POWER POINTLESS: TEACHING LITERATURE… BY READING

After one month lecturing in my computer-less classroom, I’ve got used to it and even find myself enjoying very much the absence of a screen. I’ve gone back in time, no doubt, to offer that kind of old-fashioned type of Literature teaching based on massive doses of (my) reading aloud. Dickens helps very much in that his Oliver Twist has many different performance registers –yesterday, I read his famous, sadistic set piece, Nancy’s murder by Sikes, and it was a real pleasure. I’m also bringing in secondary sources, not just a quotation visible onscreen, but complete articles and books, for my students to see and perhaps check out of the library. Students have also been asked to read aloud, as in primary school: one Victorian poem every day and a passage from a Victorian essay. This works reasonably well and is going to go on the increase as we move onto Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I hope it becomes sheer fun by the time we reach The Importance of Being Earnest.

Computers can be put to variety of uses in the Literature classroom: PowerPoint presentations, film clips from DVDs, audio files, and audiovisual documents of all types from YouTube. I am not saying I’ll never use them again at all; it’s just that this semester, and quite by accident, the absence of a PC in class is making me reconsider how and why we use them. Just yesterday I read an article about the growing resistance to PowerPoint, as, apparently, rather than take in information more easily people tend to miss it distracted by the colour and sound effects and, indeed, by the semi-darkness needed in rooms with too much light. And this referred to orders in high-risk military missions… One of my colleagues claims students watch PowerPoint as they watch TV, which is not quite what we want. I feel that PowerPoint consumes too much preparation time and is not used by students for, well, study, which is why I use it very sparingly and mainly to bring images to the classroom. Feature and documentary film clips, which I have used abundantly, can always be watched at home via YouTube, unless one wants in particular to analyse in depth certain scenes, say, in a course on adaptations. In any case, I just hate the whiteboard I am forced to use and its perpetually fading markers…

Also yesterday I saw the first ebook reader in my classroom. Some students, about 6 in a 60 students class, carry their small notebooks with the etext of Oliver Twist and an internet connection I hope they use well. But the ebook reader was a novelty. I’m sure that in much richer American and British universities most Literature student carry either a computer or an ebook reader, or both, but at my blue-collar university, paper is still the rule. Call me slow, but only yesterday did I realise that if everyone used a digital version of the set texts, finding the particular passage we need to comment on would be much easier. I’ve counted 6 different editions of Oliver Twist in class… and no, projecting the etext for all to see is NOT a good idea. Students should be able always to underline and make their own notes on their own copies.

It might even be more positive to increase students’ proficient use of digital technologies that the teacher does not use them in the classroom; rather s/he should recommend the use of particular resources at home or the library, and quite possibly students would use them more actively. There’s a great difference, I think, between being shown a PowerPoint presentation and being asked to check the very sources from which the teacher builds his or her presentation. And we would spend less time getting that PowerPoint presentation prettified…

2 Responses to “POWER POINTLESS: TEACHING LITERATURE… BY READING”

  1. JoseAngel says:

    Now we’ve got more information available at our finger’s ends, so perhaps it’s only fair that we should spend more time prettifying it and making it available for easy consumption in class. Not that it doesn’t have its drawbacks, as you say; PowerPoint presentation is an art in itself, the counterpoint between what is shown on the screen and what is spoken. Or rather it CAN be an art, too many people just plod through the screen reading aloud what is written there. I remember one of those critical articles on Powerpoint habits, it ran: “Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts ABSOLUTELY”

  2. I love producing PowerPoint presentations because, yes, they’re an art but these days I’m also downsizing using them and, in principle, I use my time for them only for conference and seminars. They’re mostly pictures, as I don’t think PP should be used, as you say, to repeat what you’re saying. People should listen!! Anyway, whatever time I’m not using for PP this semester is being employed on background reading… which, I believe, benefits my students more…

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