One thing I hear frequently in graduate school is that science is a form of art; it requires creativity. If this is true, are students being actively encouraged to develop creativity in the classroom?
To tackle this question, we must think about how course material is being delivered in most classrooms. Nowadays, PowerPoint is the standard teaching tool due to its efficient and simplistic characteristics. It is understood that a lecture is analogous to a PowerPoint presentation. This has been the case throughout my undergraduate degree and even in graduate school, with the exception of, perhaps, one lecture. Most of the time, lecturers refrain from using extraneous text, unnecessary animation or blurry images on the slides. However, simply providing good slides does not equate with teaching well or encouraging creativity.
The nature of PowerPoint fosters a passive learning environment where lecturers talk at, not with, the students. In many cases, students are drawn to the slides rather than to the lecturer; this is especially true when the lights in the classroom are dimmed to give the spotlight to the slides. The lack of eye contact automatically creates an imaginary wall between the lecturer and the students, discouraging an interactive learning atmosphere. Expecting students to receive information without giving them a chance to digest the materials via discussions or other interactive learning methods limits their ability to be creative and build on this newly acquired knowledge.
Retention of knowledge, which is obviously a prerequisite to developing a creative mind, is also restricted by the sole use of PowerPoint. According to a study conducted at Goa Medical College, India, students who were taught using a chalkboard received significantly higher marks than those taught using PowerPoint covering the same material in pharmacology. Another study conducted by King Saud University in Saudi Arabia showed that students who were taught using PowerPoint and a chalkboard together obtained significantly higher marks than those who were taught with either of these tools alone. While exams are only one method of testing comprehension and mastery of content, these studies provide a glimpse of how the sole use of PowerPoint may not be the most effective teaching tool.
Some people may not believe that teaching styles have a direct impact on students, but I argue otherwise. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a series of workshops focused on developing presentation skills. There, I was surprised to find that all of the presentations given by science students were based on PowerPoint, which I believe is heavily influenced by the lack of exposure to creative teaching in science. Conversely, the majority of the presentations delivered by humanities/social sciences students opted for methods such as chalk talks or lectures without any tools or devices. These methods allow for more “real time” processing of the information and, if used by lecturers, have the potential to inspire students to think outside of the box as well. For instance, I will never forget this one lecture where a professor demonstrated the movement of a bacterium’s flagellum by taking a wire hanger, reshaping it to look like a flagellum, and running around the classroom. Now that’s innovative!
Whatever the method, one thing for certain is that we need to revive creativity in education, instead of encouraging only one way to relay and receive information. Otherwise, we might be creating a generation of scientists who are trained to perceive and tackle a problem in the same manner as everyone else.
- deSa SB & Keny MS. Powerpoint versus chalkboard based lectures in pharmacology: evaluation of their impact on medical student’s knowledge and their preferences. International Journal of Advanced Health Sciences. 2014; 1(5): 10-14.
- Meo SA et al. Comparison of the impact of PowerPoint and chalkboard in undergraduate medical teaching: an evidence based study. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan 2013; 23(1): 47-50.