To my students: Why I won’t be handing out copies of the slides

Someone’s going to ask, so we might as well clear this up right at the outset. No, I won’t be handing out copies of the PowerPoint slides.

I recognize that, in the minds of many of you, that statement is tantamount to academic abuse. That it is evidence of some dreadful mean streak or profound character flaw on my part. That clearly I must have missed Lesson One of Teaching 101.

You are welcome to think whatever you want.

In fact, that’s exactly my point.

Part of my teaching philosophy is that I need to always be able to provide you with a reason for what we are doing in my class and how we are doing it. (You don’t have to like the reason, nor do you have to agree with it. But I have to have one, and I will always give it to you when asked.) So let me explain the rationale for this act of pedagogical treason.

First, if I am using PowerPoint effectively – something I don’t profess to be perfect at, but I do try – then my slides will largely be designed to provide speaking prompts and visual interest. If there is significant, detailed content that I think you really need to have in writing, I will give you a handout or provide you with a link.

Secondly, there is some evidence that writing notes the old fashioned way, by hand on a piece of paper, actually helps you learn. Of course if there is some genuine reason why taking your own notes will disadvantage your learning, I will happily accommodate you. But the vast majority of you will not be harmed by being expected to flex your note-taking muscles.

Besides, if all you are doing is trying to transfer what I am saying onto the page, you aren’t, in my view, taking the kind of notes that are going to be of much value to you when you walk out of my class.

Remember when I said “you are welcome to think what you want”?

That’s what you should be writing notes about. What you think. If this class was just about the information coming out of my mouth, I could type that up and send you a file and it wouldn’t matter whether you showed up or not. But since you did show up (and I’m glad you did!) it’s my job to make sure you get the most out of this course while you’re here. And that won’t happen if I do all the work.

You are here to engage with the content of the course, not just to record it for posterity. If I were to read your notes, I would hope to find that they contained a lot more than what I said. I would hope to see questions. Comments. Musings and ponderings. Angry little rants. Diagrams and arrows and words with circles around them and symbols that mean something to you alone— that mean things like “look up this author” and “possible essay topic!”

I’m far more interested in seeing margin notes that say “yuck” and “wow!” and “why???” than I am in seeing my own words parroted in neatly bulleted lists. I want your notes to say as much about what you were feeling about what you were learning as they say about the curriculum.

So no, I won’t be handing out a copy of the PowerPoint slides. And I won’t be emailing them to you after the class either. You are welcome to complain about this gross injustice on the course evaluation. Be sure to provide a detailed explanation of how your learning suffered due to my failure in this regard.

At least you will be writing about what you think.


5 thoughts on “To my students: Why I won’t be handing out copies of the slides

  1. I use PowerPoint all the time in my job. And I will email a copy of the PowerPoint deck to the meeting attendees after the meeting, but only to jog their memories of the key points made during the presentation or to share with others who were unable to make the meeting (perhaps their bosses). It’s also because we are typically in a competitive situation and I want them to remember and reference what we presented even after having seen presentations by others.

    I follow a 3×6 rule; no more than three bullet points per page, no more than 6 words per bullet. Thus, the PowerPoint is very high level. What I say when making the presentation is what I want the audience to focus on. I want them to take notes, I want them to ask questions, I want them to listen to my answers.

    The PowerPoint deck is a communications tool, not the be-all/end-all message to be communicated. I agree with your philosophy of not handing it out or sending it to your students.

  2. I love this Anna (I think I picked that up right). I agree with everything you say. Here in the UK (at least in my institution) we now have to make our slides available on the virtual learning site at least 24 hours before class. This is for students with learning contracts (i.e. students who qualify under disabled student support) but all students now expect it. I really dislike making my slides available before the session (for the reasons you note, I would prefer not to have to make them available at all) because of my teaching style and the way I unfold a session. Sometimes I say to students – ‘I’ve posted the slides up as required on Blackboard but please, please don’t look at them before class as it will spoil your experience.’ Of course some students use the slides as a replacement for attendance while they go to work (an increasingly chronic problem here). I wish I could take a leaf out of your book and just tell students I’m not going to give out copies but I know I would be in trouble 😦 Like you I always tell students why I’m doing something. Last semester I sent a group of students out of class who hadn’t read an article I’d asked them to prepare – I explained why I was sending them out of class, which I thought reasonable, but it certainly had repercussions 😉 I would do it again!

    1. So far the only thing I’ve been required to provide in advance is a detailed course outline that includes all of the assignments. I’m all for that, because it helps students plan. And I would bend over backwards to provide notes to a student with a legitimate learning contract. It’s too bad that there is no flexibility in HOW you are expected to meet those needs. An email to the specific student would be just as effective.

  3. alienorajt

    Fabulous, Anna, just fabulous! An educator after my own heart, you are! How very refreshing to hear someone using PowerPoints the way they are, in my view, MEANT to be used – and refusing to bow down to the ‘do it all for them’ mentality which so disempowers our young people! Good for you! xxx

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