Friday, April 09, 2010

Some thoughts on the use of PowerPoint in class - Part III

If you have to use PowerPoint....

As mentioned previously in Part I of this short discussion on using PowerPoint in class - I use PowerPoint in all my lectures. However - as I have also mentioned before, I am also dead set against the use of text-only slides that fill up the screen (that is sooooo common and verrrrrrry borrrrrrring), and try to avoid these if at all possible. So - at the complete opposite end of Dr Stephen Kinsella's sans slideware debate where he proposes eliminating PowerPoint, I'm going to suggest how we can use PowerPoint in a much better, and non-traditional way. Be warned - this involves extra work for lecturers in preparing slides. PPT can do a lot more than simply present bullet points - with a little bit of work it can be made somewhat more interesting for students instead of just being plain boring and useless.

Here are some of my techniques to make lecture notes in PowerPoint a little bit more interesting (as I am suggesting several techniques I'll do this over more than one post):

First - NO long lectures
Some of my modules are made up of a two hour lecture and a one hour tutorial per week, and they are timetabled for different days. A two hour lecture is too long - even with a break in the middle. So what I do is....
  • move the tutorial into the two hour lecture so that it is (approx) half lecture/half tutorial
  • have a lecture instead of the tutorial
  • in the two hour session start with a 45-50 minute lecture for the first half
  • in the second half I do a tutorial for the rest of the class
My tutorials consist of exercises, questions, groupwork, research - anything to get the students active and involved. It also allows me to go around the class, giving individual help and getting to know the students better. (It also cuts down on absenteeism that is rife in tutorials).

This way - students are not faced with a two-hour long session driven by PowerPoint (even the 45-50 minute lecture is probably still to long).

The "B" button
Perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do with PowerPoint in a class is TURN IT OFF! Use the "B" button which blackens the screen (and "B" again to turn screen back on). As Neil D. Fleming (he of VARK learning style fame) states in his excellent booklet 55 Strategies for Teaching, "...the visual effects can attract attention to the extent that students miss the message because they are engrossed in the appearance and disappearance of words and the fancy effects that can be generated..... Sometimes the immediacy and directness of the teacher writing on a whiteboard or on an overhead transparency is seen by students as "real". 

I once attended a seminar by Fleming here in NCI - he hit the "B" button regularly, and our attention was focussed on him immediately.

Use Graphics
I am an addict for adding graphics to my presentations (this comes from my e-Learning developer days). In addition to catering for differing learning styles (Visual and Read), it adds a bit of colour to each slide as well as being a visual aid to learning. When using a diagram, eg a diagram from a book - ONLY have the diagram on the screen with no text. One diagram per slide works best - makes sure that it is clear and easy to read. As a lecturer, you can talk about the diagram for as long as you like (I sometimes do for 10 minutes), pointing out important information, and emphasizing key components.

If you are lucky enough to have the skills, you can draw your own diagrams. However, if you are like me (I couldn't draw a nail) you will be lacking drawing skills using a computer. So, when I'm stuck for a graphic, or don't know what graphic to use, I go to Google image search to get ideas (e.g. click on the image to the right to see what shows up if you search for "ethics"). Google can be a real treasure trove for graphics (be careful about IP). Animations can sometimes also be found, and can be useful. Learn how to use a graphics package like PaintShop Pro so that you can do some basic graphics editing (like cutting out the part of a graphic that you need).

YouTube makes a difference - younger students love it. Search YouTube by topic and you will almost always come up with something relevant (you'll get lots of garbage too). News clips are great, experts on a subject sometimes post to YouTube, even "fun" videos can useful (for example - I played the iPad Smashing video in class this week). And they are short.

You can insert YouTube videos right into your presentation with very little effort - and it looks cool too. No clicking on links and opening up a separate browser - why not just play the video on your presentation screen. True to form, here's one of my own "How To..." videos which shows you how to do this:

And it gives you a break!

Avoid Text Animation
Having words twisting and flying in to your slide has NO educational value WHATSOEVER! Don't do it. This was cool back in the mid 90's, but not any more. Microsoft should get rid of it.

If you are someone who likes to present bullet points one at a time in a (vain) effort to focus concentration on a particular point, you will inevitably start out with a lot of blank space - there's no point in this. What does it say? Students are looking at a half blank screen - and learning nothing! Why do we do this?

This reminds me of the "good old days" when lecturers used to uncover an acetate sheet on an overhead projector bit-by-bit - I always used to wonder why they didn't show the whole damn thing and be done with it.

More next week...
I have a few more items that might be of interest that I will post next week. In the meantime - take a break from PowerPoint!

1 comment:

  1. Eugene, I have to say that your 3 postings on PowerPoint really hit the mark. As you suggest PPT per sey is not a problem - it is the unquestioning overuse that we need to avoid.
    Very good advice on quality in presentations. Great post!