Monday, March 28, 2011

Powerpointlessness

When a powerpoint presentation becomes a goal in and of itself rather than a means to an goal, it is “powepointless.” Equally “powerpointless” is any powerpoint presentation that distracts or bores an audience with too many bullet points, flashy sound clips or images, and/or irrelevant or poorly organized information. Jamie McKenzie, Editor of From Now On- The Educational Technology Journal writes passionately about the dangers of powerpointlessness and gives advice to teachers on how to teach their students to use powerpoint thoughtfully and effectively.
            As indicated above, powerpointless presentations can take on a number of forms. I myself have both created and listened to powerpoint presentations that I would now consider to be quite powerpointless. I will never forget my eight grade computer class in which I learned for the first time to put together a powerpoint presentation. I spent hours on my own and working with a partner adding pictures, sound clips, and using flashy transitions to come up with the most “creative” powerpoints. Though I earned good grades both for my efforts and creativity, looking back, I would have to say that my presentations were often more distracting that informative. Mismatched color schemes, distracting movement and sounds, and pictures everywhere gave evidence to the fact that I spent more time working on the actual powerpoint than I did researching the information I was presenting.
            I have also experienced “well-organized” powerpointessness. When I was in college, a visiting professor would often speak in our chapel meetings. His presentations were always characterized by extremely “busy” powerpoints. While everything on his slides was intentional and outlined his arguments thoroughly, I remember talking to other students about how difficult it was to actually listen to what he was saying on stage because it was so much work trying to follow his powerpoints. Needless to say, though I recognize the value of powerpoint presentations, the use of them by our visiting professor has served as a warning to me to not overuse powerpoint.
            On another note, I know few people who at some time or another have not been bored out of their minds listening to a powerpoint presentation consisting of an individual literally reading verbatim what is written on their slides. This is not what powerpoint was intended for.
            But how can we train students to use powerpoint effectively? James McKenzie provides his readers with a number of helpful ideas in his article, “Scoring Power Points.” In his article, McKenzie encourages teachers that one of the best ways to demonstrate the most effective use of powerpoints is to provide good examples (perhaps those turned in by former students). He further argues that effective powerpoint presentations should be preceded by significant research. McKenzie explains that expectations regarding time management, presentation, and organization of slides should be clearly explained before students begin working on their assignments. This can be done in the form of a detailed rubric that students can refer to as they conduct their research and put their presentations together. As far as organization goes, teachers need to encourage their students to arrange their slides in a thoughtful and flowing way without providing too much information. Rather, students need to focus on developing a thorough understanding of their topics and evidence supporting their conclusions so that they can provide the majority of information themselves (verbally). Powerpoints are helpful for organizing and/or summarizing information, but can quickly become distracting or overwhelming if they are contain too much information. (McKenzie believes the majority of slides should contain no more than twelve words). Furthermore, the students need to design their presentations artfully, selecting powerful images, eliminating distractions, and organizing their slides in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The actual delivery of the presentation needs to be done with conviction as presenters must maintain eye contact and avoid reading slides aloud.
            When used well, powerpoint can be a powerful tool for organizing and presenting information. When used poorly, powerpoint can be powerpointless. Learning to use powerpoint well can certainly be challenging, but I believe it is worth the effort, and that James McKenzie’s article provides very helpful advice on how to best use powerpoint. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how well one is able to organize a powerpoint presentation, unless the presentation is delivered with conviction and tact, it will be ineffective.
            

5 comments:

  1. Thanks Ben,

    You probably will win the prize for using the word "powerpointless" the most!! But, I get your point! It sounds like regardless of designing one well or poorly, unless you can deliver the goods, it's...Powerpointless!!!

    It does remind me of some of my past experiences with powerpoint. It does take preparation and understanding of what you want to convey. The powerpoint should simply enhance what the presenter is trying to say.

    It's presenter, then powerpoint and not the other way around...I get it!

    Thanks!

    Pam

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  2. Ben,

    I am right there with you on my previous powerpoints. I used to think that more was best. I would get frustrated if I couldn't get my sounds in perfectly or my flashing words to be just right. I probably owe my transition to having worked with 2 Admirals though I am far from perfect. It was under them I learned that less is best! I agree, it was a great article and I will reflect on it again.

    Dena

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  3. Ben,
    I can totally relate to your 8th grade experience. When I was younger it was so fun to search for the best images and make presentations a rainbow of colors! I think I enjoyed my own cleverness more than anyone else enjoyed my actual presentation!
    Caroline

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  5. One thing I don't like about PowerPoint lectures is that they leave little room for deviation from the script. They are prepared to run in a particular sequence and don't encourage meaningful digression. There's always the pressure to "get through" the presentation and cover all the material. So if we must use PowerPoint, there should be enough time built in throughout the presentation for frequent interaction.

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