Learning from Bad Books/Presentations
When I was in graduate school, one of the books our professor assigned was not very good. To my surprise, he admitted that it was defective. “Why,” I thought, “would you teach a bad book?” What I learned was that sometimes we can learn from things that are not well done.
Especially at the undergraduate level, I don’t think I would deliberately assign a bad book. But there are times when I have taken students to less than desirable presentations. Such was the case today.
The university professor who gave what could have been a fascinating presentation on neoliberalism totally misjudged his audience. He dropped terms and concepts that took a much more sophisticated understanding of economic theory, Latin American history, and political science that his audience was likely to have. Within about 15 minutes into the talk, I know that I was lost. I also know that my understanding of economic theory—while meager—is much deeper than any of my students.
Poor PowerPoint slides did not help nor did his use of rhetorical questions to which he actually expected an answer. Initially, a couple of students tried to answer the speaker’s questions but the tone of his response to their reasonable but wrong answers insured that audience members would stop participating—even if they had some idea as to the names and nationalities of presidents of Latin American countries during the nineteenth century.
At about the middle of the presentation, I wrote the following note: “I’m lost, too. Berg” and passed it to a student who passed it to another student who passed it to another…. The amused students politely waited for the speaker to end his presentation.
The students learned a great deal from the presentation; about what not to do as a presenter. Unfortunately, they learned little about neoliberalism.
In reflecting on today’s talk, I am reminding myself of two things. As an experienced professor, it is likely that I can make anything work; even something that is of poor quality. But, more importantly, it reminds me of the importance of making sure that my own class presentations reach the quality that I desire from those guests who present to my students.