Welcome to Powerpoint on PowerPoint

Image via Wikipedia - Flickr / garethjmsaunders

Saturday, I posted some links to sites on note-taking skills.  Today, I’d like to comment on note-taking in juxtaposition to that “learning object” so omnipresent in schools and businesses alike: PowerPoint slideshows.

Now, I’ve used PowerPoint many times over the years, though relatively occasionally in the classroom. It’s good for professional presentations while speaking in front of an audience, as long as the presenter remembers to use the slides judiciously. But the danger of PowerPoint in a learning environment is that it can encourage passive, rather than active, learning. It can cheapen communication and turn everything into a sales pitch,” as was noted in the Wired article “PowerPoint is Evil: Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.”

That article was published in 2003. Flash forward eight years to an article published just days ago in the Japan Times Online, “Advantage of taking notes.” The writer is Takamitsu Sawa, President of Shiga University in Japan, and he claims that note-taking is an indispensable professional skill that college students must learn.

He also discusses PowerPoint. Notable quote (emphases mine):
 “PowerPoint deprives teachers of the motivation to improve their teaching skills, and students of the opportunity to learn how to take notes. Students in the past learned well what was taught because they had to take notes. Today’s students are not helped by the large number of papers shown via PowerPoint in rapid succession.”

I’m not claiming here that PowerPoint = categorically evil and your own notes = universally virtuous; but I am claiming that students need to become actively engaged with their learning material in order to study effectively.  It is true that taking notes is active, while it’s easy to sit back and drift off mentally in the presence of PowerPoint.

. . . which brings me back, once again, to the importance of being trained to take good notes.