In defence of slides

Yesterday, James Fielder published a blog post here detailing his ‘hate/hate relationship with slides’. I had another piece that I wanted to share today but having read James’s impassioned post I felt an equal surge of emotion – but with a need to defend the slides that make up so much of my working life.

Sigh – life really comes at you fast. One day you’re young and cool and the next you’re dropping everything to write a 600 word blog post defending the use of slides…

But, in my mind at least, slides really are worth defending.

There is an old joke about the (very real) Swiss ‘Anti PowerPoint Party’ that goes something like “Switzerland’s Anti PowerPoint Party has got a cause that could convince millions… just as soon as they find an easy and clear way to communicate their message”. 

Of course, that such a party even exists shows that James is certainly not alone in his hatred of slides. I can see why one might take such offence to them. There are endless examples of people using slides in ways that are wildly off putting, both in terms of design and delivery.

I certainly wouldn’t claim that I am the rare third type of slide-user that James describes as one that ‘builds a New York gallery-esque deck and briefs confidently without superstitiously looking back at their deck like some sort of mythic totem’. I’m fine with the basic templates that come automatically with PowerPoint and don’t want to spend too much time on fancy production. Occasionally, if I feel the content really demands it, I might add a nicely chosen background image but that’s probably as good as it’s going to get.

So, what’s the ‘sell’ with slides? Simply, I think everyone benefits. 

For the instructor, spending time putting together slides for a course means that, next year, when it comes time to teach that course again, you can relax knowing there is something there to turn to and use. Sure, the slides might need a little updating but you are not back to square one. Slides are also a convenient way to pace and structure one’s lectures. It might be great to have the time to rehearse a lecture so slides aren’t necessary but it’s highly unlikely that space will be found in workload models for that.

For the students, the benefits are also clear. Students are often keen to stress some of these reasons – slides are good for taking notes around, they are good for revision, etc. But I also think that there is a benefit of slides that students might not want to fess up to – they are good when the audience stops paying attention. Now, obviously, one hopes that this never happens. But, if and when they do start to daydream about what they’ll be having for lunch, at least they will have the slides to quickly anchor their attention back onto once they’ve decided that it will be beans on toast again today. 

Controversially, I also like using slides in seminars. There aren’t a tonne of them and I don’t rely on them too much. But, again, I find that they are a useful anchor point for discussions. I’ve become even more certain in my use of them in recent years of teaching in mixed-language ability classrooms. I’ve seen that they can be a comfortable point of reference for those that might otherwise feel less confident in their ability to engage. 

So, I’ll put myself proudly in the other faction and declare that I am and shall remain an ardent slidist.

See, what’s not to love?

One Reply to “In defence of slides”

  1. I tend to agree that slides are useful — we cannot roll the clock back to 1985.

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