Powerpoint

Most conference papers these days are accompanied by computer-based slides, and the most common of these use PowerPoint software. Such displays have met with considerable criticism (see Adams, 2006), but it is not all gloom and doom. There is some evidence from students that they like lectures accompanied by PowerPoint presentations (Susskind, 2005) and that slides presented by PowerPoint are preferred to the same materials presented on flip charts and overhead projectors in certain circumstances (e.g. see Austin-Wells et al., 2003). One feature that appeals to an audience is the ability to build up more complex pictures — by adding in more detail on each slide in a series. Students also appreciate the clarity and legibility of PowerPoint presentations, but they dislike poor typographic layouts and odd colour combinations.

Students are not happy either if the lecturer simply reads out the PowerPoint slides. One rule of thumb that forces speakers to talk about their slides and not simply to regurgitate them is called the 7 x 7 rule: that is, use no more than seven words per line, and seven lines per slide: (some say 5 x 5). Another way of putting this is to say, 'Write no more on a slide than you would on a postcard'! But suggestions like these bring us back to the criticisms.

The most common criticism of PowerPoint presentations is that the presenters preparing such displays get preoccupied with their format and that, by necessity, they present simplistic arguments. Myers (2000), in an insightful chapter, contrasts giving a conventional lecture (without visual aids) with learning to give the same one with PowerPoint slides. Myers points to a dozen changes overall, leading him to conclude:

The overall effect is that what was before a carefully connected sequence, with some digressions for stories, and references to texts on a handout, was now a series of spaces, marked by rather flashy transitions.

He continues: 'But these lists of formal changes don't quite get at the shift in effect'. He notes that students now focus on the screen rather than on him, and that:

I am seen as the animator rather than the source of the utterance. Instead of my speaking with the aid of some visual device, the text is speaking with my aid.

Adams (2006) makes similar criticisms. PowerPoint, it is argued, controls the sequence of presentation (so that it is not easy to respond to an unexpected question), and it makes all the content appear equally significant. PowerPoint it is argued, does not help members of the audience to engage in higherorder thinking and deep understanding. Such arguments, of course, confound the method with the content. Vallance and Towndrow (2007) respond to these criticisms by indicating how one can use PowerPoint alone, and in conjunction with other methods, to achieve more desirable objectives.

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