“Frazzled University Instructor with Epilepsy” and PowerPoint: A Love Story

Until three weeks ago, I was adamant that I’d never use PowerPoint as a classroom tool. As are many things I pretentiously reject, it was perfectly acceptable for other people, but I was happy with chalk and, you know, my voice. More to the point, I hate change and am technologically inept.

And then I started teaching again after a little more than eight months away. Now, as I’ll tell anyone who has the misfortune of asking me how the semester’s going, I’m officially a PowerPoint convert. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but my husband reads my blog, plus I’m still really into those vitamin-infused muffin tops that continue to compose an embarrassing chunk of my diet.

As January approached, I grew more and more worried about how my time off would affect my teaching abilities. It wasn’t so much the chronological gap as it was changes in how my brain works, primarily due to the concussions that I had in late spring and the medications that I started taking while I was on my medical leave, that most concerned me.

The truth, after all, can’t be denied: Topamax, the anticonvulsant that I blame every time I do anything stupid—i.e., very frequently—has cognitive side effects that can make things difficult. I feel more scattered than I used to. Multitasking is also harder.

Armed with the reluctant awareness that I’d need something to keep me more focused, I decided to compromise my morals and put together some slides. After nine or so classes, I’ve already developed a PowerPoint “style”: white space interrupted only by a few example sentences or a lonely verb table. This clean aesthetic was inspired by my inability to figure out any of the advanced features (animations, whaaaaaaat??).

The slides save time, sure, but more than that, they provide a natural framework for the lesson and are remarkably grounding. If I find my mind wandering, I can look up at that giant white screen and remind myself that, as is written in enormous black script (in Italian, which I’ve translated for your benefit), “As children, Giovanna and Silvio would go to the dentist three times a year.” (I’m really good about making sure that the kids in my simplified-Italian-example-sentence universe receive excellent medical care.) And this little nudge is often just what I need.

I’m not convinced that PowerPoint is for everyone or that it’s ideal in all situations, and I’ve been careful to use it sparingly. That said, it’s made a tangible difference, and one for which I’m all too eager to praise the corporate Microsoft deities. This is both fantastic, for reasons that “normal” humans can understand, and slightly disappointing, since it means that my former assertion that PowerPoint is evil was a little off. There are few things I hate more than being wrong.

When recently reviewing the history of the mood-tracking app I use, I noticed one entry that soared up above the rest and tapped to see what was responsible for it. The note accompanying the numerical outlier read only “made PowerPoint slides.”

If this doesn’t speak to the life-changing potential of Microsoft Office, I don’t know what does.

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