In this new screencast series, Concordia Fine Arts lecturer and media designer Andrew Dolan highlights examples of best practice when it comes to designing visual presentations for today's media literate learner.
Now available online, the CTLS offers a new masterclass exploring the creative and pedagogical uses (and abuses) of PowerPoint. Learn about basic design principles and get latest free tips and tools to help enhance your PowerPoint and Keynote presentations.
PowerPoint is widely used in teaching in higher education. Is it effective? How should you use it in your teaching? Blackboards were first introduced to classrooms in the early nineteenth century. They were made from rough lumber covered with a mixture of egg whites and charred potatoes.
Using a blackboard in class (whether the eggy variety or a newer dust-free whiteboard) changes the learning environment fundamentally: there is a point of focus at the front of the room, apart from the teacher. This focus is a spontaneous, shared, interactive space: teachers can write things as they go along, and students can come and add to the common canvas in sharing their solutions to problems and brainstorming concepts.
PowerPoint shares the quality of being a focus for a class, but lacks the spontaneity of its predecessors, along with the shared responsibility for the drawing space: a PowerPoint "presentation" is a carefully planned event, usually with a controlled linear timeline and an outcome planned by the teacher. This planning and control make it ideal for delivering a sales presentation, but can sometimes feel awkward to experienced teachers, who know that too much planning and too much control can stifle.
Morton (NY), 1907
Verne Morton Photograph Collection
For the student, knowing that the questions that rise up within them will probably be answered on the next slide, the tendency is to drift into a comfortable "knowledge receptor" mode and wait until the "any questions?" slide at the end before actively engaging in class. Add to this a darkened room and the pleasant whirr of the projector's fan and a mild form of hypnosis can be easily induced.
Usually: badly. The process starts with a teacher sitting down to plan their lesson. Slide by slide, they build on the concepts, throw in references, and jot down the things they want to say in bullet points.
In class, the slides are worked through one by one until the job is done. Sometimes the teacher will do little more than read the slides out loud, adding a few extra adjectives and anecdotes to spice things up. In this instance the role of a given slide is a handle for the teacher: you always know what to say next.
Questions from the floor are rebuffed: "I'm just coming to that..." even though there may be perfectly good reasons for students to require more explanation at that particular point. The build-up of concepts is not negotiated as a group.
These common problems can easily be worked around. Some ideas:
It is unfortunate that PowerPoint files are called 'presentations.' They are not presentations, but presentation (read lecture, lesson, demonstration...) aids. The presenter presents; the teacher teaches.
Consider the following diagram:
Now consider how many things students need to focus on during a lecture:
How should they prioritise the listening, reading, writing, not to mention the understanding, responding, etc.? Remember also that often the stimuli will be in conflict with one another: what presenters say isn't always linked to what is on the screen behind them, for example. Consider, too, that the native language of your students might not even be that of the medium of the course. This is where an element of performance comes in.
Often the teacher's intention during a lesson is to 'transmit' knowledge or information via a PowerPoint slideshow, to 'give' the students something:
In these cases, you might consider giving the students a handout or posting the information to a course website. What is the "value-added" of being together in class? How will this influence your PowerPoint? Considering such things will lead you to plan activies within and around your slideshow, and specifically to consider how you want the students to react to the slides, from the outset. Your presentation will develop into a performance.
Further help available from the Centre: