I went to a presentation today at which there was free food.
(I did not pay attention to the actual purpose of the lecture when I was signing up. Just the promise of free food.)
Anyhoo, the presentation was on making better PowerPoint presentations for your lectures and talks and presentations and whatnot. The gentleman was extraordinarily well-prepared and well-educated. All in all, it was an excellent presentation, attending to all the latest pedagogical research in its construction as well as in its content. (So, after telling us that the average attention span for lecture-based teaching is twenty minutes and that we should plan small activities to get our audience's attention every twenty minutes, he asked us to break into groups and discuss what he'd just said.)
He also seemed like a genuinely nice guy.
But even though they had bribed me with rather good deli food, I almost shouted at him about three times during the lecture. The third time, I had to knit something to keep myself from telling him that it was the most ludicrous thing I'd ever heard in my life.
Some of the things he suggested:
PowerPoint slides should have fewer than fifteen words per slide, and perhaps fewer than ten.
PowerPoint presentations should be photo-rich and content-lite.
PowerPoint slides should be enhancements to the content of the lecture rather than identical to the content of the lecture. (So, someone looking at your ppt presentation after the fact will not know what you said.)
Good lecturers will never lecture for more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, and if required to do so, will break up the presentation with activities--group work, a little singing, stretching, maybe a group photo.
(I'm serious. He suggested taking a group photo. Then he actually took a photo of us. That's when the knitting came out.)
Okay, so: I'm picturing myself giving a lecture to the general public on a topic with which they were not familiar. Say, guest-teaching in a Sunday School class on Second Temple Judaism or giving a lecture on theology to a bunch of doctors or one on ecology to a bunch of musicians. Fine. Makes sense. Really, really helpful, actually. Exactly the sort of techniques I would want to use (except for the photo).
But he was talking about the classroom setting. He was telling me that students can't be expected to pay attention more than twenty minutes at a time. He was telling me that the hour-and-a-half lecture sessions which I've attended for seven of the last ten years are impossible to follow. He was trying to tell me that ppt presentations would make my lectures better, but only if they were content-lite, photo-rich, and neatly broken up in to pre-digested chunks so that I don't burden my students with having to concentrate.
He was telling me that when I have a single semester to get through the entire New Testament, I have to use pictures and go content-lite. (And he spelled it "lite"--he's lucky I didn't bring my metal knitting needles.)
He was telling me that by the end of a three-year graduate program, I shouldn't expect a grown woman to sit in her seat for seventy-five minutes and take notes.
He was telling me that between second grade and twenty-third grade (yes, I am now in my eleventh year of post-secondary education), I should have made no progress in my ability to listen and learn.
So, here's my question: was I wrong to think that he was . . . at best, misguided? That maybe the purpose of undergraduate and graduate education is to train kids not to need to take a group photo in order to pay attention? That never expecting my kids to pay attention for longer than twenty minutes also means never letting my kids pay attention longer than twenty minutes? That the purpose of note-taking is so that we can go back and study the material? That it's the teacher's job to offer content for the student to learn, and the student's job to wrestle with the content outside of class?
Am I the crazy one? I can remember attending ninety-minute lectures, hanging on every word the pedagogically hopeless professor was saying, and coming home and reporting it in detail to my hubby (and our poor son, who had to listen to it all). I can remember leaving a lecture in an intro class, fuming, absolutely fuming that I had paid $xyz for that class, "And all I get is twenty minutes of content and thirty minutes of 'group work'??? With a bunch of people who've never read the OT before in their lives?!?!"
I'm all down with the idea that you can't sit a fourth grader down in front of a teacher who lectures for forty-five minutes and expect him to retain and be able to utilize any of that information.
But surely, surely
we can expect more from college seniors, from graduate students. Surely there is something to be said for acquiring the physical and mental discipline that attending to a ninety-minute lecture takes.