Another dot in the blogosphere?

Power-less Point-less

Posted on: April 30, 2010

[image source, used under CC licence]

Blasting PowerPoint is not new. Seth Godin blogged about how PowerPoint bullets can kill and it was an entertaining read, as was the original NYTimes article which got Godin rolling.

The original “PowerPoint kills” context was its use in the US military. PowerPoint was described as a tool that “stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making” and “can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control”. Some more choice quotes:

it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan… Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.

But PowerPoint was not without its charms.

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters. The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

I’ve blogged about what I think of PowerPoint before and I’ve shared my philosophy of presentations [1] [2].

PowerPoint tends to be used in a frontal, delivery-oriented way. Worse still, it is linear and bulleted by design. But teaching and learning are not always sequential. We should not to let the medium restrict a message. In the context of education, I’d add that the medium should not restrict multi-way communication and learning.


Slideshare source

I am not saying that PowerPoint presentations cannot be effective. Many of the ones at Slideshare are testament to how good they can be (see the one above for practical tips and the one below as an example of visual design). The best ones often speak for themselves and the reason they do that is because their creators don’t restrict themselves to what PowerPoint does. It’s another example of how social and pedagogical affordances trump technical ones.


Slideshare source

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