I’m convinced that someone at Stanford has been lining the pockets of *The Princeton Review. *
Over the years, *The Princeton Review’s**Best Colleges *series has paid us a number of undeserved compliments – including the number one spot in their highly publicized ‘Happiest Students’ list. After a series of student suicides, we’ve dropped to number sixth, but fear not: last summer, we were awarded ‘Best Classroom Experience.
Off the top of my head, I’ve taken classes in a dozen departments: History, Political Science, Physics, Math, Economics, Philosophy, Sociology, Linguistics, Psychology, and even Classics. It’s my senior year here, and I’ve completed nearly 40 courses.
I would describe maybe seven of those classes as positive experiences; the rest ranged from neutral to downright excruciating.
To be fair, I’ve had a handful of truly excellent teachers at Stanford, but they’ve been the exception. Even worse than discussion sections led by apathetic TAs have been the monotones of the professors – professors that Stanford’s admissions office once promised me were “world-renowned teachers.”
So let me offer a suggestion that might help us live up to our new title, a suggestion that I believe would make a world of difference:
The Faculty Senate should ban PowerPoint.
As any Stanford student will tell you – and they have, time and again, through CourseRank – PowerPoint presentations have no place in the classroom. Learning is not a passive process, and staring at a screen teaches us nothing. In order for us to learn, you have to engage us: tell us stories, ask us questions. Make eye contact.
The worst offenders I have seen will read the words straight off their slides. When they post the slides on Coursework, they’re surprised by the poor lecture attendance that inevitably results.
Other professors may strive to be more interactive, addressing their audience and referencing materials that aren’t in their presentations. But in my eyes, the difference is negligible.
Right now, the folks in the Writing Center are shaking their head. If you design your presentation carefully, my PWR 2 teacher might say, it can be entertaining *and *educational. And yet – no matter how beautiful her slides, or how graceful her animations – every time she turned on the projector, I felt my eyes glaze over.
For most students’ brains, a PowerPoint presentation is a subliminal invitation to tune out. In the early hours of the morning, it can be an invitation to sleep in, or worse, fall asleep in the classroom. Like watching T.V., there’s something irresistibly mindless about gazing at a PowerPoint. It demands all your attention, but leaves you empty handed.
The best lectures – like the best public speeches – are well written, carefully organized, and rehearsed in advance. I’m confident that, in the time it takes most professors to create a PowerPoint, they could draft a far more compelling lecture. Even if they only have the time to create an outline, working from bullet points – and having a casual, off-the-cuff discussion of the material – is worlds better than a slideshow.
There are some acceptable uses for PowerPoint: projecting artwork onto a wall or to displaying diagrams that are too complicated to be drawn during class time, for example. Equations and bullet points, however, should be written on the blackboard. It may seem tedious, but it gives students the time they need to process new information.
At this point, I should backtrack and say that I’ve loved my time here at Stanford. There’s no other school I’d rather be at. When I’m wildly successful, I plan to donate boatloads of money, and when I’m a parent, I’ll use all kinds of tricks to get my children to come here (“Oh, sweetie, I’m not sure you should apply to Stanford. It’s too much of a party school”). But it would be a lie not to say my academic experiences have been disappointing.
Simply put, PowerPoint is not what I expected from a $170,000 education.