Category: Teaching


Lessig on PowerPoint

Following up on Deven’s recent, well-deserved praise of Larry Lessig‘s Free Culture, I wanted to mention the rather distinct grounds on which I’ve often had occasion to praise Lessig: His use of PowerPoint.

I’ve long had doubts about the the value of PowerPoint as a pedagogic tool. Essentially, I’m unsure what it adds. Often, I hear folks talk about visual learners, but does PowerPoint – at least as commonly used – do much for such learners? Too often, I see speakers use PowerPoint simply to squeeze in more information, with less structure, thought, and analysis, than they might otherwise bring to their remarks. Listeners, I have consequently come to suspect, may actually be learning less with PowerPoint. Perhaps I’m not yet ready to conclude that the crash of the space shuttle Columbia can be traced to PowerPoint, as some have suggested. Given its capacity to bury and obscure relevant information, though, I’m not far off.

Some time ago, however, a friend forwarded me this link, to a talk and PowerPoint presentation by Lessig, back in 2002. (Even if you’ve seen it, I’d encourage you to sample it again, as a truly amazing piece of work.) Basically, by the spare use of select words and phrases, Lessig successfully conveys both his broad themes and a substantial amount of information, in a way that even visual images – let alone line after line of PowerPoint text – could never have done. I’m confident that my absorption of the relevant ideas and material was exponentially greater than my normal (perhaps abnormally low) rate.

Here, Lessig credits someone else with helping to create the final product, perhaps affirming Deven’s point about his modesty. At a minimum, though, he deserves credit for his excellent judgment, in recognizing a good thing when he sees it.