Princeton Questions Use of Laptops, PowerPoint

Thanks to Jim Forde for bringing this to my attention. In a recent article in the Daily Princetonian, Carol Lu reported that the Ivy League university is seriously rethinking its stance on two issues: laptop use and the abuse of PowerPoint as the primary means of multimedia presentations.

Kudos to the university for a little self-reflection in regards to its educational technology. It’s reassuring to know that even high-powered Ivy League institutions are struggling with the same student malaise in classrooms as we are here in the K-12 environment.

This quote from the article rang discordantly with me when I read it:

“Laptops can be very beneficial to students who wish to organize at the end of the day, week or semester,” former USG academics chair Caitlin Sullivan ’07 said. “At the same time, I often see emails, [instant] messenger and even videos on their screens [during class]. Those are the two ends of the spectrum.”

I understand that quotes taken out of context can mislead; however,
the potential for professors to use laptop technology to their
advantage far outweighs the “organizing” principles associated with
laptop use.

The problem may not be with the laptops, but rather academia’s ability to capture today’s students with conventional lectures. At Assorted Stuff, Tim Stahmer brings up two great points in regards to the same article. If the content and delivery aren’t engaging, what does it matter if it’s PowerPoint or not:

“Again, who’s fault is that? PowerPoint doesn’t “induce” anything. Boring lectures are going to be boring with or without the accompanying slide show.”

I see quite a bit of PowerPoint during my travels throughout my buildings, but I often see it accompanied with some fantastic pedagogy. Student interest remains high because of the ability of the teacher to understand the needs of the learners in the room. I also see a lot of time spent on projects where the student’s end result is a PowerPoint, complete with notecards and an awkward 5 minutes in front of the room reading exactly what is on the slide.

Princeton, and for that matter, all of us, needs to look at what need is being fulfilled by PowerPoint from the professor’s view. My teachers use it because it enables them to organize their thoughts and provide jumping off points for lectures. The obvious question would be : what else is out there that we can use to replace it? But the better question is, how can I get myself away from 40 minutes of relying on a PowerPoint, and move towards a truly interactive, student-driven lesson? I bet we could answer the obvious question in a few minutes, but the second one is the one that deserves our attention.

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5 thoughts on “Princeton Questions Use of Laptops, PowerPoint

  1. This seems to be a growing trend in higher education which is pretty scary! Scott Mcleod in his archive posted a similar article about a school in his area (Sorry, I do not have the link at my finger tips).
    There is also a good post from a while back called is PowerPoint evil…It basically makes the point that PowerPoint is a presentation tool and we need to teach kids how to make presentations.
    I agree with you that the point is to engage the students. If we ban laptops because the students are distracted that is not going to solve the problem. When are we going to figure out we need to empower students to take charge of their learning?

  2. We are afraid of what we don’t understand! Isn’t that the saying? Quite frankly, I don’t know many people, or groups of people, that do understand the raw potential of empowering students with technology we can barely keep up with. I certainly do not mean anyone disrespect when I say this because I lump myself in this category. The teachers I come across every single day all have one thing in common; they enjoy students and every decision they make during the course of a class period is in the best interest of the student. Way back when, when power point first took the computing world by storm (sorry I don’t have a date but you can appreciate the tounge-in-cheek delivery) it brought professional media presentation into the classroom. Students were amazed at the animations and the sheer cartoon-like incarnations of their teachers’ lessons. It was fun! Now we are teaching the -been there/ done that- generation and we are left with the daunting task of coming up with something new.

    Yes there are many applications that can take the place of powerpoint and should do just that but to answer the other question – replace 40 minutes of lecture with 40 minutes of learning-

    I am sure you read the post recently where the Principal tells the story of getting in front of the faculty and posing this:
    What if we let our 5th graders take pictures of butterflies, posted them on flickr, and then used different sources to connect with butterfly experts all over the world and had them help us to identify and classify them?

  3. Barbara/Brad:

    I think the two of you are advocating essential the same thing: a shift from what we have always known to that which even those of us who strive to be leaders in the field have a hard time grasping. How do we inspire confidence in embracing new technologies and empowering our students to “find their experts” if, as you say, we don’t fully understand them?

    I will point you to Christian Long’s Future of Learning Manifesto, #10–Nobody Knows the Answer. Get Comfy with the Questions. I love that one. How that helps admins like you two, I can’t say.

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