Why slides are not a good way to teach

Have you ever fallen asleep during a course in which the teacher only uses slides as material? Do not worry, you are not alone. The majority of students cannot fully pay attention if the professor is just pointing at bullet points with a laser pen. This article will discuss why this system is so common and why it is often a bad idea.

So, what is the problem? First of all, attending the class becomes extremely boring. For an hour, slides continue passing by on the whiteboard. Teachers continue repeating what is written on slides while students are struggling to stay awake. This scene becomes even more exacerbated by the fact that the slides’ design is standardised, so every course becomes a copy of the next one.

Furthermore, slides lack specificity and detail. Explaining complex ideas becomes difficult as it is just a summary with bullet points and dashes. Students expect to find every detail and often get stuck on complicated problems because an explanation is not provided.

Last but not least, teachers do not explain as well when they are just talking as when they are also writing it down at the same time. Not having a PowerPoint presentation forces them to start their reasoning from scratch. This makes a detailed explanation a lot more coherent. It is also much easier for teachers to point out details and to highlight important points on a blackboard compared to using a laser pen.

So why do we still use slides for teaching? I think there are two main reasons. First of all, it requires a lot less effort from the professor during class. Secondly, and more importantly, it is also a lot easier for students because they do not have to take notes. They feel reassured about getting a minimum of the content of the course. However, learning becomes a lot easier if you have taken notes during class. During the process of writing down, the brain can already reflect on the content. This increased effort thoroughly facilitates the learning process. As learning is generally linked with effort, writing is an efficient way to memorise and to understand.

However, some research shows a more nuanced view. A 2006 paper written by David Levasseur shows that computer-generated slides are an effective medium of teaching when students can print the slides before the course so that students spend less time writing and more time listening. It is based on the fact that, as students have the lecture content, they do not worry about missing something and pay more attention to explanation given by the professor. This allows for more interaction between the professor and the students. Finally, the research review concludes that the class must switch between several ways of learning styles: verbal, written, and visual.

Recently, a professor in computer science at the University of Auckland became famous for an article on why universities should banish PowerPoint presentation when teaching. According to him, using slides tends to diminish the students’ learning. However, universities will not ban slides for a simple reason. They measure success by the students’ satisfaction rather than learning outcomes. As long as they continue to use satisfaction as a primary metric, they will not abandon the use of slides.

In a nutshell, using slides in class negatively affects learning in class. It is both damaging for students and professors, as understanding complex reasonings becomes problematic. However, slides can be used as an additional medium to create more interaction between students and professors. Finally, students must learn to not always ask for slides. They must try to interact during class by participating and asking questions.

by Vincent Larrieu


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