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‘PowerPoint Overload’ results when we utilize what some have called the ‘Banking Model of Instruction’, wherein we treat our students as vaults into which we will deposit knowledge!  Quite clearly, this type of behaviour opposes much of what we believe constitutes effective pedagogy, yet we continue to employ these tools–oftentimes poorly!

Must we avoid PowerPoint (or my personal favourite–Keynote) or simply change the way we use ‘slide-ware’ in our classrooms?

Personally, I really dislike writing on the chalk board.  I prefer an overhead projector, or better yet, a slide presentation ANY day!  It’s not because I have terrible hand-writing, or am afraid to turn my back to students for a few moments to write something on the board.  I think it has something to do with feeling prepared for a particular type of lesson, and in the situations where notes or other materials DO need to be transmitted to students visually, I want what they are looking at to be aesthetically pleasing.

On the other hand, I have many reservations about using the software (Keynote/PowerPoint) because I’ve witnessed the ways in which it has become a crutch in Academia.  The speaker need not memorize his/her talk or speak from notes because it’s easier to just throw everything up on screen.  The students need not pay attention or take notes because ‘it’s all on the slides anyway’.  This is a dynamic that destroys any hope of real learning emerging from lessons delivered this way.  Much ink has been spilt in the last decade exploring this phenomena, and I think that as educators it pays to have even a cursory knowledge of what has been discovered and continue the discussion of how we can employ these popular ‘slide-ware’ packages for the good of our students.

In true PowerPoint fashion, I’ve organized some of my thoughts below in a format ripe for easy scanning.  Please feel free to engage me in further discussion on any of them by way of a comment on this post.

Purpose – to promote reflection and discussion surrounding our use of PowerPoint (PP) in our classrooms and how this ‘tool’ can be used more effectively to enhance student learning.

The Debate:

“Power Corrupts.  PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.” – Edward Tufte

“What comes out of PowerPoint depends largely on what goes into it; and the tool will likely neither improve poor thinking nor corrupt sound reasoning.” – Jean-Luc Doumont

The Research: According to a large sample of university undergraduates, learning increases when instructors do the following:

      • use PP as merely an outline
      • incorporate discussions or activities into PowerPoint
      • allow time for questions
      • show connections and associations between the ideas presented
      • use PP to help students visualize the material

Before you prepare a slide-ware presentation, ask yourself these questions:

      • What is the message I want to convey?
      • Can I use PowerPoint effectively to enhance/clarify this message?
      • Will I be respecting my audience as I seek to do so?

In Practical Terms…

a) Create your PowerPoint presentation LAST! — Instead, focus on target audience, message, and which teaching strategies to adopt, followed by structure and timing

b) Defy conventions and templates built into the software.

c) Break the mould of standard presentations!  There is no ‘perfect’ model.

How We Can Improve: ‘Alternative Design’ and Narrative/Argumentative Structure

  1. Use Succinct Sentence Headlines (a claim, an argument, a statement) as opposed to a phrase headline.  A clear sentence headline will clarify the slide’s purpose and how it relates to the overall message of the presentation.  Read More…
  2. Follow the headline with visual evidence as opposed to a bulleted list.  Visual evidence is memorable and the combination of word and image leads to efficient and persuasive communication.  Read More…
  3. Include a conclusion slide that remains on screen throughout the question and answer period and contains the key information that you want your audience to take away from your presentation.
  4. Determine whether your presentation should best be conceived of as a narrative or an argument.  This decision is based on an evaluation of your audience and your content and will dictate the structure of your presentation.  Read More…
  5. Each slide should represent a single thought and the audience should be able to grasp easily how each slide relates to the narrative or argument that drives the presentation.  Read More…

Conclusions:

      • We don’t need to stop using PowerPoint (and other slide-ware softwares), we just need to do a better job preparing our presentations!
      • Audience & Message must guide our decision whether or not to use the software and how we go about using the software.
      • Design and Structure are the keys to a successful presentation!

As we aim to prepare compelling, engaging lessons for our students that harness the rhetorical power of technological tools within our grasp, let us take the necessary time to contemplate our students’ experience of the lesson and what type of presentation (if any) will best enhance their learning!

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