Of all the people with whom I’ve had in person discussions about the plague that is PowerPoint, no one is as vociferous in their denigration of that application, and the kinds of thinking and communication it encourages than I1 am.
Thus, it is somewhat rewarding to see more and more articles that seem to be trying to push this position into the conventional wisdom. Here’s an extract from one, which goes after the whole notion of how to effectively use computers in education:
More than any thing else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool. Class time should be reserved for discussion, he contends, especially now that students can download lectures online and find libraries of information on the Web. When students reflect on their college years later in life, they’re going to remember challenging debates and talks with their professors. Lively interactions are what teaching is all about, he says, but those give-and-takes are discouraged by preset collections of slides.
He’s not the only one raising questions about PowerPoint, which on many campuses is the state of the art in classroom teaching. A study published in the April issue of British Educational Research Journal found that 59 percent of students in a new survey reported that at least half of their lectures were boring, and that PowerPoint was one of the dullest methods they saw. The survey consisted of 211 students at a university in England and was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire.
So that’s Bowen and the BERJ on side. How about someone from a different place on the spectrum… say the American Forces Journal:
Unfortunately, as soon as they graduate, our people return to a world driven by a tool that is the antithesis of thinking: PowerPoint. Make no mistake, PowerPoint is not a neutral tool — it is actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making. It has fundamentally changed our culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them. While this may seem to be a sweeping generalization, I think a brief examination of the impact of PowerPoint will support this statement.
The last point, how we make decisions, is the most obvious. Before PowerPoint, staffs prepared succinct two- or three-page summaries of key issues. The decision-maker would read a paper, have time to think it over and then convene a meeting with either the full staff or just the experts involved to discuss the key points of the paper. Of course, the staff involved in the discussion would also have read the paper and had time to prepare to discuss the issues. In contrast, today, a decision-maker sits through a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation followed by five minutes of discussion and then is expected to make a decision. Compounding the problem, often his staff will have received only a five-minute briefing from the action officer on the way to the presentation and thus will not be well-prepared to discuss the issues. This entire process clearly has a toxic effect on staff work and decision-making.
I’d seriously recommend reading that whole thing, particularly for the breakdown of PowerPoint’s effect on amount of time spent thinking about decisions, and on the kinds of people who make decisions and the kinds of decisions they feel the need to make.
I’d also seriously recommend that if your job brings you in contact with PowerPoint that you spend some serious time thinking about how it might be affecting the work you do, and the way you think about it, and communicate about it.
- With the possible exception of my wife, who has done things like present an academic paper at a conference–conferences tend to expect PowerPoint, and the absence of one is often interpreted as being unprepared–and bypassed the expected bullet points slides by producing a presentation where the slide set was composed entirely of vintage advertisements that were displayed behind her as she discussed her topic. She won the ‘best presentation’ award at that conference, btw.(back)