Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Most Misused Tool

Wait... where's Power Point?

We didn't include Power Point (or its cousin Keynote, which you can insert anywhere in this post) in either the list of underrated or overrated tools, even though it is heavily used. In fact, Power Point was the tool that got us in this discussion. The teacher, who has his students create presentations in Prezi, was fairly dismayed at the amount of Power Point doldrums many fellow teachers were in.

Now, I'm not a fan of Prezi. Like Animoto, its use of dramatic transitions of the audience being swooped from one slide to another is fantastic to watch, but unfortunately leads to more emphasis on the effects than the learning. It seems I'm the only one who isn't a fan of it, though.

But his complaints about Power Point use were right on the money. It certainly seems like the most overrated tool.

Teachers have generally moved past considering the internet and MS Word "technology integration". Not so with Power Point. It is the first foray into integration that many teachers do. That's not a bad thing. Its easy to use and you need to start somewhere. But while some take their comfort with Power Point and branch off to look at other tools that are more of learning tools in nature, many teachers stay stuck with their same Power Point unit.

And that's not good.

  • It isn't used to learn, only to present your knowledge. It is e-posterboard.
  • It isn't collaborative; even if it is "group work", one works while the others watch.
  • Despite being extremely quick and easy, it takes up a lot of instructional time. I remember telling a class to take the discussion we were having about epic heroes and using Power Point, create a quick outlined presentation of who you would consider an epic hero and why. In the last 12 minutes of class. You would have thought that I asked them to build a solar car. No way they could make a Power Point that quickly. (Then... they did. "Wow, that wasn't so hard...")
  • It isn't a good teaching tool. All those Power Points given by students leads to very little learning by their fellow students.
In fact, Power Point is probably the most scorned piece of technology among educational tech folk today. People's Witness #1. People's Witness #2. And, People's Witness #3.

It's because of phrases like Blake-Plock's "PowerPoint presentations are precisely the sort of things so many of us in ed tech are trying to steer folks away from" that I'm equally as tempted to put it into the most underrated tool list.

Because, we simply aren't using it for what it does very well.
  • This is perhaps the premier digital storytelling tool. Easily combining images with manipulative text in a sequential order with the option for embedding video. Which means all the benefits of digital storytelling--for example that we teach and learn in stories and we use both creative and logical thinking skills intensively at the same time--all apply to Power Point used well. The presentation below by Garr Reynolds illustrates how to take something as mundane as a book review and turn it into a digital story.
  • Reynolds' Presentation demonstrates another reality, it is also a great stand-alone tool. That is, a presentation tool that you don't need to give a speech with. We have made Power Points implicit with a speech so much that people forget they are much more engaging when students access them on their own.
  • It is an excellent outlining tool. Not because of the bullets. Because it is a) easy to quickly input concepts and then b) re-arrange those concepts. In fact, the slide-sorter view is a forgotten piece of gold for teachers. Think how easy it is for an educator to make a jumbled Power Point of slides and then have students re-arrange the slides into the logical organization. When we read Wiesel's Night, I had students in groups arrange their own ethical priorities from a pre-made Power Point, requiring them to come to a consensus. All group members actively working with Power Point, even with only one computer.
  • It is a great teaching tool. Yes, I'm serious. In spite of us, it is. We have made Power Point an exercise in creating a meaningless backdrop to monotonous speeches, in which we teach students where all the buttons are in Power Point but we don't teach how to become a good speaker or how to communicate effectively with visuals. Garr Reynolds, in his excellent book Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, informs us we need to simplify our approach to Power Point. Use it to amplify the way we learn, through visuals and powerful stories.
And because of all these, it is a great learning tool. But we have to unlearn how we use it. We have to forever obliterate the image of what comes to mind when we "make a Power Point". Because that image is bad pedagogy, and it doesn't take advantage of the benefits it brings us in our classroom.

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