In November, I wrote a post detailing my struggle to learn from PowerPoint presentations in my Operating Systems class. I’d like to take a moment to explain what kind of lecture style I do enjoy learning from.
One of my favorite professors teaches philosophy at my college, and I’m taking his Modern Western Philosophy class this semester. I don’t prefer his class because I like philosophy any better than computer science, but rather because I always feel like I’ve learned something from his lectures that I couldn’t have found elsewhere. His style is what I think a real college course should feel like.
The surprising part is not that he lectures without PowerPoint, because many professors also avoid presentation software. The surprising part is that I prefer his chalkboard notes over PowerPoint despite the fact that his handwriting is almost completely illegible, suggesting that there is a quality of “chalk talks” that is useful to my learning style beyond just being able to read the notes. I have some ideas why this might be:
• I focus on the presenter instead of the presentation. With both professor and a projector in the classroom, the presentation becomes a main character in the lecture, and sometimes overpowers the professor. This is especially true if the professor does not write his own slide deck. Taking the projector away can help the professor sound much more knowledgeable and in control of what he says.
• I don’t need to read the board to know what the professor has written. That he makes a note after a talking point is enough to know that it should be written my notes, too.
• Chalkboard notes are concise, while badly-made presentations contain overly wordy slides. No one would sit and take the time to transcribe as much in chalk as they could in PowerPoint. Also, professors write notes on the chalkboard in real time, which removes the temptation to sit and read a lengthy slide that has been prepared beforehand.
There is another aspect of my philosophy professor’s style that is specific to his subject which makes his lectures more effective. His class is about thoughts and events which occurred hundreds of years ago, and the class is situated in a building completed in 1897. Sitting in an old-fashioned classroom, with an old-fashioned professor, taking old-fashioned notes just puts me in the right mood to learn about historical thoughts and figures.
I concede that the class would probably be more effective if I could read the chalkboard notes, but I still do not think that this class would benefit from PowerPoint. While switching to PowerPoint might help me read the lecture points, it would change the entire style of the class, including the amount of notes presented and the focal point of the lecture. It would also add a flavor of modernity to an otherwise deliciously old-fashioned class. I’ll take my philosophy just the way it is, despite despite the illegible notes.