LESSONS FROM DILBERT

This week-end I have the great honor and pleasure of driving to Raleigh to speak at the North Carolina Accounting Education Forum. There is nothing I enjoy more than speaking with a group of teachers about education—what works, what doesn’t work and how we can go about making a difference in the lives of our students.

This morning I had a wake up warning about my presentation. As I ate my Special K, I read the comic strip Dilbert. In it, Dilbert is talking with the garbage man and he asks this very pertinent question: “Wise Garbage Man, why are Power Point slides so boring?”

Well, that question certainly gets right to the point.

Now, if you have followed this blog for long, you have heard me fuss about the use of Power Point in a college classroom. My main argument is that the slides encourage the students’ strong tendency to copy and memorize. Okay, I already know all the justifications for using Power Point. But, if we are going to be truthful, the number one reason that teachers like to use these slides is that it makes teaching easier—not better but certainly easier. Power Point reduces preparation time significantly. Instead of planning out and writing an outline, you simply follow along with the slides. They can save a huge amount of time. And, in 2011, most teachers don’t have enough time.

Well, we’ve well established that I am a critic. However, this Saturday, when I speak in North Carolina (to a bunch of teachers), I will be using Power Point slides. Yes, I confess. In fact, I have 56 slides and I hope to get through quite a number of them. I justify this heresy in my own mind because it is difficult to walk into a room with 50 people you don’t know and get a conversation going quickly.

But Dilbert’s question (“why are Power Point slides so boring?”) got me to thinking: how can a teacher make good use of the advantages of Power Point without boring people to death and without encouraging copying and memorizing?

Here are my two suggestions for using Power Point. And, I actually worked on both of these myself this morning immediately after reading Dilbert.

1 – Never have more than 10 words on a slide. If you limit yourself to 10 words or less, the slide is a prompt and not a crutch. Make that an absolute rule. If you put more than 10 words on a slide, both teacher and student wind up reading. I think we stopped having class readings in the 2nd grade.

2 – On as many slides as possible, ask a question. Questions are always good – so use the Power Point slides to put out the questions you want students to consider.

If you follow both of these rules, I think you will find that Power Point really does provide a great class. Students get away from reading the slide and get into the thinking that you really want them to do. It is not Power Point slides that I am against; it is the use that is too often made of them in our college classrooms today.

Hopefully, it will work for me on Saturday in Raleigh.

PS - If you would like to get a copy of the slides that I use at the presentation in Raleigh, drop me a note at Jhoyle@richmond.edu

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