The Socratic Method “is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_method ).  Some roots of the constructivist approach to teaching/learning are found in the Socratic Method.  Dr. Elizabeth Murphy stated, “In the constructivist perspective, knowledge is constructed by the individual through his interactions with his environment”  (http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/stemnet/cle.html ).

 PowerPoint appeared on computers in 1987, but became much more functional in 1997.  It was at this later date that text could come screeching across the screen with various other noises to hypothetically entertain and keep attention.  The bells and whistles were cute for some when first introduced, but quickly wore on the audience like a dripping faucet that won’t let you sleep.  PowerPoint slides quickly became text laden, difficult for students to follow, and too easily read by the presenter.  There were, however, advantages to this program including the disappearance of overheads and the ability to organize multi-media. 

 Yes, I jumped on the PowerPoint bandwagon and there was a time when you could have found me reading too many slides to my students, something I now call “Death by PowerPoint.”  Reading slides containing text in an attempt to transmit knowledge will not prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.  This is something Socrates would have never done – he questioned.  Now, my students have access to my PowerPoint presentations ahead of time on Angel and we spend time questioning the information and relating it to real-life examples during class.  I knew I had been rehabilitated successfully when a student who took one of my classes for the first time wrote, “Thank you for not killing us with PowerPoint” on my teaching evaluation.

 This year, I gave all of the new professors in the EHHS Division a book by *Ken Bain entitled, What the Best College Teachers Do.  He stated, “The natural critical learning environment also engages students in some higher-order intellectual activity encouraging them to compare, apply, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize, but never only to listen and remember” (p. 102).  Bain emphasized helping students understand the importance of what is asked.  

 Socrates may have used PowerPoint, but only if it allowed him to present images, videos, and concepts that could be questioned, analyzed, and synthesized.  Now, with the world at our fingertips, would Socrates have used a SMART Board with an Airliner Slate and clickers?

 If you dare to go further with this line of thought, here is a video on TED Talks by education scientist Dr. Sugata Mitra about kids teaching themselves (i.e., Socrates is not needed): http://blog.ted.com/2010/09/07/the-child-driven-education-sugata-mitra-on-ted-com/

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

* Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA:  
      Harvard University Press.    (This is a transformational book that I would  
      be happy to loan you.)