The Evil that is PowerPoint Published 2006-04-23

From a recent story from the Ragan Report (PowerPoint in Government) ...

"Edward R. Tufte, a political scientist at Yale University and one of the world's leaders of information design, claims that PowerPoint assaults intelligence in a number of ways, including discouraging creative thinking. By imposing an authoritarian presenter/audience relationship, Tufte claims PowerPoint fails to provide a creative learning environment where a mutual exchange of ideas and information can occur.

PowerPoint has certainly been given a bad rap, and in many cases, justifiably. As Dr. Tufte argues, PowerPoint has the ability to discourage creative thinking. I remember working with one particular classmate during my Masters work preparing for a group presentation. It had been drummed into him that the structure of the PowerPoint presentation should be X with the number of pages per speaker should be Y and we should spend Z minutes on each page (etc.). He was reacting to my suggestion that we try something novel (creative?) with our presentation. Luckily for my sanity, the group sided with me and we developed a PowerPoint that allowed us to offer a presentation where the direction was less linear and prescribed and more open to where the audience wanted to go.

Yes, PowerPoint in its base form does tend to lead the user toward linear (static) presentations. It also has many features that allow for a more engaging style of presentation. I would argue that it is the presenter, not the tool that should be the focus of discussion. Teachers prone to linear, authoritarian presentations will produce PowerPoints that are linear and authoritarian. Teachers who favor a creative classrooms and strive for the mutual exchange of ideas will produce PowerPoints that support their desired learning environment. A few example to illustrate my point...

  • Manny used PowerPoint to create a Jeopardy game. While still "authoritarian" in that there were right and wrong questions to the answers, it was not linear and certainly was fun.
  • Michael used PowerPoint to display focus question key to his lesson. Displaying a question on the projector offered the class a visual clue that he was moving onto another topic ensuring a sense of direction toward his lesson. Each question allowed for discussion where more questions could be raised.
  • Cari, like Michael, used PowerPoint to display questions, but in this case she included follow up slides with answers. She used the question to first elicit discussion from her class. She then would display the "answers" and have the class discuss to what extent they felt the "answer" was the best answer to the question.
  • Rob used PowerPoint as a reference resource to a presentation. During his conversation with the class, question would arise regarding statistics or facts that he had gathered in the PowerPoint. He would then navigate to the slide and, for example, display the gross earnings for UPS last year. In this case, the discussion would dictate which slide to show, not vice-versa.
  • Mark uses PowerPoint to record a presentation on a topic that his students can use as a resource to explore the subject outside of class. This leaves his in class time free for discussion and really understanding the topics. (See Giving the students what they want: Short, to-the-point e-lectures)

PowerPoint is not the problem; the teacher is! PowerPoint is just a tool; it can be used to promote creative classrooms or it can be used as part of a stagnant authoritarian learning environment. Innovative teachers can use PowerPoint to support their innovating teaching methods.