Monday, August 8, 2011

On PowerPoint

I won't call PowerPoint a villain. That's too strong, in my opinion. I don't see it necessarily as an enemy to good teaching and learning. I will also say that PowerPoint is definitely not a superhero. In no way do I see it as rescuing teachers and students. So if it's neither villain nor superhero, what is it? What does it do to our teaching? At best, what does PowerPoint accomplish? At worst, how does PowerPoint get in the way of good teaching and learning?

In general, I'm not a fan of PowerPoint. It seems to me like an extra option that one might get when buying a car or cell phone. Just because it's available doesn't mean I have to use it. But just because I don't love it doesn't mean others can't make good use of it. I understand how PowerPoint can effectively organize information and efficiently distribute it. I can see how the animation of text and the inclusion of graphics can help to gain and maintain the attention of students. I even use it once in a blue moon myself. It's just another tool in the box for me. Not as vital as a hammer or screwdriver. Just the 100th tool in my box that I can use on a rainy day. Sorry for the mixed metaphors.

I am not against the use of PowerPoint. I only ask people to reflect on the purpose for using it. I also ask people to think about how often they should use it. Using PowerPoint once in a while is very different than using it day in, day out. Take the students' perspective: how awful must it be to settle into a PowerPoint presentation every single class? I am a proponent of mixed methods: using a variety of teaching techniques to engage students and actively involve students in their learning. If PowerPoint is one of those techniques, wonderful. I just don't see how the regular use of it enhances learning (that's not just my personal opinion, there is some academic literature to support that viewpoint). By the way, if one looks long enough at the literature, one can find evidence to bolster one's point of view about PowerPoint.

Bottom line: we all know that technology doesn't do the teaching for us. We are the teachers; technologies aid our teaching. No one would say that using PowerPoint as a crutch is a good idea. If PowerPoint helps you be a great teacher, go for it. Does it? If PowerPoint is your default mode of instruction, ask why that's so. Teaching is a blend of style and content, a constant challenge of presenting information in an interesting way that results in students learning that content, and then being able to apply what they've learned in some way. What tools help you achieve your teaching goals? What tools make you a better teacher?

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