Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Power Point kills presentations

I don't know about you, but I would rather dance Gagnam Style barefoot on broken glass than watch another student power point presentation. The sight of the "Sunny Days" background with its creepy coppery solar smile makes my skin crawl. Sitting in the back of a semi-dark room listening to students read plagiarized material from Wikipedia while mispronouncing most of the words they don't know is about enough to make me give up teaching. Don't get me wrong, Power Point is a powerful tool when used correctly, but in the wrong hands, it can spell catastrophe for even a good presentation.

Here are my top 5 reasons for hating this program and all of its offspring.

  1. Presentation software is overused. It was cool in 1995 when a teacher could throw away their overhead projector and replace it with stunning pictures and swooshing text. After we all got over the fact that we could link sounds to our magically appearing text the program lost all its appeal as a novelty. Most of the features that these presentation software packages offer (sounds, backgrounds, transitions, etc) are more annoying than helpful. 
  2. Power point has become the presentation. If I wanted information in a file, I wouldn't ask you to present, I would read it on the Internet. A presentation demands a presenter. I want to see you present, as an expert in the subject. I want to hear the presenter, not read what they wrote. Students especially, spend too much time making the visuals for the presentation and no time practicing their delivery. I remember standing in my room with my outline practicing the presentation that I was going to give to my high school biology class. I would practice it with my family at night, not spend all my time putting everything I wanted to say on the computer and then read it to the class. 
  3. Power point is a crutch for not learning the material. Why should a student know what they are talking about if it is written up there for the class to see? They are not becoming experts in the subject, able to answer questions about their presentation. They are becoming readers of someone else's information. 
  4. Power Point dumbs down the world. I read an article a few years ago where a General in the Gulf asked his staffers how they spent most their time. They replied almost verbatim "I have been working on a power point for Friday's meeting." He realized that this was becoming a problem. You can not simplify war into bullet points. Something as complex as the war on terror can not and should not be simplified into three points on a slide. I am a firm believer in this. If we are trying to get kids to see connections in ideas, go deeper into concepts and ideas, how can then ask them to bullet their thoughts. Power point compartmentalizes ideas into slides and a timeline. Life is not that linear. 
  5. Students don't take notes anymore. They can always go get my power point online if they want the information. I can tell you this because I do this. If I am at a conference and the presenter gives a power point. I will be checking my email within 3 minutes of the start of their presentation. Many times the presence of the power point is a crutch for me as a learner just as much as it is for the presenter. Why do I need to listen if everything you said is on the file?
Don't get me wrong, when used correctly, power point can be a powerful tool. I am only saying that most of the time it is used linearly and with too many words. Show me pictures that add to what you say or enhance your presentation. Make it non-linear, mapping a web of pages that allows me to navigate it to where I want to go. If you are presenting, look at me, talk to me, make me believe that you know what you are talking about. If you don't I will tune out, probably roll my eyes, and be on twitter in seconds. I am no different than our students. 

We talk a lot about getting our students to write well. We worry about their grammar and spelling, their punctuation and their ability to express themselves in writing. How is it that we have no problem taking points off an essay if a student doesn't express himself correctly but if he gives a crappy presentation, we clap and score them on at least having the power point. We need to focus on presentation skills in class, holding students accountable for a poor performance. I read once that the fear of standing in front of their peers and presenting ranked right before the fear of death on some survey. Students need to know how to present, need to be comfortable in front of others, and have the skills to do so. 

As always, your thoughts are appreciated,