPs is a good way of learning (giving them a bit of introduction to learning theory and strategies since I like talking:). I do, however, put both the PPs and my handouts on the internet. The handouts are popular, the PPs less so.

Also I like to use the good old blackboard. When I write on the blackboard I can show them the thought-process. And it is more interactive, I can grab (squeeze out) ideas from the class and we can work through them together, not relying on my canned ideas.

(I teach grammar and language for special purposes)
posted by mummimamma at 2:42 PM on April 28, 2009


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