creates a format that
* encourages a hierarchy of bulleted notes
* is in a specific predetermined sequential order
* cannot respond to student inquiries
helps the presenter remember their notes
* while often doing great harm to the presentation
encourages students to
* remember key points
* let the professor decide which points should be “key”
* give the correct “answer” as decided by the professor
engourages the use of ridiculous icons that distract the audience
is trapped in linear “slideshow” mode, under-utilizing the possibilities of digital presentation
Edward Tufte has written extensively on the evils of PowerPoint and its effects on our communication and cognition. He begins a Wired magazine article with the catchy phrase, “Power corrupts: PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Tufte specifically addresses the dangers of PowerPoint in teaching:
Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.
Just for fun, check out Peter Norvig’s great PowerPoint version of the Gettysburg address that illustrates these points.
Of course, PowerPoint has many uses, and while it may have a tendency towards low-resolution, non-interactive, unilinear, information-poor presentations, the real outcome is up to the user. (I have not seen it, but apparently David Byrne has elevated PowerPoint to an art form.)
Personally, I have found the possibilities for technology in the classroom to be tremendous, but I have always found PowerPoint very limiting. Here I would like to briefly share with you a PowerPoint alternative, and hopefully start a discussion where we can share ideas for other PowerPoint alternatives as well as better uses of PowerPoint itself.
As an alternative to PowerPoint, I build a very simple website for each day of class using Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver is almost as easy as simple to use as PowerPoint, but allows for almost unlimited flexibility.
Here is a screenshot of how my presentations look:
While very simple, the key advantage this layout gives me is the menu on the left side. The menu has links to pictures, short video clips, music, outside webpages, and explanatory pages. This frees me from a total linear presentation, allowing me to jump around through my material to respond to student inquiries. This allows me to run class more like an engaging conversation rather than a dragging lecture.
A Brief Tutorial
I cannot possibly cover all the ways to use Dreamweaver. If you have never used it before, there are some great tutorials here.
To begin, create a folder for your lecture. I name mine by the date, starting with the year so that they end up in order when I sort them by name (e.g. “060411Art” was the name of the folder for today’s lecture on art.) As you create your content, make sure that you keep all of the files you are using in this folder. When you are ready to go to class you will just copy this folder onto a flash drive and take it with you. Any images or video files need to be in the folder or they will not be accessible during your lecture. (Alternatively, you could load your files onto a server and access them via internet, but then you have to be concerned about connection speeds, etc.).
The first file you will create is the frameset (full tutorial here). The frameset defines the layout of your presentation. I like to have a “menu” frame and a “content” frame. You only need to create the frameset once. After that you will be able to just copy and paste it into any new lecture folder you create. I call my frameset “start.htm” because that is what I need to click on to start the lecture.
I make the left frame just wide enough for a menu and no bigger. Along with links, I can also embed sound clips and music in this menu as well, making them accessible at all times. I like to have a song to play while people are coming in that somehow relates to the day’s material, as well as other sound clips or songs that are useful to illustrate points during the lecture.
You can also create a third frame at the top for additional links. If you use Firefox or Opera, you can also preload multiple tabs with useful information so you can jump instantly to pertinent information as it is brought up in class. You might also keep a few tabs loaded with Google, Wikipedia, Google Scholar, and other useful reference sites that can help you respond to student enquiries and give them a sense of the exciting quest learning can be.
Instead of PowerPoint “slides,” you now create simple webpages. Your options are almost unlimited here, so I can’t possibly cover all of them. Personally, I like to keep text and bullet point pages to a minimum, while making extensive use of audio and visual material. The possibilities are limited only by the capabilities of the browser you are using, and in that sense, they are not only enormous (and far greater than PowerPoint), they are also growing quickly.
If a multi-linear presentation sounds too chaotic (and it can be), you can use the left menu as a rough outline and still proceed through your lecture in a linear fashion, but always with the option of jumping forwards, backwards, or sideways as needed. If you choose a linear presentation, the left menu serves the additional function of showing the students where they have been and where they are going during the lecture.
I’m sure this is too incomplete to set you off and running with Dreamweaver, but I hope it is enough to spark a conversation on PowerPoint alternatives. I suspect there are many readers of this blog who have come up with some great ideas for PowerPoint alternatives as well as alternative uses for PowerPoint. If you have any great ideas, please share!