Powerpoint in class.

Dear UCLA Law Faculty:

I’ve had four classes at law school that have been really boring. I don’t mean occasionally dull, I mean memorably, continually, numbingly boring.

And I’ve had three classes at law school that featured daily Powerpoint presentations.

100% of these classes appear on the most boring list.

Boring isn’t a synonym for bad–the worst classes I’ve had at law school were not boring. They were evil in other ways.

Based on the best available data, I’m prepared to theorize that Powerpoint-based classes are always boring. As a public service, I call on you all to stop with the freakin’ Powerpoint already.

I can see the appeal of Powerpoint. It helps you organize your lectures, it saves you from having to draw on the board, it lets you make snazzy infographics like the one above.

But let me give you an audience member’s perspective. As a threshold matter, has anyone really ever sat through a Powerpoint presentation they enjoyed? Have you? If you’re at a faculty meeting and someone flips on the projector, do you think “oh, goody”? No, of course you don’t. You probably wish you could slink away unnoticed and write some footnotes.

Now, think how it is for us. Every damn day we come to class, we have to endure another Powerpoint. It has an accretive soul-destroying effect, for which the only reasonable antidote is Spider Solitaire. Can you blame us?

Some of the specific problems with Powerpoint:

1. It’s overly rigid. The best law classes have a give & take between the students & the prof. But when you use Powerpoint, it dictates the form, sequence and substance of the class. You can’t really go out on a tangent from slide 7 because you’d screw up slides 8, 9, and 10.

2. It’s much more helpful to you than us. I feel like these Powerpoints are mostly organizational tools for the prof. Maybe you should put it on YOUR laptop so only YOU can see it during the lecture.

3. It’s stretched beyond its useful limits. Sure, sometimes it helps to have a visual aid, or put up a segment of a statute, and for that Powerpoint can be useful. But 90% of Powerpoint slides don’t really need to be up there. They just act as connective tissue between the 10% that are useful.

4. It’s fatiguing to look at & distracting. You are the star of the show. You have the skills and experience to engage the audience purely through speaking. Why do you need a software program that’s well-known as the favored sanctuary for uncharismatic morons? Powerpoint in class is like TV in bars–regardless of how interesting the conversation is, your eyes keep moving to the screen, and you zone out.

I had one prof who not only used Powerpoint for the whole lecture, he actually stood in the projector beam. This made him look physically pale and 2-dimensional against the screen, as if the slide were absorbing him. It was creepy.

5. Your slides are not exactly miracles of effective information design. Nuff said.

6. It makes you look boring too. In all three of my Powerpoint experiences, the prof was plenty smart and interesting. But the Powerpoint was so bad that it infected them, and made them seem much duller than they were. If Powerpoint enhanced you, I’d say go for it. But it never does. You are smarter, funnier and better looking than Powerpoint. When you hang out together, it just brings you down.

7. It’s not really what I’m paying for. If I got tickets to see Barbra Streisand and she sang off a teleprompter the whole evening, I’d feel like I was deprived of some of the performance that I bought. Similarly, to see excellent profs hobble themselves with Powerpoint makes me feel like I’m getting a slightly inferior product compared to the old-school undiluted version.

In sum: you don’t need it. We don’t want it. Let’s dump the chump and move on.

14 Sep 06

matthewb @ ucla
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