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.