She is a working student rushing to catch my class after teaching the whole day on the other side of town. I ask how she is holding up the balance. She says it is the PowerPoint that is taking up much of her time.
The school where she works demands that each lesson every day for her fifth grade class be presented in PowerPoint, a presentation graphics package from Microsoft that consists of slides beamed from an overhead projector.
Well, this affluent, exclusive school has no problem with facilities?LCD projector, screen, and computer?so the teacher should have no problem coming up with a PowerPoint show (PPS), reasons the supervisor, who makes the rounds to check.
One would expect the supervisor of a well-known school to know better. Has she ever considered the cognitive and pedagogical implications of PowerPoint?
Promises and misuses
There is no question that PowerPoint has certain advantages.
PowerPoint is expedient and easy to use to structure a presentation. It commands attention because it presents a focal point. For students, it guides note-taking. For speakers, it assists with pointers for recollection.
But consider the misuses and abuses of PowerPoint.
For many inexperienced or lazy teachers, the PPS eventually supplants teaching. The teacher becomes merely a slide reader, dependent on the ubiquitous PPS. And when the PPS dominates the communication process, the medium becomes the message.
I bet many students can eliminate the teacher if she only provides the PPS handouts.
Furthermore, a PPS can trivialize content if unaccompanied by a rich explanation or discussion. Teaching is reduced to a ?sight byte.? However, seeing words and copying do not equate to knowing and understanding the content.
Eventually, PPS may result in complacent teachers and passive students.
A teacher can get away with not understanding the material herself, or not explaining it at the level that best suits her students. Students, on the other hand, become contented with copying word for word, without any cognitive effort to summarize with key words.
Does PowerPoint facilitate or debilitate learning? Perhaps it is wise to look at the nature of PowerPoint and the consequences of its overuse and misuse.
If we look carefully, PowerPoint is a finished product?canned, programmed and determined. By default, it comes in a 4:4 rectangle format, with bullets. The epistemological implication of this is that knowledge is self-contained, complete and closed, even before the teaching-learning process has started.
Where is the interaction to cocreate the knowledge?
PowerPoint is also presentative (immediate) and not representative. In the latter, the teacher is needed to mediate the content for the students.
PowerPoint commands a sense of temporality. Often the students just wait for the next slide to appear. After a while, this activity becomes predictable and monotonous; they are seeing but not listening. Lessons are, by default, sequenced linearly, unlike the multidimensional, sometimes spiral, processing that should happen in a real learning situation.
Finally, what are the cognitive consequences for students?
Besides becoming used to the small frames of PowerPoint, students also get into the habit of reading a book like they are going over bullet points. They don?t follow an argument, appreciate the flow, learn transitional sentences, or even write a full sentence. Students lose the ?mimetic moments? where they follow the thinking of the teacher.
Teachers, too, become too lazy to think logically, systematically and with fervor to be able to convince their students. When thinking is ?en-framed? in the slides and bullets of a PPS, the value in the complexity of ideas is diminished for both teacher and students.
PowerPoint does have its place. It works effectively for the transmission of information. For quick and shallow learning, a PowerPoint presentation helps. However, is this what education is all about?
PowerPoint does not encourage argument; it imposes and impels the presentation along a predetermined path. In other words, for the students, it is seeing before thinking.
In a classroom that is dominated by PowerPoint presentations, teacher-student eye contact is taken away. Oftentimes, the lights are turned off and the teacher is invisible while the PPS plays on. PowerPoint competes with the presenter and effectually depersonalizes teaching. Is this what makes a good teacher?
If a school values critical thinking, it should reconsider the frequency and the method of PowerPoint use by its teachers.
Here are a few tips to help you make PowerPoint serve its purpose and get your money?s worth out of your LCD.
1 Visual aid. PowerPoint works best for things that have to be presented visually?like diagrams, graphics, concept-maps, story boards, photographs and the like.
2Limit, limit, limit. Not only the frequency of use, but also the number of slides (two slides per minute), lines (five lines at most) and words (six words per line). Less is more.
3Pacing is crucial. Not too rapid or too slow. Do not read long passages. Do not read (period). Explain key points presented and elaborate, illustrate, dispute, refute. Connect ideas, ask for comments, and raise questions.
4Moderation. Use wisely and sparingly and only when it?s the best way to communicate. Avoid excessive texts. Quote sensibly. And, please, no cheap effects.
For teachers who do not have a command of the language, who have no presence, who cannot establish rapport with their students, who do not want to exert the effort to explain and elaborate, who do not read, and who are not capable of asking and answering good questions, PowerPoint is not a quick fix.
Teach well. Use technology for the right purpose in the right place. Power Point is merely a tool. A tool can only work when the user has a mind.
The author is an associate professor of educational psychology at the UP College of Education. E-mail her at email@example.com