A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.Â Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,Â I present one of McLuhanâ€™s observations and talk about its relevance today.Â 300 ideas. 300 days.Â 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (November 18, 1961, age 50). The medium is invisible.
As I was saying no one sees the medium at work. It is invisible. It does its work on us and we go on differently, but do not see that everything has changed.
Me (January 2010, age 57). Another example?
PowerPoint has not only changed the world of work it has also dramatically changed the world of education. Consider this. Most lectures at universities â€“ even in graduate school – are given using PowerPoint. Lecturers (or should I say PowerPointers) like it because they feel more in control of the lecture process. It gives them more confidence to have the slides at their command when they stand up to speak, say, for 1 to 2 hours in a large lecture hall. Students (the PowerPointed), however, also like it because it gives them more control over what they have to learn. How? PowerPoint typically reduces what students have to know for â€śthe exam.â€ť More and more, by tacit agreement between professor and student, what students are required to know is what is on the slides. And the slides reduce what students need to know. Conservatively, the maximum information you can reasonably get on a slide is 125 words. (Half the number of words you can fit on a single type-written, double-spaced 8Â˝-by-11 inch page. But this is far in excess of the ideal of educational PowerPoint. The ideal is 5 to 7 bullet points each with no more than 5 to 7 words (The 5X5 rule or the 7X7 rule). The ideal reduces 125 words to 25 to 49 words a saving to students of 60.8 to 80 percent.
The medium of PowerPoint may be one of the more powerful and unseen forces that has driven the much-discussed decline in university education over the last generation. In education, unlike architecture or design, less may not be more.
Do you agree? Is PowerPoint enabling students to get by knowing less?
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 280-281.