7 , 2001:
PowerPoint: Tool for success or recipe for disaster?
professors shuffled with transparencies, now it's the Next button
By Andrew Shtulman '01
The third week of the
semester proved to be a particularly trying time for my professors.
Monday's biology class was delayed by 20 minutes, Tuesday's anthropology
class was delayed by 10 minutes, and Wednesday's psychology class
was delayed by 15 minutes. The professors were not sick, on strike,
in traffic, or otherwise indisposed. Rather, they were experiencing
technical difficulties with their PowerPoint presentations.
As I sat by patiently,
watching one professor reboot his computer six times, I began to
contemplate the rise in popularity of the PowerPoint presentation
and the consequent downfall of the overhead transparency. I remember
a time not long ago when PowerPoint was a rarity in the Princeton
classroom. Out of the 26 classes I've taken during my first three
years of college, only three included PowerPoint-guided lectures.
This year, however, five of my professors use PowerPoint nearly
twice the total of all previous years combined! Naturally, I'm just
one student taking a mere handful of classes - hardly a representative
sample on which to base a statistical conclusion - but from my limited
experience, it's seems clear that PowerPoint's popularity has grown
exponentially over the last few semesters. Like grade inflation
of the late '90s, PowerPoint appears to be the newest fad among
What does this trend
mean for the average Princeton student? Aside from the occasional
20-minute delay, lectures will now run more smoothly and more efficiently
than ever before. No longer do students have to wait between visuals,
as professors shuffle through heaps of near-identical transparencies.
PowerPoint provides seamless transitions, augmented by visually
appealing "checkerboard"" and "wipe down"
effects. No longer must students stare at row after row of black
lettering on a white background. PowerPoint allows the professor
to set the text to any number of colors and then superimpose that
text on an assortment of titillating background designs - everything
from "Network Blitz" to "Dad's Tie." And with
PowerPoint, professors can now insert animations and movie clips
into their presentations, making it no longer necessary to create
manual animations, i.e. moving the transparency really fast.
Perhaps the best feature
of PowerPoint, however, is its reproducibility. Not only can professors
make handy printouts at the click of a button, they can also put
their entire presentation right on the web. This technological breakthrough
gives students more flexibility in deciding (a) whether or not to
take notes and (b) whether or not to attend classes. Since Princeton
students are highly motivated, they will naturally chose to attend
class and to take notes in all but the most dire circumstances,
though online PowerPoint presentations do make it possible never
to enter a lecture hall again. Nevertheless, the temptation to sleep
through class will undoubtedly be outweighed by students, eagerness
to experience the power and beauty of a PowerPoint lecture, which,
in its purest form, provides a flawless synthesis of auditory and
the PowerPoint lectures delivered at Princeton will be of the utmost
quality, since Princeton professors would never dream of cluttering
a slide with too much text or too many graphics just because adding
more of each is so easy. Similarly, Princeton professors will always
pare down their lectures to the most important points regardless
of how easy it is to add one more slide (or six) to the presentation.
And, God forbid the professor should run into difficulties displaying
his beloved PowerPoint, he would still be able to conduct a lecture
without the support of his (albeit, amazing) visual aid. After all,
PowerPoint is not what makes a lecture good; it's what makes a lecture
In all seriousness, PowerPoint's
foray into the educational setting does come as a mixed blessing.
While PowerPoint's graphic and multimedia features allow for greater
creativity, such features also open the door to disorganization
(as in the case of professors who neglect to edit their presentations)
and gaudiness (as in the case of professors who "overdose"
on clipart and sound effects). Also, while putting PowerPoint presentations
online may give students a heads-up on lecture, professors should
be wary that they're also giving students an excuse not to come
Whether more professors
really are using PowerPoint or I just happened to hit upon a string
of PowerPoint enthusiasts, the ramifications of PowerPoint in the
classroom might be something worthwhile for the University to look
into. While, on the one hand, PowerPoint can be used as a powerful
tool for success (as I'm sure Microsoft intended it to be), it can
also become a recipe for disaster. Or at the very least, the cause
of numerous delays.
You can reach Andrew