Ignorance is no longer bliss

This happened about a month back at my CIDTT class. We were given an activity to find out errors in different types of presentations. As my luck would have it, I received a PowerPoint slide to examine which looked something like this:

Photosynthesis?

Well… My question to the class was:

What’s right about this?

The entire group, including my instructor, was bewildered by my question. They said that there was nothing wrong with it. In fact they went on saying that it is an excellent presentation as it used a visual of a plant. Visuals are good… But not this one!

For the next 10 odd minutes, I explained to them as to how the slide would fail with the learners, with respect to the quality of the graphics, colour, placement, size, and typeface of the labels and the definition (in case you missed the definition, it is at the bottom right of the slide).

One of them (a teacher assistant) raised her hand and asked me whether all this is a real big deal. According to her, as long as the slide had the information in it, it must be effective with the learners. During tea break, I realized that a lot of other teachers in the group shared her view. Their collective questions were:

Do we really need to focus on the design a PowerPoint? Isn’t content more important?

Isn’t it enough if we just collect the information and pictures and display them to the learners? Isn’t that what PowerPoint is for?

We are going to explain all of it to them anyway right?

Well, my answer would be: If you don’t want to design them, get e-books. At least all the “information” you wish to convey is presented in a logical and a readable manner (to some extent, at least). For all those who disagree with me, I recommend you to read Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson and Slideology by Nancy Duarte. If you still disagree with me, feel free to post your views under the comments section.

Picture Perfect with PechaKucha

In this post, I thought of sharing my views and experiences with PechaKucha – An antidote for death by PowerPoint.

Here are the rules of the game: PechaKucha (The 20-20 version of PowerPoint) is a rapidfire, but effective method by which 20 images are shown, each for 20 seconds. Text may be used but the usage must be highly limited. The beauty of this method is that your speech is restricted to those 20 seconds as the slide transition happens automatically. This means that your entire presentation will be 20 slides x 20 seconds = 400 seconds, or 6.40 minutes! The speech part hence needs some careful planning.

Although this technique was originally invented for architects, this is one of the most popular methods in PowerPoint presentations. After watching a series of beautiful PechaKuchas, I finally decided to try it out with my students. I prepared a PechaKucha for a science lesson and explained the concepts in 6.40 minutes. I was able to observe its effects in three phases

  • During the lesson the students were more attentive and receptive
  • The student’s retention power was enhanced and I was able to observe this in subsequent testing
  • Compared to my usual classes, the PechaKucha sessions had the students to come up with more questions and ideas

Although I haven’t tried this method for high school students, I am eagerly looking towards testing this method for more complicated topics for higher classes based on my experience so far.

Have you used PechaKucha for educational purposes for students of primary, secondary or high school levels? If so, I request you to share your experiences here.

Happy reading!

Why Death by PowerPoint?

Throughout last week, I’ve been investigating on open source whiteboards. During this, I happened to do a lot of reading on presentations and happened to stumble upon the concept of death by PowerPoint. After a brief hunt, I was able to observe the amount of hue and cry made out of this issue (which I don’t blame). I was also able to observe a good number of my friends (online and offline), squirm at the mere mention of the word “PowerPoint”. We have seen and experienced the “how” of death by PowerPoint through our numerous bad experiences with terrible presentations. It’s high time we examine the “Why” of this issue.

In my opinion, the fault lies entirely with the presenter and not with the software. Some people have the notion that anything created with Flash, or some other rapid elearning tool,  can be extremely engaging. Although I appreciate the capabilities of these tools, I feel that the potential of PowerPoint is greatly understimated. Even the most advanced software can be used to create a miserable presentation. Hence it is entirely in the hands of the creator. We should hence look to correct our approach to the software. The software is a mere tool which gives us what we give it. If we feed it with nonsense, that’s precisely what we’ll get out of it.

This problem has another serious dimension when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Many teachers I’ve encountered favor the “traditional” approach to PowerPoint. When I asked them the reason for such an approach, one of them replied: “You have the boxes in PowerPoint, I just fill them up with pictures and text.” Basically, I don’t understand the logic behind calling this the “traditional approach.”  Rather than calling it traditional, it would be more appropriate to call it the “lazy approach.”

Another aspect that kills a PowerPoint presentation is the length. During my college days, I had the misfortune of attending a guest lecture by a doctor from a leading hospital in Chennai. His presentation was 165 slides long with 90% of it being bulleted text (about 10-12 points a slide)! The presentation (I would rather call it reading and skipping) went on for about a couple of hours and at the end of it, none of us had the clue of what hit us in those 120 minutes!

The concept of death by PowerPoint, in my opinion, can be zeroed down to two aspects:

  • Creativity
  • Presenter’s attitude

Presenters, more importantly teachers, must aspire to be more creative when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Before going on with a presentation, take a couple of minutes to think about the worst presentations which you have experienced and compare your creation with that.

A presentation by Karl Kapp, which can be seen here, has some excellent ideas for creating more engaging and useful content with PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slides are visual aids for the learners and not for the presenter!

Do you agree/disagree or have more points to add to what I’ve said, do leave your comment for this post.

Here is another interesting video on what not to do with PowerPoint:

Happy reading!