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March 08, 2005



"Today, at 8:50AM, I lectured on the 20th century drop in age of menarche (from over 16 to under 12), and its impact on American girlhood."

How interesting! Can you share a nutshell summary of what the impact is?

Frankly, my first thought was that it didn't seem like something that would have much significance-- but then, I remembered how girls in my junior high were told that they could sit out gym class during menstruation. So maybe that (culturally imposed) sense girls sometimes have of being somehow disabled by their development into adulthood starts earlier with earlier menarche.

Hugo Schwyzer

Absolutely. I'll post a longer thing on it another time, but just imagine what an extra four years of biological girlhood would mean. It's not just menstruation -- it's the fact that girls developed in every way (breats, hips, etc.) so much later. Those vital four years meant much in the way of protection.

I will post on it.

R. Alex

Please, please, please do not worry about not knowing what PowerPoint is. The only thing you need to know about that program is that, from a professor's standpoint, it is the pathway to laziness. If I were to separate my college professors, those that used PowerPoint were almost universally at the bottom.

Enyo Harlley

R. Alex is right about Powerpoint; it's a terrible teaching tool. I'm a student at the University of Toronto--with 50,000 students at my campus alone, you can imagine the variety of different professors--and classrooms!--I've had. All the very best have been amazing lecturers; the worst have had poor lecture skills. No amount of technology has ever made a difference to what I've gotten out of a class, and good profs tend not to use much. I've heard pretty much the same from every student I've ever talked to, no matter what program they were in.

The other drawback of 'smart' classrooms? They tend to experience a lot of malfunctions. In the words of my first-year French professor:
"La technologie, ca fait toujours des histoires!" I'm not sure how to translate that idiom into English, but she was absolutely right.

From what I've seen on your blog, I wouldn't be surprised if your students enjoyed your lectures--I know I enjoy reading what you have to say, even if I don't always agree 100%.


check out this silly blog I happened upon:


Jonathan Dresner

I would get more use out of our "smart" classrooms if the computer logins were not particular to the classroom stations, so I can never remember my password from semester to semester (and they change it sometimes, too). On the other hand, I adore the document projector, which has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in converting my collection of book-bound art and images to slides or transparencies.

I use about one movie/documentary a semester, maybe: I'd use more if I had a few free months to review materials in our library and pick out the useful ones; I did that at the last school I worked at, but haven't gotten around to it here. But the quality of projection and sound from built-in equipment is vastly superior to wheeling in an AV cart.


"One thing that would improve college teaching immensely would be mandatory drama and speech classes for all new faculty... Teach them to make the passion that is surely inside them manifest in their words and in their movements. Teach them the forgotten art of the genuinely engaging lecture... prefer a professor who is willing to bring his passion and energy into the classroom."

amen! could you possibily spread the good word among your colleagues. not meant as to offend any prof. in particular but i am really annoyed by how i hear about certain prof's that DO (god-forbid) make their classrooms interesting and when i go and try to add the class--it is alrdy full to the brim. and the kicker is that i have to find a subsitute and usually the class i end up with is a prof that seems to have lost any contact with teaching. period. it was though they got into the profession for some other unknown factor (dear betsy, i cannot for one figure out what other reason it would be for) and they are solely there to torture and make me be put off by the subject. for me to remain walking the planet with a tainted (introductory course at times too) acquittance
with the curriculum/subject.

sigh, it would certainly insult a lot of prof's if word got out...that passion was needed. i know effort needs to be shown from the students side as well, but still.


oh and i think with the razzle and dazzle of technology could only enhance something that began with being good, somehow there is some way to incorporate it. but you would be very hard press to save something that is alrdy rotten from the start--its almost like they are using the dazzles to act as fillers to make up for something that they are missing, to savage it. :(

Chris Tessone

I am sick and tired of having folks with doctorates in education (Lord help us) tell me that "lecturing is an outdated teaching style."

Amen, Brother Hugo. The most effective classes I had in college were ones where the professor actually lectured most of the time and invited discussion only where it was genuinely warranted. The prof who taught my favorite course, one on religion and politics, was only slowed by being a little quiet and not very commanding—when you tuned into what he was saying, you knew you were getting your $80 worth (or whatever the per–class session figure came out to at my cush liberal arts college).

Sadly, I had far more courses on the humanities/social science side of campus that relied on either PowerPoint slides or totally pointless class discussions about topics we didn't yet know enough about to discuss!

So keep on being a Luddite, please, for all our sakes. :-)

Fred Vincy

I am under 40 and use PowerPoint very rarely -- for the most part I share your skepticism about it.

Ed Tufte, who specializes in the visual display of information, has a terrific essay smacking down PowerPoint. The summary is here: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp


I'm doing my graduate study in information and library science, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of my professors has used Power Point at some point--for the most part, in every single class. If you as a student do an in-class presentation, you'd better have Power Point. (All our classrooms are "smart" classrooms). By and large my profs don't do the stupid powerpoint things, but still, it kind of drives me crazy.

My best professor is one who's been a professional storyteller for years. He also only rarely makes use of PowerPoint.

La Lubu

Hugo, would you consider the "smart" classroom to be a form of de-skilling of the teaching profession? And if so, are there other forms of de-skilling of teaching?

I wholeheartedly agree that teachers should be trained in public speaking. The classes where I learned the most had animated, interested teachers who brought their subjects to life with their lectures....and used a combination of lecturing and class discussion. Most of 'em gained their speaking ability in the crucible of the classroom, and it took years to develop (yes, I asked. interesting answers too!). I think maybe some folks may have a latent ability to become good speakers, but are maybe intimidated by the process, or don't even know what makes a good speaker. Hell, we teach people to swim or play guitar, why not teach oratory?


Let me suggest that the reason that the lecture style works in college is that folks who go to college are the ones who learn that way. The ones who don't learn well that way... either don't go to college or become part of the distressingly high statistic of those who 'flunk out'. So.. in a sense it's a bit elitist to require kids to learn the way I teach or .. else.

Having taught high school science for 14 years, I'm well aware that 'lecturing' is a bad word in education, even though it's the most effective method available for transmitting information to a room of people. Lecturing allows disinterested students to 'check out'. You, Hugo, probably have very few disinterested students.

I am in agreement with you about powerpoint. It is just another lecture tool... just now we can call it technology.




I agree wholeheartedly, although an overhead projector is often useful. It allows one to remain facing the class while writing any notes or drawing any diagrams that are needed. Since you're still facing the class, it's easier to project your comments to them than it is if you're facing the board. Besides, when teaching high school students, one needs to keep a sharp eye on them. ;-)

As a geometry teacher, I found that I can do most of my drawings and diagrams ahead on overhead transperencies, giving me more time to explain to my students the reasoning behind the postulates and theorems used in the proofs, and more time to work through the process of developing proofs.

But the overhead projector is about as far as I'm comfortable going into technology in a math classroom. Heaven forbid that technology over-run the social sciences departments! The class discussions are what I always enjoyed the most.


I have always thought that the perfect way to spend an evening would be to sit in a comfortable chair with a good cup of coffee while listening to some knowledgeable person lecture on a subject I find interesting.

Unfortunately, my plan to turn the local university into the world's largest (but coolest) coffee house has failed miserably. Still, I think that investing in some training for professors and more comfortable classroom environments (i.e. better chairs) would go a long way and might be money better spent than money spent on making "smart" classrooms.


First of all, I agree that drama lessons would hlep. I joke that I am a thespian manque, and the classroom is my opportunity to perform. I'll have to tell you about the trick with the chocolates ....!

However, let me put in a peep for powerpoint as very approrpriate in some fields. I'm a scientist, and trust me, the ability to be able to show and even better, rotate molecular structures, or build up a complicated pathway legibly and piece by piece, is INCREDIBLY helpful, and far better than what we could do with the overhead projector and a white board. Also, I can print out my powerpoint as handouts so that the students can follow along and make notes.

I have a lot of older colleagues who spend vast amounts of time with scissors and photocopies from the journals, creating collages that they xerox onto the overheads, losing a lot of coherence (let alone image quality) along the way. You can always tell when their lecture is coming up because they are standing at the photocopier surrounded by scraps of paper they are taping onto the platen.

I absolutely agree about avoiding gratuitous powerpoint and unnecessary effects. I HATE the fancy animations, transitions, and noises. (It reminds me when people started to be able to make color slides more easily, instead of the B /W or white on blue of the earlier age--we had a riot of unnecessary and distracting color!) And, unless you are careful in your presentation design, it can lead to a distancing effect for the students--so I go to great lengths to keep lights on and move around and engage them.

But no scientist can give a lecture or seminar without some form of projection these days, at least in advanced classes, because the mantra of science is SHOW ME THE DATA. In fact, it's very disconcerting on the rare, rare occassions that I hear a science talk that is data-free, because our conditioning means we scientists aren't very good at listening without the visual crutch of slides or PPT!

Funny how different fields vary.


I agree with much of what you said. I'm not much of a lecturer - I see myself as a 'coach' or a 'facilitator of learning', and use brief lectures and lots of discussion. My classes are alot like book clubs.

I use technology when it seems useful - videos are good for helping students see other cultures (anthro), Power Point is hardly ever useful unless I need to show graphs. Overheads are better because I can write on them.

My best technological discovery of the last year? Scissors, magazines, and paper. We make popular culture collages and discuss them (how are men and women socialized? how are messages about gender similar btw secular and Christian media?) Students like the visuals, but cannot be passive.

Trish Wilson

My son is a computer whiz, and he takes as many computer classes as he can. He learned PowerPoint in fifth grade. While it probably is a lazy teaching tool, I think it's a handy skill to have.

I agree with your statement about teachers taking drama and speech classes. I would extend that to requiring students to take those classes. Public speaking is an excellent skill to have. Plus, drama classes can help shy students come out of their shells. They teach you alternative ways of thinking and by playing characters different from yourself, you learn other points of view. Students also get an education in fine dramatic literature when they take drama classes.

Trish Wilson

One amusing point, Hugo - you're talking about not wanting to introduce too much technology in the classroom on a form of technology - the Internet blog. ;)

Regarding wireless Internet access, it is a good research tool if you know how to use it. I have found mountains of studies and research by using the Internet properly. You learn to tell the difference between valid research and junk. I wouldn't have been able to write a lot of my articles if it weren't for the Internet. If I didn't have access to the Internet a lot of this research would be either lost to me or difficult, costly, and time-consuming to find. So, there is an advantage to having Internet access in the classroom if the students and teachers know how to properly use it.


You might pass on to your fellow teachers that reading off PowerPoint slides tests *very* badly for juries. People zone right out when you are reading something that is right in front of them on a screen. PowerPoint is a whizbang tool for some things, but it is a tool--not a solution.


Thanks for some great feedback, folks. I am glad to hear that others in the profession are equally leery of Power Point and its friends -- but I do understand how it might be very useful in certain fields.


Hugo, would you consider the "smart" classroom to be a form of de-skilling of the teaching profession? And if so, are there other forms of de-skilling of teaching?

La Lubu, I don't know what Hugo thinks, but I'd say the answer is a resounding no. First of all, "smart" classrooms are hard to figure out! At least for those of us with Luddite tendencies. It's a new skill we're all supposed to learn. Secondly, integrating all this stuff into teaching, and doing it well, is also a new skill we all need to learn. Powerpoint, etc. don't teach for us; they need to be integrated into existing teaching methods if they're to be any good.

I use low-tech powerpoint slides on overheads (so I can write on them) to outline my lectures sometimes. I don't rely on them myself, and I'd rather not use them. But some students, I think, have managed to convince themselves they can't follow a lecture unless they have a series of visuals to go with it. Maybe it's because I'm not clear and organized enough--in fact, in some cases, I'm sure that's part of the reason--but part of it is they've become far too accostumed to silly powerpoint slides, and now they're addicted.


You bring the most incredible energy to the classroom!!__ As one of your students, I am grateful for the opportunity to be the recipient of your intellect and passion. __If only students could counter your vitality in teaching with equal fervor for learning, then teaching could be as rewarding for you as it is for your students!...I know that after reading your post I will make an effort to bring out the best in me as a student. I will try to equal your passion in teaching with equal passion for learning....(I've started by looking up luddite in the dictionary)


You know, this thought just occurred to me...Do you think that the reason your students don't interact more is because they are intimidated by you?? Just a thought...If a student goes out of their comfort zone to be assertive and the teacher repeatedly disapproves, they might become discouraged, even fearful. Just a thought....don't know if this pertains to your classroom situation or not. As a student I take risks, but I don't like going out of my comfort zone. If I 'do' go out of my comfort zone I want to make certain that the teacher is going to be receptive.

The Birdwoman

I love PowerPoint, when it's used properly. Can't stand all the whizzing animations and things. And the default yellow-text-on-blue that lazy people use is just horrible on the eye. But, in my experience, the lecturers I've had who used no visual aids were by far the worst. This is probably a symptom of lecturers needing to be taught voice skills etc, as you mention.

I moved from a university environment to a classroom, and I must admit I still use PowerPoint, although mostly to show interesting pictures and diagrams rather than text. Today I used PowerPoint in a lesson about fossils with an unruly class of 12-13 year-olds, and it held their attention in a way that chalk-and-talk usually doesn't. We also have wireless internet in our department at school, and that's a godsend when I want to show them a Flash animation (for example) on the Web. I'm all in favour of high-tech teaching. It can be a fantastic motivator. But, like "traditional" lecturing, it requires knowledge, skill and training.

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