On: Powerpoint and its excuses.

I got a shoutout on Metafilter yesterday, congratulating me on my first academic teaching job. Oh yes, I have my first academic teacing job! I am teaching a sociology of Mass Communications course at the University of Lethbridge starting in January.

This is terrifying…

Not because I don’t know how to teach (I have had plenty of experience teaching, which was one of the best reasons for doing my Masters at UofL), or because I am not confident that I can do a good job at it (after all, it’s mass media, not social statistics. If there’s one thing I know about, it is mass media). Rather, I am worried about the whole thing blowing up in my face – what with juggling my PhD workload and teaching what will likely be 75 students or so… I know that this is what academics do, and I am just anxious to start. I have all this knowledge that is spilling out of my brain, and because I have known about this since early summer, I have been doing a lot of preperation.

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I am eager to try out the lessons I have learned from David Byrne on powerpoint presentations. I experimented with this somewhat in the past (I designed presentations for two courses that are currently being taught at the UofL – Sociology of Religion and Sociology of Youth). These slides were unique, but I think I made a lot of crucial mistakes in them – first, I put way too much text on them, and secondly, I didn’t work to make the presentations cohesive enough.

I see powerpoint presentations all the time that make me want to fall asleep or kill myself. The biggest mistake is allowing the software to structure the lecture into its prefabricated bullet point mode, because lectures then have a tendenct to become constrained into following the rythm of the software.

I also see powerpoint as having a tendency to minimize participation in a classroom. With the room darkened, and the huge image projected on the front of the room, students have a tendecy to stare complacently towards the “show.” It creates yet another barrier between the lecturer and the class.

So how can these problems be minimized? I think that to a large degree, my above concerns may be unsurmountable. However, if a certain level of creativity is involved, Powerpoint does have the capacity for adding a dynamic element to the classroom. This article titled “Presentation Zen” makes a lot of the same points I do, and is where I got the idea of “blank slides” placed throughout the presentation.

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