Teaching Naked

Today one of my colleagues mentioned an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on “teaching naked.”

In essence, the article argues that technology — especially PowerPoint — inhibits the learning process by promoting boredom and passivity, rather than interest and engagement. As a practical matter, anything that’s on a slide can be read asynchronously, so why waste valuable class time going over it? By comparison a real-time interactive discussion and debate about weighty issues is something that’s much harder to replicate outside the classroom, and that’s likely to be much more memorable 10 or 20 years later.

Of course, the problems with PowerPoint are well documented. One of my favorites is Edward Tufte’s essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.” He shows through numerous examples that PowerPoint is simply the wrong tool for conveying all sorts of information. And while he agrees that some small part of the blame can be placed on poor presenters, he asserts:

“PowerPoint has a distinctive, definite, well-enforced, and widely-practiced cognitive style that is contrary to serious thinking” (p. 26).

Somewhat more humorously, some years ago Fortune published a much shorter primer on what-not-to-do entitled “Ban It Now! Friends Don’t Let Friends Use PowerPoint.” Unfortunately the online version lacks the visual punch of the print edition, in which the article’s major points were made as a series of PowerPoint bullets. It went something like this as I recall:

Slide 1: WHY BAN POWERPOINT?

  • It’s a monopoly.

Slide 2: WHY BAN POWERPOINT?

  • It’s a monopoly.
  • It’s inescapable.

Slide 3: WHY BAN POWERPOINT?

  • It’s a monopoly.
  • It’s inescapable.
  • It’s monotonous.

Slide 4: WHY BAN POWERPOINT? (cont.)

I think you get the idea… Indeed, since trading in my corporate career for an academic career, I have found that PowerPoint is as universal in this world as the former — both in classrooms and at academic conferences. The question is: How to overcome the curse of PowerPoint?

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