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Theorizing PowerPoint: the new target

PowerPoint: the new target

Ginelle Stutt ETEC 511 Dr. Stephen Petrina, Dr. Matiul Alam & Dr. Franc Feng October 8th 2011

Theorizing PowerPoint: the new target

Hearts often sink in classrooms when yet another student shuffles despondently to the front of the room; all eyes are on Pat as he walks the plank of another oral presentation. The teacher watches, silently, hopefully, as he trudges to the front and beams up his power point: The genetic mutation of fruit flies. Will this one be different...the teacher wonders. Will Pat present with flair? Some charisma? Style? Please speak from the slides dont just read them! And does this happen? Too often not. But lets not blame the tools. PowerPoint, a simple presentation program, is a product of the Microsoft Office system. Primarily it was designed to enable professionals to present data and ideas in a more visually stimulating way. Today, this simple program forms a sizeable part of the educational backbone in schools worldwide as more teachers turn away from white board notes, away from the paper maelstrom, and more towards the presentation style of teaching and shared learning experience. Microsofts PowerPoint program now finds itself at the front of modern classrooms, and at the heart of educational critique. Edward Tufte makes his feeling clear, arguing that PowerPoint encourages speakers to prioritize superficiality in format before content, a situation that, if it is occurring to the degree suggested, is dire (Tufte, 2003). Internationally, PowerPoint is under so much fire that in Switzerland, the issue of its use is currently being scrutinized by Matthias Poehms political party, the Anti-PowerPoint Party, in what appears to be a far-fetched hope of federally banning the use of PowerPoint entirely, partially as a measure of financial austerity. One argument is that money is wasted on boring, time-wasting presentation software that sponges valuable working hours (Myslewski, 2011). Similar to what Tufte may have intended through his sensationalist title, what Poehm actually desires is the advent of meaningful dialogue about how PowerPoint is being used professionally. Few, particularly teachers who ask students to use this tool, and bored meeting members who retreat to their private mental island paradises when the first slide flips on, can fault the need for such dialogue. But, lets not pick on the tools. Being frustrated with PowerPoint is akin to being angry at the weed-wacker that harms a hedge.

Theorizing PowerPoint: the new target

Fact: students should be taught the important, necessary skill of public speaking. They must communicate effectively with peers, teachers, and other members of their academic and social spheres. Graduating students must communicate effectively in classes, presentations, and seminars. Professionals from various disciplines must be able to present ideas to colleagues. Perhaps focus should shift away from how PowerPoint has been used badly to how PowerPoint can actually be used as an effective medium with which to stimulate and engage an audience. It is widely accepted that public speaking is a stressor for many, regardless of age and profession. PowerPoint is merely one simple tool that introduces students to the process of presenting in an organized, interactive way. They must start somewhere and PowerPoint is a comforting visual organizer for novice speakers. In no way should this program be the single weapon in an educators arsenal, but PowerPoint has many basic, effective uses that equip students with skills, and this is too often ignored by critics. Power Point can be used to display images from which students can speak and spark discussion; it can be used to ask peers to conduct quick writing and feedback activities. It can be used to model the need for organized, linear thought progression. Reading remains a linear activity therefore, with the heavy presence of nonlinear presentation on the internet, in films, and in some works of literature, PowerPoint can be considered a simple mechanism for learning about structure. The point is: PowerPoint can be used well beyond lazily loading slides with content and reading robotically from them. Indeed, if this is what is occurring, the title of Tuftes diatribe becomes much less satirical, and the Anti-PowerPoint Party gains one more member in hope of addressing this issue. Let us not blame this useful tool but focus on modeling it with more expertise.

Theorizing PowerPoint: the new target

References

Myslewski,R. (2011, July 5). Anti PowerPoint Party vows end to death by slides: Brain turning to mush? Theres an APPP for that. The Register. Retrieved from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/07/05/anti_powerpoint_party/

Poehm, M. (date unknown). Speech from Matthias Poehm, president of the Anti-PowerPoint Party. Retrieved from http://www.anti-powerpoint-party.com/

Tufte, E.R. (2003). PowerPoint is Evil. Custom course materials ETEC 511. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. (Reprinted from Wired News, Issue 11(09) para. 2, September 2003).