If you scour the internet, there is a significant number of educators who believe that there is no place for PowerPoint presentations in a philosophy classroom in higher education. I wholeheartedly disagree.
Like most things, moderation is the key.
To discard PowerPoint presentations altogether is, like they say, to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And, I happen to believe that throwing babies is not a good idea.
On one side of the coin, I understand the criticism. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Aristotle wrote, “All philosophy begins in wonder.” And it was Immanuel Kant who said that the starry sky above and the moral law within left him in awe. After all, how much existential examination, wonder, and/or awe can occur as students look at a PowerPoint? However, this is the wrong question, and I want to argue that using PowerPoint for presenting necessary information can free up more time in the classroom for thinking, dialogue, and all of the activities that make philosophy beautiful.
Pedagogically, PowerPoint should be viewed as the philosophy instructor’s friend. Why? As with any subject, there is a body of information that needs to be transmitted. After all, it is silly and naive to think that first or second-year university students who have never taken philosophy are going to walk in, take a seat, and wax eloquently about the philosophical problems that have captured the imagination throughout history. In addition, students need to become acquainted with and learn to appreciate the thinkers, ideas, and arguments that have proceeded them. In other words, some basic, ol’ fashion teaching is in order. For example, if you are lecturing on the Pre-Socratics, there is some basic information that students need to be taught (the significance of Thales’ view as the first philosopher and natural scientist, the view of Heraclitus, etc.). Or if you are lecturing about Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology using the Allegory of the Cave, certain diagrams and charts can give a nice visual touch that helps the student understand Plato’s view.
My point is simple: using PowerPoint in the classroom can allow for a more organized, succinct presentation of necessary information in order to achieve the following:
- Build a solid philosophical foundation in the mind of students.
- Accomplish #1 in a more efficient manner.
- As a result of #2, free up more time to allow for discussion, debate, questions, and comments (you know, the stuff that makes any instructor/professor come alive).
I understand that we want students to develop critical thinking skills and learn to think for themselves. It would be tragic if any philosophy classroom felt like an anatomy and physiology lecture. However, this line of thinking can be taken too far. PowerPoint can be extremely beneficial for laying a foundation of basics. Then, once that foundation is laid (Rene Descartes, a foundationalist, would be so proud of me right now!), it can be used as a launchpad from which to facilitate dialogue that would make any philosopher proud.