Friday, February 21, 2014

Is PowerPoint compatible with active learning?

In my previous post, I noted the fact that our faculty members are at different points in the transition to teaching in active learning classrooms.  A number are accustomed to utilizing PowerPoint in some shape or form during class meetings and would prefer to get some mileage out of those existing materials.  So, this begs the question... is there a place for PowerPoint in an active learning classroom?

The second week of the semester delivered an unexpected blow for one of the active learning classrooms: the teacher station was down.  Inoperable.  Five back-to-back classes were scheduled for that room on that day, and the instructors managed to turn a frustrating situation into a series of productive experiments.  For one, if the PowerPoint is not projected onto the main screens and controlled from the teacher station, then what alternatives might be available?  One option, given the setup of the rooms, is to ask the groups to pull up the file - from email, D2L, or a shared folder - on the monitor stationed at each of the pods.  Now each group, instead of the instructor, is responsible for advancing the slides.  Here are a few observations from instructors embracing this approach:

  • The students are more engaged since they are responsible for moving the presentation forward.
  • A quick glance around the room allows the instructor to see if a group appears to be stuck or is behind in the presentation.
    • This feedback can be used to inform or re-evaluate the pace of the presentation.
    • This may offer a natural break/pause for questions, clarification, or a check for comprehension.
Here is a slightly advanced twist that is simple to execute: insert a blank slide or two into the PowerPoint presentation.  When the presentation reaches the blank slide, the groups are asked to get to work on constructing what would be best to include there.  Summary?  Transition to the next topic?  Compare and contrast?  Discussion question?  So many possibilities!  And all from a blank PowerPoint slide or two - an easy modification to an existing presentation, that is for sure.  (Thank you to Louisa Rice for this example.)

A quick Google search turns up some additional ideas for utilizing PowerPoint in an active learning setting:

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