Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Power Point Critics Miss the Powerful Point

There is furor over the PowerPoint -- from the Wall Street Journal to NPR to Switzerland (where a political party wants to ban the Power Point there, claiming that Switzerland is losing billions of dollars in otherwise productive hours because its workers who are wasting their time watch power point presentations).  A book entitled the PowerPoint Fallacy by Matthias Poehm (which, although written in English, is as yet unavailable in the United States) discusses the issue, though I can only assume the position that the author takes from the book's title as well as from the fact that proponents of the Anti-PowerPoint-project get the book for 37% discount!

Despite the controversy, many teachers here in the United States feel that a PowerPoint presentation works in the classroom.  The audience in primary and high school classrooms, by definition, is still 35 or less, and PowerPoint allows the presenter to make points and still interact with individual students in an effort to get them to focus on the important points of the topic being presented. (PowerPoint certainly aids the student  presenter; whether or not it helps the student audience is still open to discussion.)

A math teacher (who will remain unnamed) believes in old fashioned teaching. "The students don't know a thing before the PowerPoint presentation, and after the PowerPoint they still don't know a thing!"

Passive listening to a lecture is bad enough; zoning out on a screen while the lecturer drones on is even worse.  While PowerPoint allows the presenter to present to a huge audience and (further) provides an assist to the presenter as he drones on,  White Boards and Flip Charts, by definition, can only be used in groups small enough and close enough to see the presenter, the White Board, and the Flip Chart, and therefore, these old-fashioned supports encourage interaction between the presenter and the audience.

The powerful point here is the interaction between the presenter and the audience, not the ability to drone on (with or without the PowerPoint), the presenter proving to the audience that s/he knows whatever needs to be known about the subject at hand.

In reality, PowerPoint is a further development of slide shows, film strips, and the Newton Plan, a plan created by Mr. Hayes in the 1950's to teach English grammar to all students in a particular high school grade at the same time and in the same place, in a large auditorium using slides as visuals and using only one teacher to teach.  The room was darkened in order to watch the slides (and allow some students to catch up on their sleep), and  I can tell you that I (along with many NHS students) never learned English grammar in high school; I only learned grammar through listening, reading, and finally teaching ESL (and not with PowerPoint, nor with slides in an auditorium).

After all, it's not what you've got, but how you use it!


  1. From a Math teacher's perspective, my students prefer the step-by-step (in-depth) developed and worked-out problem at hand (not bullet-point highlights. This step by step approach encourages discussion about each of the steps taken (which generally does NOT occur when students are presented the same topic using PowerPoint.
    In PowerPoint presentations, the topics are often glossed over / summarized with bullet-point phrases or equations and slick shiny bright charts which makes everything seem easy to understand but (in reality) leaves the student in the dark!

  2. @Anonymous Response to Anonymous. Yes, the PowerPoint presentation leaves the student literally in the dark, not to put too fine a point on it!