In a recent discussion from the NY Times Blog, Freakonomics: A Different Kind of Cheating the argument is made that professors who use PowerPoint to conduct their lectures are cheating students by encouraging them to be passive and bored during class. This is based on an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a movement by one dean in a liberal arts university to "Teach Naked": When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom and an essay in the Armed Forces Journal: Dumb-dumb Bullets. A recent study on this subject published in the peer reviewed British Educational Research Journal is Boredom in the lecture theatre: an investigation into the contributors, moderators and outcomes of boredom amongst university students. The granddaddy of this anti-PowerPoint movement is a piece by Edward Tufte in 2003 entitled PowerPoint is Evil.
So what do I think of all of this? I think that PowerPoint is a tool like all technologies. It is a tool that can be used correctly to organize, enhance, and clarify ideas in the lesson and generate student discussion or activities about these ideas. Or it can be used to just regurgitate the classroom content so neither the student nor the teacher really needs to be there as long as they read the slides.
This problem predates PowerPoint as it is the challenge that exists with all teacher-driven frontal lectures. It reminds me of the classic scene from the '80s movie "Real Genius" where the student walks into a lecture hall full of tape recorders which are "listening" to the teacher's tape recorder located on his desk. If PowerPoint has merely replaced the tape recorder as another method to stuff information into a student's brain then it is evil. If it is tool to enhance student learning then it is not.
Below is a presentation that I have composed on creating effective PowerPoint presentations that hopefully is helpful not "evil". Note that my presentation is short, contains a minimum of bullet points, and includes pictures, humor, quotes, and a video clip rather than my teaching notes. I consider this to be an effective PowerPoint presentation. Do you?
Creating Educationally Effective PowerPoint Presentations: More than just PowerPoint