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Professors should emphasize more interactive academics

Most academics think they are married to words. They think images should be the beautiful, young secretary: much more fun, but always left untouched.

For some reason, academia loves words. Whenever we choose classes, we don't ask how many films we're going to see or how many oral presentations we're going to give. We ask how much reading is assigned and how many or how long the papers will be. Notice how that should actually read: "How little reading is there and how few or how short are the papers?"


Professors should use more visual methods to give us information. Princeton offers many courses that deal with images more than words, such as visual arts, art history, theater and film classes. But in history, philosophy and politics classes, the only picture we ever see is the photo on the front of the course packet.

There should be more classes like molecular biology professor Lee Silver's "Human Genetics, Reproduction and Public Policy," which shows a mandatory film each week. True, if you're taking American history, Oliver Stone's "JFK" and "Nixon" might not be the best vehicles for learning the hard facts about political conspiracies. But they can be compelling starting points for discussion. During lectures, professors should use slides, photographs and films more often. Otherwise, we might as well just read the lecture transcript.

We should not only learn to take in information visually, but we should learn to convey it visually as well. Many classes assign us papers because they are presumably training us for our ultimate goal: a written thesis. But who says students couldn't design a more visual thesis, such as a museum exhibition, a documentary, a historical fiction film or play, a series of lectures or even a Website?

High school, middle school and elementary school teachers had the right idea. Oral reports were abundant before college, but at Princeton they're a dead medium. The only reason I remember anything about "magical realism" is because I explained it to my 10th-grade English class using clips from Halloween episodes of "The Simpsons." And the only time I was ever assigned to make a Website was in 11th-grade economics. The program required no knowledge of HTML.

Why can't I do this at Princeton? Instead of spending a half-hour reading my paper, why can't professors take that time to listen and watch as I give an oral presentation using posters, films or PowerPoint slides? They can even have a chance to ask me questions at the end.

Academia should become more social. Because professors don't usually assign visually oriented projects, group presentations are rare. My most vivid memories of assignments before Princeton are the collaborative ones: writing a fictional episode of "This is Your Life" for Ronald Reagan to talk about the faults of his foreign policy; sitting in my friend's basement discussing which scenes from Quentin Tarantino movies would best convey the existentialist themes in the play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead." When I look back at my Princeton assignments, my most vivid memory will be sitting by myself at my computer for so long that all I see are the white rays of light from my monitor gnawing at my corneas.


Professors might argue that the only way you really think about and internalize ideas is through writing a paper. But oral presentations, videos, Websites and other more visual methods of presenting material make the ideas and the projects more memorable.

College is a place to find out what grabs us, what makes us want to wake up in the morning. But we've been stuck in a marriage to words. Can't we give the beautiful, young secretary a try? Zach Pincus-Roth is from Chevy Chase, Md. He can be reached at

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