Using Powerpoint Presentations In Classrooms

My wife teaches university students and she really enjoys using Powerpoint presentations in class³. Most lectures by visiting scholars, as well as research, is usually presented with some kind of presentation. In the math world, it’s usually some Linux-based derivative.

I’ve been going to a class where the professor solely relies on using Powerpoint presentations. I have come to hate them. The reason is that the professor doesn’t understand how much time it takes for students to note down what they see on the slides. Sure, the presentation is made available later on the web, but I like taking notes. That’s how my learning process works. I know that most students work in similar fashion.

The professor shows a theorem, barely explaining it and the rushes through a demonstration. I haven’t even finished noting down the theorem when he’s already midway through the demo. It’s very annoying. The other extremely annoying fact is that the demos, or parts of them, vanish because animation is used in the Powerpoint. Extremely frustrating⁵.

For now, it’s fine because I’m not seeing any new subject matter. Most of this was already covered in an algebraic structures class. I can’t imagine how this will play out when the subject matter gets more challenging. He’s had to slow down already considerably after only one class. I expect that he will have to slow down even further.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s useful to see a professor use a computer in class, for Maple, GeoGebra and Matlab for example. It’s extremely non-useful to have a professor rush through his class to make sure that he’s covered what he’s wanted to cover.

The professor doesn’t explain the theorems. The proofs are barely sketched so students don’t understand why the theorems are important. Most of the students are from the math-education side of things. Already, 3-4 have dropped the class because of the way that the professor is going about things. Losing students is really bad in Asia. If too many quit, the class can get canceled. In the worst case scenario, not enough students are enrolled in the course for it to be offered. This could mean that the teacher will lose teaching hours and become a part time teacher instead.

When a professor takes the time to write stuff on the blackboard, he takes the time to write it himself. That means that he knows how long it takes for people to jot down things. Also, explanations are more thorough this way.

During class, I’ve had to refer multiple times to my book⁶ in order to see what the professor just breezed through. He was already on another theorem. For example, he went through the demo for the Lagrange Group Theorem extremely quickly, without any real explanations. The students are too dumbfounded to respond to his interrogations.

I’ve asked around and everyone thinks that he’s going way too fast and not explaining the theorems enough. Personally I don’t like it, but it’s not a problem until we get to more complicated stuff, like the structures of rings, fields, and Abelian groups.

* * * * *

I’ve optimized my route home from school and it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get home. That’s really neat. Plus, the riverside road in Jonghe is nice to ride on. It’s one-way traffic most of the way and it’s pretty fast. There aren’t many stoplights. It’s actually quite fun and a whole lot less dangerous than taking HePing E Rd. all the way to the Wanban bridge.

* * * * *

A simple graph structure, via Wikipedia
A simple graph structure, via Wikipedia

It took me a while, but I managed to find Lie Algebras and Applications by Francesco Iachello⁸. The book is quite expensive and thin, which is why I’ve been trying to find an ebook version¹. I found one. It’s astonishing how expensive these thin graduate and post-graduate books are. Students are poor and that’s one of the reasons why photocopied books are so prevalent². I haven’t found Laplacian Eigenvectors of Graphs: Perron-Frobenius and Faber-Krahn Type Theorems by Biyikoglu, Leydold, and Stadler yet⁷.

The Iachello book is interesting because it’s an application of abstract algebra, which is really surprising⁴. I tend to think of pure maths as just pure maths. Applications don’t really interest me, but I know that high level math is used in particle and quantum physics, stuff which has always fascinated me. For those applications, I’m frightfully interested.

I was browsing Springer’s website and came upon their latest book in the Lectures Notes in Physics series, Quantum Field Theory on Curved Spacetimes by Christian Bär, Christian Becker, Frank Pfäffle, Nicolas Ginoux, Alexander Strohmaier, Romeo Brunetti and Klaus Fredenhagen. It just sounds amazing. It’s coming out in the beginning of October.

* * * * *

[¹]: It’s a Springer book and available through Springer Link for registered institutions. Or maybe it isn’t. Each chapter is available for $25. That’s very pricey. The book itself costs about $60-80†.
[²]: Actually, this is very prevalent in Asia, not in North American. I’ve rarely seen photocopied book in academic institutions in the west. Most of my books are originals. There is a counterfeit Rudin’s Principles, as well as Asian market Springer Verlag softcovers, but they are mostly bargain deals that I found at Einstein.
[³]: She’s a media, journalism, and public speaking professor. I’ve always believed that presentations should support what a lecturer is exposing to his audience, instead of just being a crutch.
[⁴]: The book is probably above my level, since it’s aimed to advanced graduate, post-graduate, and researchers. However, Iachello spends time laying down some basics, so I believe that it’s going to be very interesting.
[⁵]: I’ve actually never had a class like this. Most professors take pains to make sure that the majority of the students understand the proofs well. In maths, the proofs are paramount to understanding why theorems actually work and how they were developed.
[⁶]: The class book, Algebra [Hungerford, Springer Verlag, vol 73 in Graduate Texts in Mathematics], is really good. It bridges the gap between undergraduate and graduate algebraic structures. There was only about a $5 difference between the softcover Asian edition and the hardcover imported edition. I decided to splurge on the hardcover, as I do not have any English algebra books nor any graduate level algebra textbooks. I paid $38 for it. It’s available through Amazon for $45. This was my most expensive book.
[⁷]: That being said, I’m not sure how much I want this book. I wouldn’t mind an ebook version, but Quantum Field Theory on Curved Spacetimes sounds a lot more interesting. I’m not really interested in graph theory.
[⁸]: While searching for this book, I managed to find quite a few resources for ebooks in the sciences. I’m not going to list them, but if you search, you’ll find it. It’s just a matter of how well you can search with Google. BTW, forget torrent sites unless you want to download complete libraries of science and math books.

[†]: In Taiwan, the price is about $55. That’s pretty expensive for a book.

Author: range

I'm mathematician/IT strategist/blogger from Canada living in Taipei.

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