On Tools and Aspirations

I hear read things about the role of PowerPoint (and related presentation software like Prezi and Keynote and whatever the free equivalents are called) in teaching and I rarely hear anything particularly positive. At the extreme end I hear people calling for it to be ‘banned’ in teaching. There isn’t another end of that scale, I don’t think you’re going to catch anyone advocating that such software is the only thing that should ever be used for teaching ever. There is probably some driving force in that most teaching rooms are set up to accommodate that style of teaching but that’s a different post.

I have to disagree with the people that dismiss PowerPoint out of hand for a couple of reasons but it really boils down to the question of why one would critique the tool rather than the use to which it is put? Software that facilitates presentations…a tool, no more and no less. And people, lecturers and teachers, will largely use those tools to the best of their  abilities. And perhaps they can be coached into better uses of those tools (and sometimes better uses include moderate use and inclusion of diverse tools).

Thing is, PowerPoint allows some lecturers and teachers to teach to the best of their abilities. There, I said it. PowerPoint is probably the tool that makes some lecturers more engaging and helps them present information in a manner that a class can follow and engage on some level with. Lecturers with the capacity to go beyond PowerPoint, to include different methods and activities, greater interactivity and the like, well they’ll do it regardless. And some never will.

When I consider some of the alternatives, and consider some of the lectures I have experienced, I can only conclude that I’m grateful that such tools now exist. I still recall the first year physics lectures, frantically scratching down 14 sides of proofs and derivations, as the professor whizzed through the class. I can recall the lectures printed onto acetates and available in hideously large font to print on the ‘web’.  Or the lecturer that hooked up the role of acetate on to the OHP from decades earlier and scrolled through it, gesturing and talking away, forgetting entirely that the class were trying to transcribe it all. And I’m thinking that it’s probably a good thing that we’ve learned to be a bit better in presentation now.

Now, Prezi on the other hand…I’d ban that from the classroom on the grounds that making a class seasick is not a good way to develop a decent learning environment!

I’ll warn you all that this post is likely prelude to a far larger series of posts on the nature of teaching and how there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.


3 Replies to “On Tools and Aspirations”

  1. Hi Katherine,

    Couldn’t agree more with you! I don’t see the problem with using PowerPoint per se, though there are of course problems with how it is used. I don’t think one can include someone who uses one slide image as a basis for a lecture discussion and someone who reels through 100 slides in an hour in the same category. In other words, it is, as you say, how it is used. I wonder if the origins of its misuse lie in the use of PowerPoint to write lecture notes, rather than to present lecture notes? The former might lead to unintentional content overload.

    I do not understand the obsession with Prezi, and think a lot of learning technologists did a disservice to themselves in promoting its use – a definite case of technology before pedagogy?!


  2. I’d like to agree essentially too. Don’t blame the tool, blame the worker.
    In a narrow and niche defence of Prezi, it doesn’t make you seasick if you are in control. So if you want a convenient tool for laying out blended learning resources in a non-linear fashion and making them available to students then it can be useful.

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