Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint! A Reflection


Today, the New York Times ran an interesting article regarding the use of PowerPoint in the military, We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint. It was a fairly damning critique of an organization that gets most of its information or lack of information through PowerPoint slides.
Here are a few quotes from the article:
“PowerPoint makes us stupid" - Gen. James N. Matti

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control...Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” -Gen. H.R. McMaster

And the following comment that I think has a great impact for us as educators:
"Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making."
And this...
"Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point."

A former colleague of mine, Andy Charier had the following comment via Twitter:
"What I liked about the article was the impact it has on thought."
He also mentioned "add to that, PP creates about 10 bad speaking habits too; we teach how to create a PP but not how to effectively use them" and "it risks squeezing out the provider of process—,the rhetorician, the storyteller, the poet, the person"

All of this reminded me of an article I read over 10 years ago, called Scoring PowerPoints from Jamie McKenzie, who consulted with Edina High School Staff a few years back. McKenzie uses the term PowerPointlessness in the article, to describe how often presenters get hung up on the bells and whistles and not focusing on the content:
Powerpointing can become a goal in itself - an unfortunate example of technology being done for technology's own sake. In the best case, the presentation enhances and communicates a larger and deeper body of work and thought.
McKenzie argues that PowerPoint can by it's nature move us toward generalization of ideas and that the slides themselves can splinter the topics we are attempting to explain. He urges presenters to:
  • Emphasize Ideas and Logic while Maintaining Depth and Complexity
  • Design Artfully and minimize distractions
  • Deliver dramatically while avoiding reading bullet points aloud (I DO realize the irony of bulleting this!)
Teaching in a district with a projector in most classrooms, there may be a natural tendency to use PowerPoint as a tool to convey information. But I think this article gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we use that tool in our instruction, and explore how we might convey our course content more effectively.
So should we all throw our PowerPoint's away?
No, but perhaps we should pay attention to what Charrier calls, "the Provider of Process."
I've put together some presentation resources here to consider, including alternatives to PowerPoint.
I'll conclude with this presentation example by one of my "heroes", Dean Shareski, who recently won an International Society of Technology in Education Leadership Award. Perhaps the U.S. military would benefit from this Canadian's ideas, or at least his presentation strategies!

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