PowerPoint, an impediment to learning?

Ag intro image

In the winter term 2012-13, I taught a part of the research methods course at Business School Lausanne. To fulfill the requirements of the course, the students had to do individual assignments as well as group projects. For their group projects they had to synthesize a number of classic articles on research design in management science and explore the inter-relations between the concepts across the articles. I had decided not let the students use Microsoft PowerPoint for presenting their group projects. Instead they had to develop mind maps using markers and paper. Below are some pictures from the students’ presentations and the mind maps they created.

My observations and reflections on what happened are as follows:

  • The students did a perfect job of understanding and synthesizing the papers they were assigned to. It should be noted that the articles included work of management scholars such as Karl Weick that are relatively difficult for students whose mother tongue is not English and have not been previously exposed to theoretical and conceptual discussions in management research.
  • In addition to developing an understanding of the articles the students managed to find the inter-relations among the concepts across the articles. I believe the nature of the representation embedded in the mind map facilitated such inter-article exploration and understanding.
  • They were also able to communicate their findings from the articles in a cognitively effective way. This resulted in attracting the attention of the rest of the students in the class.
  • Based on the students’ comments, the team work among them also improved a lot and they all contributed to the projects evenly.
  • Finally, the whole presentation process was more fun and the course atmosphere was more dynamic.

Apart from the students presentations, I also decided not show any slides in the course. I used the flip chart for my presentations. Below, you can see snapshots from my presentations in the course.

I believe the students were more engaged while the presentations and thus learned more, a number of reasons follow:

  • The whole process was much more spontaneous that using slides. I could see that the students are better connected to what I was presenting.
  • I elicited the words and phrases from the students while presenting and they could see their phrases being put up there on the flip chart. This gave them a sense of ownership and involvement.
  • In case something was not understood, I tried to present it in a different way by drawing a new diagram or etc. This is a privilege you do not have when you are presenting the content in a PowerPoint slide.

I remember in one of the sessions of the class during my presentation, a BSL staff came in to hand in some copies of articles. After handing in the copies, he did not leave the class immediately, he decided to stop and to listen to what were discussing for a couple of minutes. After a short while, he came back to the class and asked a question about the topic of my presentation, the question was very relevant and was discussed in his presence. He later on commented that he found the presentation very engaging and interesting.

To sum up, I believe using Microsoft PowerPoint or other presentation software applications are impediment to learning and hinder participation from the students for the following reasons:

  1. Using such tools will inadvertently increase the teacher talking time (TTT) and thereby reduce the student talking time (STT). It is believed that learning occurs when students speak in a course.
  2. In most cases once the slides are up there the students subconsciously start doing something else or thinking about a topic of their interest. Thus, the class dynamics are destroyed.
  3. Moreover, Slides deter the holistic thought patterns and prevent the exploration of inter-linkages and inter-relations between various informational elements in a presentation.

Arash Golnam, BSL Professor

Arash Golnam

One thought on “PowerPoint, an impediment to learning?

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