Powerpoint and the Fall of Education???

I recently had my students watch a powerpoint on the moon phases and discuss the pros and cons of learning about the phases of the moon via powerpoint.  The benefit of powerpoint was that the powerpoint contained a lot of information, was organzed and was easy for the teacher to use and then reuse.  Also, it efficiently distributed information to the class.  The cons were that the powerpoint was very fast, there was little discussion, too much information, and that the powerpoint seemed to promote memorization rather than understanding.  

After discussing the pros/cons of the powerpoint, we discussed how our culture/society may have impacted both the use and invention of powerpoint.  Our culture puts a high premium on convenience, speed and efficiency.  As a presentation tool, the powerpoint fit the business world well – helping people show a lot of information in an quick, organized format.  While the powerpoint was developed for business (MS Office Suite), the unexpected (although probably predictable) use of powerpoint in classrooms may be a negative thing.  Learning is not an efficient process, nor is it predictable.  A pre-made powerpoint has both of these goals in mind rather than deep understanding.  Some researchers even say that the pace and information density (how much info is in a lecture) has increased significantly since the powerpoint became so popular.  The “old fashioned” chalk board forced teachers to slow down and this allowed students more time to think and reduced the load on their brain so they might actually learn rather than just “see”.  

Of course, powerpoint could be used in a manner consistent with effective teaching, but our culture and the design of the technology itself predicts that speed, ease, and efficiency would win out.  This example is not to convince you or my students that powerpoint is horrible.  Rather, the example serves to demonstrate that whenever we use a technology to “make things better”, we leave something behind (in this case, an ability to take in information slowly so it might be learned more thoroughly or the ability to meet students where they are at and build from there).  Also, the example helps demonstrate the need to critically think about technology use.  I purposely choose not to use powerpoint because I would rather work toward the goal of deep learning and critically thinking.  I could use powerpoint and have my lessons all ready to go for next year and not have to use effort writing down student ideas – but, for me, the trade-off of powerpoint is not worth the convenience.  Being able to think about these trade-offs, is what we must be able to do.

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11 Responses to Powerpoint and the Fall of Education???

  1. Jessica says:

    Excellent! I love that you’re teaching your students to think critically not only about the subject matter with which they are presented, but also about the manner in which it is taught. I would love to know what your students’ thoughts were on the subject (although I get it if you can’t divulge that information).


  2. Sarah B. says:

    I recently observed a 9th grade science lesson that was presented almost entirely via PowerPoint and I thought, what an epic waste of everyone’s time this is. Well maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but it was clear that the teacher was unable or unwilling to deviate from the slides, and the slides that were prepared did not anticipate (and therefor did not address) the students’ questions or ideas. She kept asking the students about things covered in prior lessons, and no one knew how to answer without looking back and reading out of their notes. That is MY problem with PowerPoint – people feel like they are meeting their content objectives because the information is clearly laid out, but as you said, learning isn’t predictable. Just because the concepts are written down and presented doesn’t mean they are being effectively communicated, and it doesn’t mean students are making the effort to make sense of it.


  3. Matt T. says:

    Agreed on PPT being a hindrance to education. Give “Lucy the Lecturer” Power Point and she thinks she has used technology in an effective way. It has the potential to give technology in schools a bad rap. How about a follow-up post on connecting technology with pedagogy? You’ve sparked my interest…


  4. Gabrielle says:

    I disagree immensely.

    I was fond of most if not all of my high school teachers, but two in particular landed on opposite sides of ‘The Technology Debate.’

    One was, in her words, a ‘technology-klutz’ and made almost NO use of computers, Powerpoint, or any of that jazz. All of her handouts had quite obviously been laboriously copied via black and white front-office copier throughout her many years of teaching. I took a Brit Lit, AP Lit, and AP Composition class from her. All were excellent. I learned A LOT, and am now majoring in English Literature.

    The other was a history teacher who I was fortunate enough to take two classes from – American Studies and Humanities. She had a Smartboard and made lots and lots and LOTS of use of it to show us videos online, project DVDs, and write things down during lectures so we could take accurate notes. She always made sure that there were discussion points after viewing media of any kind, and quite often we were required to write essays or essay questions or ‘book reports’ concerning the things we had seen. Again, I learned a lot. I am considering minoring in Medieval Studies and am in a serious relationship with a General History major who is minoring in Public History and Medieval Studies.

    Although I love the first teacher dearly and learned much from her, the second teacher’s classes are the ones that really shine in my memory. As a person who has grown up with television and has the stereotypical short attention span and visual mindset thereof, I really, really, REALLY pay more attention if long lectures are broken up by things to see and touch as well as opportunities for discussion and response from me and my peers.

    “The cons were that the powerpoint was very fast, there was little discussion, too much information, and that the powerpoint seemed to promote memorization rather than understanding.”

    That’s your choice. If you are using Powerpoint properly, you dictate when the next slide comes up, as well as how much discussion is elicited from the class. Powerpoint was developed for business presentations. Title, point, graph, point point, graph graph, point, finale. Then discussion. But you don’t have to keep to that format. And it DOES promote memorization, which is why Powerpoints and slides are important in a discipline, like science or math, in which rote memorization is important. It’s not GOD, don’t get me wrong, but as my biology teacher used to say, “In science, the facts are important, not so much how you say them. In English, how you say them is important, not so much the facts.”


  5. Matt R. says:

    I see your point (no pun). I have a curriculum director that relies exclusively on powerpoint for professional development. It has almost become comical. One time her LCD projector wasn’t working so she was basically dumbfounded about what to do for her presentation. On top of that, I don’t understand those that hand out a paper copy of the presentation so they can fly through the slides even faster. Powerpoint, in itself, is not the problem. It is being grossly misapplied by most everyone. It is a tool, and if used properly, can be affective. To blame powerpoint and not the user would be, to me, equivalent to blaming dry erase markers for ineffective board work.


  6. paul bogush says:

    Sounds like the issue isn’t powerpoint, but how it is used. If we use PP to deliver images, can be powerful. If we use it for emphasis, can be powerful. If we use it for note taking purposes or for displaying text to be read by students…it’s deadly.

    It’s kind of like the debate over gun control. Powerpoint software isn’t dangerous, unless it is put into the hands of a teacher who loads it with lots of bullets, sets it on automatic, and fires randomly into a class.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I agree that PP can be used in very effective ways. Just to push the thinking further, consider how powerpoint actual calls out to be used in certain ways. The increased “efficiency” of PP make it attractive to just put up “bulleted notes”, then your lessons are done for all your class periods and for next year(s). Unfortunately, that is how PP is used. If you want to use powerpoint for images, why not just create a folder with the pics in it. This allows you to choose the pictures in whatever order makes sense DURING instruction. powerpoint still expects you to know the order of things in advanced. Unfortunately learning is not linear as powerpoint might like it to be. Thanks for your comments, critically thinking about how we use tech is my point, not to abandon use of technology.


  7. martinking says:

    I have been trying a few presentations by just talking – each time I’ve enjoyed them – there are benefits

    – less preparation needed to make attractive slides
    – more flexibility in the direction – more interaction

    I would suggest teachers use less centralised display and more interection


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