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Posts Tagged ‘death by powerpoint

I attended yet another work-related retreat yesterday.

I still don’t like the term “retreat” because that means going backwards. I realize that sometimes we might need to take a step back in order to move forward. But to me the term is defeatist and all too often we unproductively revisit themes that we left behind from the last retreat.

I’d also rather deal with things on a daily or weekly basis instead of leaving it all for processing one or two times a year. I think I set aside enough time to reflect so I that basically “retreat” and advance every day.

But I digress. Yesterday’s retreat was an opportunity for various groups in NIE to update the rest on their efforts in realizing Teacher Education 21.

There was quite a bit of slow death by PowerPoint and again I thought of how we should conduct more progressive events so that the participants actually participated more. If we as teacher educators don’t model more up-to-date strategies, we cannot expect our preservice teachers to do the same.

Despite that major complaint, I did learn a fair bit from the committees thanks to the time and effort they had invested. But I think that I could have learned about these things more efficiently and effectively if they had tapped the collective wisdom of the NIE crowd.

How exactly? By first crowdsourcing during the brainstorming months before the retreat. Then by providing background information before the retreat for us to read/view, providing only an outline on the day itself (instead of lecturing) and getting all to comment, critique and create.

So I have learned a little bit more about NIE’s TE21 content and I have decided how NOT to conduct a retreat. But I still have to think of a better term to use than “retreat” because I probably have to conduct one of my own soon!

[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

A light-hearted but critical look at PowerPoint.


Video source

But really, it’s not just the fault of PowerPoint. We don’t blame the just the car for killing someone. Look at who’s driving and how.


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