A progressively more common trend over my time at Salt Lake Community College has the replacement of academic papers with student-given presentations, typically via PowerPoint, in the role of major projects.
In one of my classes, a major assignment is to simply restructure a paper for which the research has already been conducted into a presentation. (I should clarify that this was not a history class, not a class in communications or public speaking.)
Another class, which I dropped early in the semester, had presentations as all of its major assignments. Being an online class, none of the presentations were actually delivered, but simply submitted (complete with speaker’s notes, of course), hastily evaluated, and condemned thereafter as forgotten.
This is no doubt a reflection of a policy decision made by the academic hierarchy at SLCC, and I concede that its rationale may be valid — I don’t disparage the importance of public speaking. However, I fear that in doing so, the concessions made greatly outweigh the benefits.
First among these is a skill that I would argue is more important: writing.
The production of coherent narrative of any sort requires more thorough, deliberate communication than simply typing out a PowerPoint slide — and the latter extemporaneous style reduces students to reading from slides, face transfixed on screen, voice drained of life.
The skill of writing transcends discipline: writing is the soul of literature and journalism, yes; but it is the voice of the sciences, the lens through which we view and discuss art, and the discourse at the heart of philosophy as well.
An equally critical compromise resulting from the normalization of this format: presentations are limiting in a manner that fails to engender novel communication.
Further, presentations are conformative to the mean: all of them, regardless of topic, tend toward the same structure, voice, and even content (within a given subject). They foster neither novelty nor developed argumentation. They are, of course, easy to grade, but there exists little variance in achievement, nor feedback beyond “too many words” or “too few”.
I hope that one day this practice will be seen more objectively: at its best, valuable when well-refined, and used to genuinely share information; at its worst, trite and sterile. For the present time, however, simply reversing the trend of this frivolous medium overtaking the written narrative would be a victory.