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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Uploading slides before class can help students

Published: October 17, 2014
Section: Opinions

Plenty of professors here at Brandeis use PowerPoint slides to go along with their lectures. Usually this is helpful, because it somewhat relieves the stress and uncertainty of note-taking, especially when the professor wants to move onto the next point without waiting for every student to finish their notes. The important information is distilled into bullet points, which can be easily copied down, and I’m fully in favor of PowerPoints that reflect the content of the course.

The problem, however, arises when the slides are posted after the class. I understand the rationale behind posting them after the class rather than before: Professors want students to attend the lecture. That’s the reason for attendance sheets and participation points, fixtures of high school that haven’t been phased out in college. But it’s also unnecessary. Students at Brandeis University are at least nominal adults; if we decide not to go to class and learn the material through the slides instead, that’s our prerogative.

Professors don’t want that, though. Why give a lecture in person if students are going to use the slides to teach themselves? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a classroom setting?

It does, and it’s a good thing that posting the lecture slides before the corresponding class isn’t any more incentive not to attend then posting them after. Or so they think. Most professors make it clear in the syllabus that the required reading should be completed before class, and that they design the lecture as a review of sorts. So why not put up the notes to accompany and help focus the reading, which would allow students to actually know what they are supposed to be gaining from the reading? If anything, students will be more likely to go to class, having put in the time to get familiar with the material.

Having already taken or reviewed the notes from the PowerPoint slides promotes a more active engagement with the material. What the professor says in class can be used to annotate and flesh out the information from the slides. When students don’t understand something, they are more likely to ask specific questions more or less knowing what it is that they need to comprehend.

I understand that some professors are teaching a course for the first time and putting the slides together as they go, and I don’t expect them to make the PowerPoints available before class. For the most part, though, professors who give lectures that rely heavily on the slides have composed them in advance. The notes are completed, so there’s no reason not to make them available as soon as possible.

I know that I’m more likely to stay caught up when I’ve taken the bulk of the notes before the class. Putting up future slides enables students to get ahead if they have the time, and it is incredibly easy to fall behind due to competing obligations, so having the material available beforehand can be a blessing.

When the slides are put up after the class, it’s tempting to justify procrastination. Having done the reading and gone to the lecture, trying to take notes during class as the lecturer talks too quickly for you to capture the information on the slides, why put in more time? Taking your own notes is an option, but that defeats the purpose of having the slides made available in the first place. The information on the slides are pre-filtered, and that’s supposed to function as a learning aid.

I can’t write the notes down quickly enough to keep up with the slides as they’re presented and the professor speaks, resulting in a piecemeal and disjointed understanding at best. I then have to fill in the blanks after the class, and going above and beyond in my efforts to stay on top of one class invariably means that I’ll fall behind in another, usually one that doesn’t have PowerPoint slides to accompany the lectures and keep up with.

I can’t say this with certainty, but I believe that this is a common experience. Putting the slides up ahead of time encourages better study habits, wouldn’t drastically affect attendance and reduces anxiety on the whole, and professors should keep that in mind when preparing for lectures.