Random thoughts on being a PowerPoint* Pacifist…


Mention the word PowerPoint (PPt) in polite company – and be guaranteed some pretty passionate reactions! In the wrong hands, it can become a coma-inducing lethal weapon. Just think about how often have you heard the term Death by PowerPoint.

The PPt presentation, good bad or indifferent, is everywhere nowadays, and is becoming more common in the classroom. Unfortunately too many students have been inflicted with slide after slide, fuzzy backgrounds, bullet points of text too small to read, looking at the back of the teacher who has turned away to read each slide word for word. (Used like this, PPt ironically represents a step backwards from the formerly ubiquitous overhead projector – at least when reading acetate slides, a teacher often faced their classroom). The mere mention of the word PowerPoint can cause many folk I know to shudder with fear and dread! And that’s before we mention the mountain of wasted paper which is the one-click presentation handout.

So why do I and so many other educators continue to use it, and strive to use it to good effect?

Because it’s…

  1. …there. It arrives bundled with almost every school computer. That means although it costs management, it’s “free” to the end-user teacher and student.
  2. …offline. While online presentation tools like Prezi are terrific, they rely on a really good Broadband connection, and sadly that’s not a given reality in a lot of Irish classrooms as yet.
  3. …really really good technology –really! With a good big screen, and a remote control, it can be a superb piece of teaching technology. Teacher can think out points in advance, bundle and present images, video, questions and quizzes on a topic, thereby not sacrificing any class discussion and learning time.
  4. …able to do things I cannot do – I can manipulate shapes, text and animation to explain 3-D or dynamic items in a way I cannot do at a board with a marker (my subject is Science). It helps me to tell the story.
  5. … intuitive to use. Watch a student open PPt – very few ask for instructions, they just build.
  6. …multimedia – images (still, moving, 3D, cartoon, real), voice, sound, text, monochrome, colour, original or imported – all combined appropriately can appeal to a variety of learners. Batch imports of large numbers of pictures can be made, add a song to play across them all, making it possible to prepare and share instant slideshows of schools events without any fuss.
  7. CESI-Meet…a great story-board. Even if the final product is not to be a PPt presentation, it’s a great tool for preparation. Notes for narration can be jotted down in the preparation pane, screen grabs can be imported, and as with other images can be manipulated, notated and combined before exporting to Photostory3, Movie Maker2 etc. The picture on the right is a mixture of Flickr, ClipArt and WordArt imported into PPt, edited, saved as a JPEG and inserted into a Photostory to upload for a recentCESI Meet Nano-presentation.
  8. …versatile. it can be saved as a Show which open more cleanly and makes for a much smaller file size; slides can be saved as JPEG for export to other documents, or printing as part of a posters. The variety of styles that can be generated is endless, allowing students to make their presentation very much their own.
  9. …got useful add-ons. Two examples are iSpring (available recently as GiveAway of the Day) can be added in to convert PPt to Flash, and a download to embed YouTube vids directly into slides.
  10. …fun. Exploiting hyperlinks makes it interactive. A creative and very generous colleague in the Biology Teacher Design Group has put the entire syllabus into a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Quiz(suspense-soundtrack and all) format, providing much needed revision-time fun for a lot of delighted students and very grateful teachers.

The World’s Best Educational PowerPoint 2009, according to SlideShare, called “A Crime So Monstrous” is truly amazing both in content and execution. Of interest to teachers and students of RE, SPHE, CSPE, Media, Art and Design. Not a bullet point in sight, it deserves to be watched by all prospective PowerPointers! (I’ll leave you to find the World’s worst yourself).


PowerPoint Rules of Engagement

(according to me that is; please add your own in the comment box below)

Decommission the bullet points – and if you need to use them, make them pay their way – customise them to suit the topic?

Use minimum text – if people need to read details, refer them to the primary source

Prepare the slide as a prompt or reminder of the story you want to tell.

Compress photographs to reduce file size – makes for faster uploads/downloads/attachments.

Acknowledge sources.

Use an original / appropriate background – plain is very often the best!


PS – things about PowerPoint you may not have known…

It’s almost 30. (Devised in 1984 by Bob Gaskins and Dennis Austin).

Originally called Presenter, the name changed to PowerPoint for trademark reasons.

PowerPoint 1.0 was released for Apple Macintosh (!!!) but later purchased by Microsoft.

PowerPoint became standard part of Office suite 1990.

More than 30 million PPt presentations made every day (source – Microsoft). Scary or what?

*the main points of this article can be applied to almost all types of slide presentation software!

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