PowerPoint was conceived and developed as presentation software. Even though it was not originally designed for use in teaching, PowerPoint has become ubiquitous in all levels of education. Excessive reliance on this program can have a ‘distancing’ effect and, in the worst instances, teachers stop being teachers and simply become operators of technology and readers of slides. There is the additional danger that the ‘delivery metaphor’ – in which knowledge is seen as a ‘package’ which is ‘delivered’ to students who have no role in its creation – is reinforced and teaching becomes simply the transmission of chunks or ‘soundbites’. The expectation, sometimes a requirement, that presentation slides should be available online, can lead students to assume that downloading the slides is the equivalent of attending the session, even though they might have missed the valuable interactions, questions and discussions which were unplanned and not evident from the downloaded content.
Edward Tufte1 claims that not only does PowerPoint elevate form above content but also that “The core ideas of teaching – explanation, reasoning, finding things out, questioning, content, evidence, credible authority not patronizing authoritarianism – are contrary to the cognitive style of PowerPoint.” Tufte even goes so as far as to assert that ‘bullet outlines can make us stupid.” Similarly, Adams2 signals the danger of teachers taking up “… PowerPoint’s tempting invitation to reconstruct subject knowledge as bulleted information.” The main criticism is that PowerPoint encourages, almost compels, teachers to adopt linear structures which can result in passive and surface approaches to learning rather than the development of higher-level analysis and critical thinking.
Towards a more creative use of PowerPoint
The best use of PowerPoint involves using it in a way which provides a framework for the session rather than carrying all the content. The judicious use of bullet points can be a useful device for summarising the key points of a topic or of a learning session. You should remember to include students’ summary points otherwise it just gives the appearance that the teacher knows all the answers. PowerPoint can used successfully with an interactive whiteboard to add students’ points and convert them to text.
Be creative with PowerPoint, it can do many things which many teachers do not know about, for example: action buttons; animation; incorporation of video and sound; hyperlinks to other presentations, programs and websites. Try designing a PowerPoint package which is non-sequential and gives you the opportunity to go to different places in the presentation using action buttons. You can develop packages which use ‘drag and drop’ as matching exercises and invite people up to use them. You can also use reveal techniques to uncover answers to a quiz or an assessment or to uncover concealed information. Using action buttons you can devise assessments or quizzes where people select an answer to a question and the button reveals the right or wrong answer with explanations and further information. You can download quiz timers and question ladders to make presentations more interactive.
Be daring! Prepare a lecture or teaching session that contains no PowerPoint at all. This will challenge you to sharpen up your teaching and become something more than a reader of slides.
Design hints for PowerPoint slides
- Font size should be 24pt minimum. Design templates are often set with 40pt for titles and 28pt for body text; this can be too much, so feel free to adjust it
- Avoid too many lines per slide, perhaps 6 maximum. Line spacing should ideally be 1.5 or even double.
- Avoid too much content. Slides which are crowded with text and/or graphics can be too ‘noisy’ and make it difficult for students to see the main points. Remember – less is more!
- Tufte, E. R. (2006) The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching out the Corrupts Within (2nd) Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press LLC
- Adams, C. (2006) PowerPoint, habits on mind and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies 38 (4): 389-411