Friday, September 25, 2020

A copying problem caused by making PowerPoint slides available online

Students often feel a compulsive need to write down the text from PowerPoint presentations. This is modern note-taking: a simple verbatim copy of the presented text. Their aim is to capture information that might be on future exams and store this information for future studying. The downside is that mere copying is a very passive learning approach and a distraction from what the teacher is actually saying. 

This week, I witnessed a new form of text copying that was surprising. (It was new to me, anyway.) It may be informative to people who teach with PowerPoint. 

The setting was a peer-observation of another faculty member. I was seated in the back corner of the classroom. The PowerPoint presentation had numerous key terms with complete definitions. The slide deck was available both on screen and online through the learning management system. Two students with laptop computers were seated near me with screens that could be easily seen. They had the learning management system open with the presentations loaded up. They seemed to be working hard on taking hand-written notes. So far, so good. The initial appearance was standard, college-level educational practices. 

The surprising part was that the students were actually two or three slides ahead of the presenter! They were copying information from the online PowerPoint because the amount of presented text was apparently too much to copy down in real time. Their solution was to copy text from the online presentation in advance of the actual presentation. Sadly, the spoken presentation was being ignored.  

This copying ahead of the presentation is a misguided learning strategy. It could be prevented by not providing the PowerPoint files online, but this solution misses a bigger problem. The more critical issue is that providing numerous key terms and definitions via a PowerPoint presentation is overwhelming to students. The definitions could be learned from a textbook, so there is really no need for these details in an educational presentation. Instead, educational presentations need to focus on broad ideas and instructional graphics that foster understanding instead of providing definitions. 

Return to blogging

This blog has been on hold for the past six months. The COVID-19 situation has captured all of my teaching energy. The need to prepare for classes that might be either online, traditional, or some combination has been difficult. That's putting it mildly. Near panic is a more accurate description of my feelings during this time! 

Now, I feel like things are on-track, at least as on-track as they can be given the current situation. I'm hoping to get blogging again and make it a habit. The aim is for about one post per week.