Why are lecturers so bad at making powerpoints?

It’s rare to enter a university lecture theatre without seeing a PowerPoint presentation projected on to either the wall or a purpose-built screen. PowerPoints have been heralded the ultimate learning tool to aid engagement, concentration, and convey key information – very useful when students are ferociously scribbling down what is being said by the lecturer for use during revision time. In theory, these presentations can seriously enhance the learning experience. Why then do the people who are supposed to be the most capable members of society with fountains of knowledge and intellect, create so many dodgy PowerPoint presentations that are about as useful as an umbrella on a windy day.

Lecturers seem to go one of two ways. Either they feel the need to cram word for word everything they wish to say on to one slide, even making the font smaller and therefore difficult to decipher, or they opt for a one line per slide approach taking ‘key information’ to the next level and often going off on a verbal tangent that is impossible to keep up with rendering the PowerPoint ultimately pointless.

Of the lecturers that opt for the ‘more words is better’ approach, there are several categories. There are the ones who race through each slide at a speed that leaves the students with page after page of unfinished notes, and the ones who go through so slowly that they’ve only managed to get through the first two slides before the session is over. At this point the staff member must choose whether to overrun leaving students racing to their next class, or finish on time with the promise to resume where you left off next time. This invariably does not happen.

For those academics that prefer fewer words, trouble brews when reviewing the slides that have been uploaded to the web for ‘convenience’ during the revision period. The student must spend several hours trying to determine the link between the incomprehensible set of notes they have from trying desperately to keep up with the ramblings of the lecturer, and the brief set of words on the slide. There is always a frustration during examination preparations when the student deems something a lecturer mentions as a side note unworthy of being noted down, only to find it a key part of the revision list; if only there had been a coherent PowerPoint presentation to assist revision.

The very worst case is when lecturers opt to use pictures, sometimes as a learning aid and sometimes as an inevitably obscure academic attempt at humour. Ten weeks later the students are scrolling through slide after slide of images and ‘witty cartoons’ with absolutely zero idea of what they were in connection to, or why they are funny.

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