The Lectern


Steve Kelman

Lectern

By Steve Kelman

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PowerPoint and a new generation of visual learners


In some executive education courses I just finished teaching, I made probably the biggest change I have made in my teaching approach for 20 years. In a case-based class, very heavily dependent on class discussion rather than pre-programmed lecture material, I have introduced Microsoft PowerPoint. I don't mean PowerPoint 1.0 with bullet lists in text, but the kind of PowerPoint that younger faculty members are now using all the time: PowerPoint that is filled with photos, images, font of varying size and colors, and so-called “animation” where text and visuals appear sequentially rather than all at once, or zoom in and out on the slide.

Since this is still a discussion-based class, the presentations don’t dominate the class like they would in a lecture, but the way I have done it, they are definitely part of the class.

The fact that I finally concluded that I needed to do this reflects, I think, an important change in the way young people growing up now are learning and interacting with the world, which doubtless has significance beyond academia.
 
It appears that students’ constant exposure to lots of visual stimulation, from video games to more visually intense ads and movies (made possible by digital special effects) to the gradual substitution of texting for talking, is turning the generation growing up into people who interact with the world more visually – including especially reacting to pictures, and to images that change rather than staying static.  My impression is that, more and more, professors need to accompany their spoken words with words on a PowerPoint and preferably by pictures as well, or students don’t register them. 

I first became aware of this change several years ago, when PhD candidates for junior faculty jobs at the Kennedy School started using very sophisticated PowerPoints with images and animation. I realize that I remember some of the images they showed, years later, in ways I might be less likely to remember words.

A junior faculty candidate – a historian – recently gave a presentation that had no PowerPoint slides, though it did have a few overheads with numbers that were illustrating his points. He gave more of an old-fashioned lecture, not guided by PowerPoint. As I was listening, I realized that my own reaction was that his approach seemed “old-fashioned” and something from another era – and I’m pretty old-fashioned in these regards myself.
 
One reaction to all this is that the new technology has made it easier to help people learn in ways they have always more easily learned – the adage “one picture is worth a thousand words” is not a product of the digital age. But I am guessing that these changes we are now seeing with students have implications for workplaces and even public debate. It is my impression that PowerPoint used in government settings is still closer to Release 1.0.  And I am wondering when political candidates or government leaders will start replacing traditional speeches with some version of PowerPoint (remember Ross Perot’s graphs in the 1992 campaign?).
 
I would be curious about reactions from other faculty, or students, about the above.

Posted on Mar 01, 2012 at 7:27 PM6 comments


What Nixon and Kennedy could teach today's presidential contenders

I am preparing a lecture on the US elections that I will be giving the week after next at the Center for US Research Center at Tsinghua. One of the points I wanted to make is that US-China relations are a relatively minor theme in this year’s elections, and that, compared with the Cold War era, foreign policy in general plays less of a role in US politics these days. I had vaguely remembered that the opening statements in the very first televised presidential debate, the first Richard Nixon-John Kennedy debate in 1960, discussed foreign policy, in a way opening debate statements seldom would these days. So I accessed both Kennedy’s and Nixon’s opening statements in the first debate on Youtube.

(You can watch Kennedy's here and Nixon's here.)
 
The contrast was far more dramatic than I had expected.

The moderator, Howard K. Smith of ABC News, specifically announced at the beginning that the agreed-upon topic of the first debate was “restricted to internal or domestic American matters.” Yet Kennedy’s first lines in the very first televised presidential debate ever –- lines that are remembered today -- referenced Abraham Lincoln’s statement  before the Civil War about America not being able to survive half-slave and half-free, and stated that “in the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world can exist half slave and half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom or in the direction of slavery.”

Nixon, similarly, began his statement in this domestic policy debate by saying, “There is no question that we cannot discuss our domestic affairs in the United States without recognizing that they have a tremendous on our international position.” Both of them argued that the reason we needed to be concerned with making progress domestically was so that we would survive the international challenges we faced.

Wait, it gets more bizarre. Both these opening statements specifically mentioned the US competition not just with the Soviet Union, but also with China! Nixon said that “we are not only in a deadly competition with the men in the Kremlin but with the men in Peking.” Kennedy stated that China had always been important because of its big population, but that now as well they were “mounting a major offensive” for influence in the world.

So in 1960, at a time China was a desperately poor country in the throes of a major famine caused by disastrous government policies, both presidential candidates in their opening statements in a debate on domestic policy mentioned China. Today, with China a rising superpower, the candidates don't bring it up.

We are, not incorrectly, told that we are in an era of unprecedented globalization. Author Thomas Friedman told us a decade ago that the world was flat. Yet our presidential politics seem to be more inwardly focused than 50 years ago!

What is wrong with this picture?

Posted on Feb 24, 2012 at 7:27 PM6 comments


What Nixon and Kennedy could teach today's presidential contenders

I am preparing a lecture on the US elections that I will be giving the week after next at the Center for US Research Center at Tsinghua. One of the points I wanted to make is that US-China relations are a relatively minor theme in this year’s elections, and that, compared with the Cold War era, foreign policy in general plays less of a role in US politics these days. I had vaguely remembered that the opening statements in the very first televised presidential debate, the first Richard Nixon-John Kennedy debate in 1960, discussed foreign policy, in a way opening debate statements seldom would these days. So I accessed both Kennedy’s and Nixon’s opening statements in the first debate on Youtube.

(You can watch Kennedy's here and Nixon's here.)
 
The contrast was far more dramatic than I had expected.

The moderator, Howard K. Smith of ABC News, specifically announced at the beginning that the agreed-upon topic of the first debate was “restricted to internal or domestic American matters.” Yet Kennedy’s first lines in the very first televised presidential debate ever –- lines that are remembered today -- referenced Abraham Lincoln’s statement  before the Civil War about America not being able to survive half-slave and half-free, and stated that “in the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world can exist half slave and half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom or in the direction of slavery.”

Nixon, similarly, began his statement in this domestic policy debate by saying, “There is no question that we cannot discuss our domestic affairs in the United States without recognizing that they have a tremendous on our international position.” Both of them argued that the reason we needed to be concerned with making progress domestically was so that we would survive the international challenges we faced.

Wait, it gets more bizarre. Both these opening statements specifically mentioned the US competition not just with the Soviet Union, but also with China! Nixon said that “we are not only in a deadly competition with the men in the Kremlin but with the men in Peking.” Kennedy stated that China had always been important because of its big population, but that now as well they were “mounting a major offensive” for influence in the world.

So in 1960, at a time China was a desperately poor country in the throes of a major famine caused by disastrous government policies, both presidential candidates in their opening statements in a debate on domestic policy mentioned China. Today, with China a rising superpower, the candidates don't bring it up.

We are, not incorrectly, told that we are in an era of unprecedented globalization. Author Thomas Friedman told us a decade ago that the world was flat. Yet our presidential politics seem to be more inwardly focused than 50 years ago!

What is wrong with this picture?

Posted on Feb 24, 2012 at 7:27 PM6 comments


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