Posted by: Alana | May 6, 2010

Moving beyond loving or hating PowerPoint

A recent blog post by Katherine Schulten (for the NY Times Learning Network) poses the question: “Is PowerPoint in the Classroom ‘Evil’?” If you’re Edward Tufte, the answer is yes. If you’re a critical pedagogue who resists the mass adoption of a single, proprietary presentation tool — by teachers and students — you’re also likely to be wary of PowerPoint. Critiques of the use of PowerPoint as a default presentation tool aren’t new. Many of its users understand (and perhaps feel enabled by the fact) that PowerPoint is a tool which encourages specific discursive protocols (e.g., the bullet-pointing of ideas) and the hierarchical or sequential organization of information. What I like about Schulten’s post is that she introduces us to Monica Poole, an Assistant Professor of History and Social Sciences and Learning Communities at Bunker Hill Community College, who reminds us that we can reframe the question of classroom presentation technologies in a more productive way. Instead of asking whether PowerPoint is good or evil, or whether classroom technologies are good or bad, we could ask instead: do I need technology to teach about this [thing, concept, source]? What does a presentation application (be it PowerPoint or something else) allow me to do? How can digital objects function as resources for schools without, for example, access to rich collections of primary sources or rare books in material (non-digital) form? Poole’s use(s) of classroom presentation tools suggests a commitment to identifying what she wants to achieve pedagogically, or even just what she wants to show (be it an object or a practice), and then figuring out what means will best suit this end. Sometimes it’s PowerPoint — but not by default.

I’m curious, are any of you using presentation tools in ways that extend beyond the basicĀ  — the projection of what’s going on on your computer screen during a library instruction session? Can we imagine ways we might work with some of the ideas Poole presents?

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  1. Ditch the Powerpoint, just teach live, from an online research guide, & give the kids a paper hand-out to remind them of what you covered! Using PPT in library instruction is counter-productive b/c students don’t see you actually using the tool that they will use (e.g., the research guide).

  2. Hey Nedda, I actually find powerpoint to be a useful tool when i’m teaching discrete chunks of content. It’s nice to group things together, and have like things gathered together on a single slide. And it makes a nifty handout, too. what kind of online research guide are you using? Can you give us an example?

  3. And directly to Alana, Char Booth ( talks about using these word visualizers/concept maps that are actually pretty amazing. (Our lab machines don’t have the necessary java to make them work, sadly.) Check out It’s an example of how the technology helps make the content make sense. I struggle to teach students how to take apart search terms to direct clearer, more precise queries to the database. I think this tool helps that make sense, showing how to narrow big terms and draw connections between concepts.

    • Thanks, Emily! I’ll check these out. I think (at least) one of my colleagues here would be happy to know about them, too, since she’s also someone who likes trying out new tools for specific instruction-related ends (she seems very good at keeping her eyes open for new tools and imagining how they might be useful, testing them out, but not investing huge amounts of interest/time/commitment to whatever looks like the hot new thing — just seeing what can help us do the work).

  4. Yes! That’s my inclination, too — but I’m trying to be open to possibilities. And I’m trying to think about how to work with students as they choose & use technologies (or not) in their own work. In other words, how can thinking critically about PowerPoint (both its merits and its flaws) help when it’s time to encourage students to make informed, strategic, rhetorically-conscious decisions about presenting their information to others. That’s a little beyond the usual library instruction realm, but it’s part of what I do in a different part of my teaching here.

  5. [...] Moving beyond loving or hating PowerPoint Technology [...]

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