Category Archives: PowerPoint

You Don’t Always Need a PowerPoint Presentation

While not as “disruptive” a presentation as Will Richardson, for example, has been talking and writing about, one of my presentations at this year’s NCSS conference in San Diego is NOT a PowerPoint ;). I was told I had about 8 minutes to present a unit plan that a teacher and I wrote a while back for Digital Age: Technology-Based K-12 Lesson Plans for Social Studies. So instead of doing another standup-powerpoint-to-death talk, I made a short video. You can watch it here.

I agree with Will that the “traditional” presentation just doesn’t work too well in many cases. That’s why I’ve started doing a more poster presentations, because they allow for more informal, personal, (and dare I say it, customized) interaction between presenter and attendee…

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

eTech Ohio 2007, Day 1 – How to Change the Ways in Which We Present


It’s amazing how fast time goes by. I haven’t blogged in about two weeks now and finally got the chance to sit down and do some writing after the first day at eTech Ohio, Ohio’s state tech conference.

 I wasn’t sure how to start this so I searched Technorati to look for blog posts about the conference, and ran across an old one by Chris Lott, called “Improving Etech Part I – Conference Sessions and Formats“. His main argument is that

One of the problems with Etech is that at the same time that the content is about innovation in technology and– essentially– communication, the format of the conference sessions themselves are incredibly traditional. The rare speaker that deviates from dispensing the traditional Death by Powerpoint cocktail most likely does the same with Yet Another Lessig-style Powerpoint.

He continues by challenging presenters to use some different presentation formats, and this is what made me reflect on what I did and saw today.  My first presentation (with my colleague Karen Swan) was about student response systems, and was pretty much a straight-up PowerPoint, were it not for the fact that we used clickers to make the presentation more participatory.

I estimate about 80-90 people showed up to see the session.  Why? I don’t think it was because the technology is so innovative, student response systems have been around for quite a few years. Instead, I think many educators are looking at student response systems as a way to prepare students for high stakes testing in a way that is engaging and motivating. While we have found from our own research that response systems motivate students, the question becomes what we are motivating them for.

Our second session today was titled “Ubiquitous computing: Creating 21st Century Learners“. While the premise was good, we only had 4 people who showed up, because the session had been left out of the program. As a result, we ended up with an hour-long discussion without PowerPoint slides, which was very refreshing. It’s not very often that educators get to sit around and just talk and brainstorm.

So what am I getting at here? I think that conferences suffer similar problems to what we run into when we are looking at using technology in schools:

  1. Issues of access (will there be stable Internet access; how filtered will it be; is it free for all participants; will participants bring wireless devices, etc.).

  2. The perception that a traditional presentation is the best way to get a lot of ideas across quickly, because we only have an hour with the audience we have, and this becomes increasingly pressing as the audience gets bigger; I’m sure those of you who have done large-audience keynotes can vouch for this one. (eTech Ohio is a large conference, with 6,500 participants in 2006).

  3. Teaching to the middle. Conferences, like classrooms, have participants with a wide range of abilities. I think we tend to present to the middle because that’s were most people are. As a result, many of the innovative educators (and others) get turned off by the average session (esp. if it is a traditional PowerPoint lecture), and educators who’ve just began to use technology feel like they’re in over their heads (this is one that has bothered me for a while, because I’ve noticed that I’m less and less interested in going to sessions at conferences and as a result I try to present more, or be active in other ways, to make attending worth my while).

Solutions? That’s a toughie. I’d love to see more hands-on, workshop type sessions that more flexible both in space and time (the recent Connectivism Conference is a good example). A conference should extend beyond its location and the days on which it is held. How to sell this to educators and presenters is another question, but I think some kind of blended approach would be workable, depending on the number of participants and what kind of tools participants would be able to bring (some kind of wireless mobile device being the key).

In addition, this could increase the number of participants as those who would not be able to physically attend could still participate. You would run into issues of registration fees that would have to be resolved.

 Anyway, just some reflections on day one of eTech Ohio, which just goes to show that those of use who are not or no longer classroom teachers deal with very similar issues when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. I’d love to see your thoughts on this one.


Image Credit: eTech Ohio:

When High Tech Can Kill High Touch… (or Not).


PowerPoint is one of those applications that has become a staple of the average computer user. Literally millions of slideshows are created and shown every year, in board meetings, classrooms, and any other meeting space you can imagine. I’ve made my fair share of them, just like many of you who are reading this post.

One of the issues I have been thinking about is how a tool like PowerPoint influences teaching and learning, as it is so widely used. There has been an interesting discussion in various places on the web about this very topic, as I found out when perusing my feed reader earlier today.

I started by reading Jim Henderson’s post “PowerPoint again“, in which he writes that

using presentation software like PowerPoint can actually act as a barrier to communication. Many Powerpoint presentations turn the audience into passive recipients. Some speakers simply rattle through slides allowing no time for questions or discussion. In schools teachers need to be very selective in how they use presentation software and white boards. The best teachers engage with their pupils. They encourage pupils to question and to think and express themselves. Confident teachers are comfortable with this type of classroom atmosphere. Teachers that are not so skilled or confident can “hide” behind the presentation delivering a set of didactic presentations that don’t engage the pupils.

So … the argument here is that PowerPoint can perpetuate bad or outdated teaching, by amplifying it. In addition, Edward Tufte has written that

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

Unfortunately, this seems to be true in all to many schools and classrooms and so it may come as no surprise that critices like Larry Cuban keep saying that educational technology is having no impact on learning.

A third opponent of PowerPoint is Tom Creed from Saint John’s University in Minnesota, who argued in “PowerPoint No! Cyberspace Yes!” that

digital technology can enhance our students’ learning, but only if our goals for our students’ learning drive its use.

And that is the key point, that again points out that it is not the technology, but what we do with it, that should determine what we use in schools and how we use it, as opposed to decisions based on cost, ease of use (esp. for adults and IT personnel), and potential danger or distraction. Note that Creed wrote this essay in 1997!

However, that is not to say that a multimedia presentation program like PowerPoint cannot be used for great teaching or learning. A counter-argument to Creed’s position was given by Tom Rocklin who argued that PowerPoint is not evil because it can be used in many different ways to support teaching and learning (although I wonder if his vignette might be a bit different if he updated it to 2006 standards).

Some examples of interesting and meaningful uses of PowerPoint that I have seen include student-created digital scrapbooks of their lives, a local history, comic books, and lots of different ways to organize and synthesize information into tables, graphs, timelines, flowcharts, etc. The key in each of these examples is that the learning was NOT driven by the technology or the teacher, but by the learner.

Another great example of the use of PowerPoint is David Byrne’s artwork, as described in this Wired article and on his website (a real R-Directed Learning activity, as Daniel Pink would say). Here is one example, called “Sea of Possibilities“:


Finally, the Creating Passionate Users blog provides some guidance for PowerPoint creators with their “Do You Need Slides” Test and the “Do My Slides Suck” Test, followed by putting “each slide on trial for its life. Ask it to defend itself. Show no mercy.” This is a post that every teacher who uses PowerPoint should read!

So where do I stand on the issue? Despite seeing David Byrne’s art for the first time today, I’m still fairly skeptical about the educational value of PowerPoint because of how I see it being used in the average classroom. Just like any other digital tool, it will only reach its potential if it is used in meaningful, relevant, and active ways for and by learners. And oh yeah, better graphics wouldn’t hurt either 😉


Image credits: and