Lately, I have been questioning the place of PowerPoint presentations in the classroom.
In my research for this post, I came across a term that I loved: ‘PowerPointlessness’. Jamie McKenzie defines the term as “any fancy transitions, sounds, and other effects that have no discernible purpose, use, or benefit.” We’ve all been witness to painstaking PowerPoint presentations. Whether it’s cheesy animations, awkward sound effects, offensive colour schemes, unfunny (or just plain odd) clipart pictures, or an overload of text; a PowerPoint presentation has the capability to ignite or extinguish classroom engagement. As Edward Tufte (in the brilliantly titled article PowerPoint Is Evil: Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely) asserts, “If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in colour won’t make them relevant. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure.”
Weimer (in Does PowerPoint Help or Hinder Learning?) echoes a key concern of mine: “That using PowerPoint encourages passivity.” While she notes that an effective PowerPoint presentation can be visually impressive, she questions whether they encourage interaction or promote critical thinking. Weimer stresses that PowerPoint presentations “often make having discussions more difficult. The lights are partially dimmed and the seats arranged so that everyone focuses on the screen. Those aren’t features that foster the vibrant exchange of ideas.”
PowerPoint is the most popular presentation software application among teachers and students (McDonald). So why is PowerPoint such a mainstay in the modern classroom? I use PowerPoint to play games and quizzes, to give overviews of content and to show images on the big screen. Although I have never used PowerPoint as a place to share large chunks of text, I do use PowerPoint regularly and am conscious of how it may at times limit engagement, despite my good intentions. I am inspired by my research and want to continue to diversify the ways in which I share information. An important reminder: “PowerPoint is a tool; whether or not it is useful is up to you” (Voss).