Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Technology/PowerPoint
|“||There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.||”|
If you want your class to stay awake, take note: the bar has been permanently raised with the new technologies in computer-based presentation design. Forget the overheads and slides. Attracted by the same slick interface and easy learning curve that drew the corporate types, educators and students are employing the presentation software in classrooms in ever-increasing numbers. For some teachers, the computerized slide-show format is deposing the black/whiteboard.
It’s especially good for the visual learner; but while it's relatively easy to learn the basics of the program, it's not always obvious to teachers how to turn a PowerPoint presentation into a useful learning experience.
Unfortunately, good software alone does not make for good presentation design. In fact, quite the opposite! As computer-based presentation design has become more the norm, classrooms are being overwhelmed with productions that seem to use every feature and font that the teacher (or student) can find. You may think your presentation is great and the class is with you as they politely nod their heads, smile, and take notes, but beware: the emperor believed that only a "fool" couldn't see his beautiful new clothes!
One of the criticisms that's been raised about PowerPoint is that it can give the illusion of coherence and content when there really isn't very much coherence or content. Jamie McKenzie, a former school superintendent and editor of the education website From Now On, uses the term "PowerPointlessness" to illustrate the drawbacks of the program.
Too many flying letters, animations and sound effects without seeing much original thought or analysis can be a real issue. In many cases, the medium shoves the message aside. Too many people forget that they are making a presentation first and that PowerPoint is just their assistant. Resist the temptation to make a PowerPoint presentation that uses sounds, colors, pictures, and actions that do nothing to get the message across and do everything to distract the students from the message that you are trying to deliver.
A quick Web search for PowerPoint lesson plans reveals a wealth of sites offering archives of presentations in subjects ranging from art to world history. Individual projects include such subjects as how to dissect a fish, perform the Heimlich maneuver or solve a long equation.
PowerPoint works well in the classroom in a number of ways.
- Present information or instruction to an entire class.
- Create graphically enhanced information and instructions for the learning centers.
- Create tutorials, reviews, or quizzes for individual students.
- Display student work and curriculum materials or accompany teacher presentations at parent open houses or technology fairs. You can set PowerPoint presentations to run automatically during such events, providing a slide show of classroom activities and events as parents tour your classroom or school.
PowerPoint and the Student
"It's a neat tool, but it should be thought of as a supplement rather than as a way of providing your basic research," said McKenzie, who believes the program is often overused in student projects. (McKenzie, 2000) Teachers shouldn't allow a slide presentation to take the place of writing assignments. Students should use technology and things like PowerPoint to summarize their points and put their thoughts in order, but they still must have the experience of actual writing.
Intent on producing students with strong reading, writing and thinking skills, teachers should be on the lookout for thin quality of the student work, with an emphasis upon flash and special effects rather than content and thought. We must focus on student outcomes worth achieving, upon value added rather than glitz, glimmer and gimmicks.
Linear vs. Non-Linear
PowerPoint can be a very effective and valuable tool, but it can also serve as a downfall in the classroom. There are two main differences in PowerPoint presentations: linear and non-linear. Linear is the most common type of PowerPoint used by educators today. The presentation is slide after slide that is watched by the student while the teacher lectures in the background. The other type is non-linear presentations. As defined by Guides and tutorials.com “they engage the user by allowing him/her to control how the presentation is viewed and in what order.” Students are able to move around the presentation in any order which enables them to refer back to previous pages or jump around to retrieve the slides as needed. Many teachers add hyper links to allow the student to retrieve vital relevant information that has been posted online. There are many advantages of using Power Points within the classroom when used appropriately.
Organizing Your Presentation
- Engage and inform
- Think concepts, not just facts and figures
- The Joy of Six
- Six points per slide maximum
- Six words per point
- Phrases, not sentences
Decide what the message of your presentation will be and be familiar enough with it so that you could talk about the subject even without the PowerPoint presentation. Suppose there was no projector or the bulb burned out. If you can’t carry on, it’s probably either because you weren’t familiar enough with your topic or your presentation was loaded with a lot of useless and uninteresting facts that would bore your students to death anyway. Presentations should flow like conversation, not be a never ending list of useless or uninteresting facts. You might as well stand up in front of your class and read your grocery list. As you talk to your class, your presentation should just highlight points. Those points should follow the Joy of Six Guidelines. To keep your slides uncluttered and more importantly, to make it more likely that your class will remember/write down things, try to limit your slides to six points per slide and no more than six words per point; and phrases are easier to read and remember than sentences. You’ll be speaking the sentences.
Consider Your Audience (Class or co-workers)
- Give them what they are expecting
- Give them what they need
- Don’t insult them by reading
- Involve them & ask questions
- Use the B key where appropriate
Begin by asking a few questions to get an idea of the class expectations and experience. Then gear your presentation toward the bulk of the class, but make sure to give enough background to help those who need it, but not so much as to lose a large part of the class. For older students, one of the most deadly mistakes you can make is to read your presentation. The middle and high school students shouldn’t need you for that. And use the B key where appropriate in PowerPoint. What does the B key do? Very simply, it turns the screen black. There will be times in your lecture/presentation that you want the class to focus on you and forget the slides. Hit the B and the screen will turn Black. Hit it again and it will come Back.
Color & Layout
- One background color
- Use contrasting but complementary colors
- Stay consistent with fonts and colors
- Don’t clutter
- Balance your slides
There are some simple design considerations that you should follow. You do want to use contrasting colors that work well together. Your words will be sending one message and your color choice another. Pick a background and stick with it. Constant changes cause your students to pay attention to the changes not the message. The same thing is true of your fonts, their color and size. Keep them consistent. If you change them, people will be watching to see what font you come up with next instead of listening to your message. Keep your slide balanced and remember the Joy of Six.
- Use graphics to enhance or emphasize
- Sound effects should be appropriate
- Sound clips should be short
- Avoid constant movement
Once again, when it comes to multimedia, anything you use should enhance or emphasize your message. Using cute pictures, video, or sounds without thinking about how they will help you get your message across may result in your students remembering the cute picture, but forgetting what you were trying to say. People like to use animations, because they are fun to watch. However, do you really want your students watching animations on your slide or listening to what you are saying?
As The Old Saying Goes, Practice Makes Perfect
- Script the lecture
- Use the notes area and print them out
- Practice paraphrasing
- Watch for like, ahh, umm, ya know
- Be aware of time
A great slide presentation without a well-prepared lecture is like a great recipe in the hands of a poor cook. The final product may be edible, but it’s not going to be a meal you will remember or want to have again. We all have speech habits that we don’t notice, but our students will pick up on quickly. If you are in the habit of pausing and saying things such as ahh or umm, or worse yet, ya know, people will begin to focus on that instead of your words.
The comparative politics courses of the university of North Carolina did a study of PowerPoint usage in the classroom. They found that is was more of a benefit then a hindrance. Surveys administered to gauge student reaction to the PowerPoint presentation show that students perceive increased retention, grasp of material, organization, and enjoyment. PowerPoint also has a low learning curve, allowing busy instructors to integrate the software in their teaching without extensive retraining.
Avoid PowerPoint Poisoning
- Prepare the presentation before PowerPoint
- Know and consider your audience
- Think of PowerPoint as your assistant
- Deliver your material in an interesting way
- Be prepared
So to wrap it up, you should prepare your lecture before firing up your software. Have enough information available so that you can provide your class with what it needs. Choose your design and layout so that it is consistent and doesn’t take away from your message. Remember that the technology is your assistant and should help you, not take over the show. Tell a story, involve the students, use humor, be engaging, but stay on track with your lecture. Talk WITH your students not AT them. Be well prepared when you make your presentation.
Remember, as a teacher, to focus on teaching, learning and thinking. Remember the equipment/software is nothing much more than a set of new tools to support questioning, exploring and creating. It’s all about showing students how to make sense of their worlds, preparing them to think and read deeply and well. Our purpose should be literacy — not illiteracy or e-literacy.
Multiple Choice Questions
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Click to reveal sample responses.
- Becker, Henry. Internet Use by Teachers. 1999. http://www.crito.uci.edu/TLC/FINDINGS/internet-use/startpage.htm
- McKenzie, Jamie. “Scoring Power Points.” From Now On, The Educational Technology Journal. September, 2000. http://fno.org/sept00/powerpoints.html
- "Non-Linear PowerPoint Tutorial." Guides and Tutorials.com. 2006. 10 Nov 2007 <Guides and Tutorials.com>.
- Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides, http://www.writing.eng.vt.edu/slides.html
- Technology Counts ’99. Education Week, 1999. http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/articles/summary.htm
- Technology in Education 1999. Shelton, CT: Market Data Retrieval, 1999.
- Trotter, Andrew. “Preparing Teachers For the Digital Age.” Technology Counts ’99. Education Week, 1999. September 23, 1999. http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/articles/teach.htm
- Jackson, Steven. "The Use of PowerPoint in Teaching Comparative Politics". Benefits. Accessed 17 Apr 2007. Last updated May 1997. http://technologysource.org/article/use_of_powerpoint_in_teaching_comparative_politics