Is it really the fault of Powerpoint?

Recently, I've had a number of requests from schools for ‘something else for teachers to use other than PowerPoint’. It seems that this mainstay of ICT in education could be labouring under a perception that ‘it's had its day’ and ‘we need to move on’.

Why such a change of heart for what was once the ‘darling’ application of teachers everywhere? Let’s not forget that PowerPoint probably introduced many teachers and students to multimedia. It introduced the idea of animation to many who felt that being able to move and control objects for the first time was a joy. Do you remember the thrill of your first ‘flying’ animated title (with sound, of course)? It paved the way for data projectors and Interactive whiteboards in the classroom. So why is PowerPoint being frowned upon in some circles?

Well, this video may provide some insight. It's really quite funny, but sadly, it rings true. How many times have we all sat through presentations that show these features? Worse still, how many times have we seen them in lessons where teachers think that they are ‘enriching’ learning?

In response to this, I have collected some great resources that I think show the real value and flexibility of PowerPoint.

During an Innovative Teachers event in Helsinki, I was listening to a presentation that was really interesting. Despite this my concentration span started to drift and my eyelids started to get heavy. Then suddenly, I was alert and wide awake. I realised that the  background colours on the presentation had changed. Then I remembered the work of the presenter I was listening to, Dr Ole Lauridsen, who has produced research around the use of PowerPoint and learning styles. Part of that research involves how the human mind perceives colour. Did you realise that we see RED in the foreground and BLUE in the background? Also, imagecolour has an effect on attention span. In order to maximise an audience’s attention span, the main colours of a presentation should change with the mind’s natural levels of attention, changing from blue and red, to yellow and orange, through to red and green. Admittedly this makes the presentation look strange, but it works. Why not try it with your students?

The Microsoft Office and Learning Styles community on the Innovative Teachers Network  has a template to download with slides in the relevant colours. You can also download Dr Ole Lauridsen’s guide on ‘Learning Styles and PowerPoint’ from this community.

One of the criticisms of the use of PowerPoint it seems, is the sequential direction that a presenter must use to take the audience through a presentation. Plex for PowerPoint can change that. This simple plug-in for Office 2007 allows you navigate as though they were on a large canvas. You can move from slide to slide in any direction you want and zoom in and out of slides. This gives you a lot more flexibility in how you respond and deliver information to an audience. You can download Plex for Powerpoint free HERE . Check out how Ollie Bray, our Innovative Teacher from Scotland has begun to use Plex in the classroom on his blog

Many teachers want to include Flash-type features and automation in their presentations. We often forget that as part of the Office suite, PowerPoint is programmable through VBA and macros. I found a great book that shows how you can use visual basic for applications to create highly interactive presentations for your students. Powerful Powerpoint for Educators by D. Marcovitz’ is well worth a look if you are interested in expanding your skills, have a look at the book’s companion website. Some teachers have always wanted to create drag-and-drop like activities in PowerPoint, in order to make interactive activities for whiteboards. This can be achieved through the use of a simple macro. In the shared documents area of the Microsoft Office and Learning Styles Community you can find two drag-and-drop example files that explain how to achieve this.

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Currently, most of my engagement with PowerPoint is through supporting Teachers in creating Virtual Classroom Tours (VCTs). This uses PowerPoint slides not to present, but to hold and store information. The slides in a VCT contain embedded documents that guide teachers to reflect, share and record their use of ICT in the classroom. Teachers can then further embed documents and resources, to create a final document that is a comprehensive portfolio of work that supports their professional development. Using PowerPoint to create a digital or e-portfolio in this way can be easily adapted for a wide range of scenarios in a school, such as training materials, revision guides and coursework.

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Finally, lets not forget that PowerPoint can make our presentations look great. You can download some great templates that will really allow you and your students to create some visually stunning presentations. With these templates amongst others, you can create animated picture effects and produce 3D text that looks like glass, so there are no longer excuses for unattractive slides.

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Despite all these resources, any PowerPoint presentation is only as good as the skills of the presenter. I think that perhaps we shouldn't be looking for an alternative to PowerPoint, but rather for ways of ensuring that students are able to fully utilise their speaking and listening skills by learning how to present to an audience. We seem to have given them all the ICT skills, but left out essential elements, such as appreciation of audience and the communication of ideas.

Is anybody doing anything to address this with their students? As for teachers, being able to present a lesson with PowerPoint should be an essential skill that all newly qualified teachers enter the profession with. For the rest of us, perhaps we should spend some time reflecting on our use of PowerPoint and begin livening up and refreshing those slide decks, and thinking about how our students view us presenting. If you are brave enough, try videoing yourself presenting, it will be scary stuff, but could make a huge difference to your teaching. Finally, we are long way from seeing PowerPoint disappear from our schools so lets ‘love it ‘ a little and maximise its full potential.