Friday, September 03, 2010

Does PowerPoint Master You, Or Do You Master PowerPoint?
by Jason Fertig

Poor PowerPoint use makes good speakers bad, and bad speakers worse. . . .

PowerPoint can enhance a presentation if integrated properly. Compared to the old slide carousels, PowerPoint is much more efficient for adding images to enhance a presentation. Speakers no longer have to struggle with sequencing tiny, fragile slides in order and lugging around cumbersome projectors. A simple upload from portable storage now produces an endless stream of images. However, as most of us can attest, the majority of PowerPoint presentations across classrooms project much more than pictures. That practice does more harm than good in most cases.

I remember the first time I used PowerPoint in class. The minute my first slide went up, the students’ heads went down and the pens started moving. Pavlov would have been proud, but I was not. Regardless of how many different animations and builds that I tried, the result was the same. As I proceeded to talk, students were more focused on copying down the slides than listening to me speak. If students were so focused on writing down slide contents, why did I have to open my mouth? It would be much easier to walk into the room, play some elevator music in the background, and click through a series of slides.

How to keep students from getting fixated on slide content? Some have suggested that a professor should provide slides beforehand, or that lectures should cover additional information not included on slides. But those are just band-aids to a larger presentation problem: presenters use PowerPoint slides as speaking notes.

Unfortunately, the institutionalized norm across colleges is the projection of the professor’s speaking notes, rather than well-planned visual aids.

Read the whole article.


I concur with Jason Fertig. Poor PowerPoint usage does make good speakers bad and bad speakers worse. But I would add, that poor overhead projector usage did exactly the same to the same people.

The issue is not whether a teacher should ever use PowerPoint any more than whether a teacher should have used the overhead projector. Instead, the issue is how the teacher uses PowerPoint. Consequently, the issue is whether the teacher masters PowerPoint or PowerPoint masters the teacher. All teaching tools must always remain tools, mastered, of course, by the teacher, and never the other way around.

I took lessons from one of my students many years ago, now, when PowerPoint first emerged in the education realm. She taught me well. I learned how to master the tool just as I had learned to master other tools of the trade. Consequently, I have never used PowerPoint to deliver my lecture notes to students, with one possible exception.

Whenever I have used PowerPoint in my teaching, I have used it with well developed visual aids, graphics, charts, maps, action maps, etc. I have found PowerPoint very effective for teaching language, in particular, Koiné Greek. It can spare me a lot of time otherwise writing paradigms, sentences, etc. on white boards. All our chalk boards have been replaced. (I still prefer chalk boards over white boards. In my opinion, white boards are not necessarily an advance over chalk boards. Dry mark pens are almost always dry when I want to use them.)

Actually, I have a confession to offer. My best teaching practices have been learned from those who have taught me throughout my student years. I could point to many, but one stands out among the rest. That teacher was E. Holger Moberg (see here). He taught me mathematics. I did not go on to major in math, but history. Nevertheless, Mr. Moberg's teaching methods and skills made trigonometry my favorite course during my senior year in high school. I owe much to Mr. Moberg. Not a day of teaching passes that I fail to employ some technique that Mr. Moberg used in his classes when he taught me. While he taught math he taught us so much more. Because he mastered his teaching tools, he took time to explain some of his techniques, how to implement them, and how to use teaching tools. Mr. Moberg taught me for life, for all of life. Thank you, Mr. Moberg!

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