PowerPoint doesn’t have to be passive

I recently had a heated discussion where someone was demonising PowerPoint because of the negative impact he thought it was having on education due to the often passive nature of its use, and it is true the vast majority of PowerPoint use within education would probably fall into the category of poor, with some being good, and a small percentage being excellent. In fact one of the things that persuaded me back in 2006 to go freelance, was in the space of a few weeks, I sat through 3 awful passive PowerPoint presentations about the importance of and how to do active learning.

But it is not the technologies fault – the technology is designed to do a job, and it does the job it is designed to do well. What is at fault is the people using it badly, and for that we need to go back to identify why, and it usually comes down to poor CPD for staff, and low expectations of what PowerPoint can do, which isn’t helped by many senior people in education standing up at conferences and the like and delivering appalling presentations.

In my early years of teaching, as I migrated from the then staple diet of death by OHT (Over Head Transparency) to using PowerPoint, my first attempts at PowerPoint were I am afraid what I would classify now as Death by PowerPoint, but I very quickly had one of those light bulb moments – I made a decision to never do death by PowerPoint again. Once I had made that decision everything else followed easily. I (like many other teachers) know what death by powerpoint looks like – so if I know what it looks like, if I am doing something that is heading that way, I don’t do it – I do something else. The key to me was bringing back the active elements of learning – getting the learners to do something, rather than just look at a load of pre-prepared bullet points on the screen that I talk about and expect learning to take place.

I worked on a principle of breaking my sessions down into smaller chunks of time, usually about 10-15 minutes. So I would talk for a bit, they would do for a bit, I would talk again, they would do something different, we would have a class discussion etc. It was this idea that lead me to creating countdown timers for PowerPoint which helped me manage the time for the different elements of active learning. I then discovered a really wonderful tool of the editable text box, allowing me to capture notes during a session, as part of a discussion activity or carrying out a ‘for’ and ‘against’ analysis. This saved me huge amounts of preparation time and hugely improved the activeness of the session.

I then used hyperlinking to create non-linear presentations, which has an array of uses and can be used to create some very effective learner directed resources, and there are many other things that I have done, and still do, all of which is designed to make the learning process active.

Going back to my opening statement of this post, the person I was discussing with, was all for promoting Prezi, which I don’t have a problem with as such (it doesn’t do anything for me, but I am a high level PowerPoint user) – but the issue is the same, unless staff have proper CPD and support we just get death by Prezi rather than Death by PowerPoint (only with Prezi you can get a bit of sea sickness thrown in for good measure).

When I first started working as a freelance trainer, a lot of the training that I ran was PowerPoint related. Over the years the amount of PowerPoint training I run has dwindled – I think many see it is ‘old hat’ and not needing training, which I wish was the case, but whilst I keep seeing lots of really bad PowerPoint presentations, I am very aware that there is still a need for teaching staff at all levels of education to have good quality PowerPoint training.

I am redeveloping some of my PowerPoint training sessions, one of which is titled ‘Making PowerPoint Active not Passive’ – which is introduced in the following video.

For further information visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/PowerPointActive.php

If you are interested in high quality PowerPoint training, that can be (and has been) delivered to all levels from Nursery through to HE , then visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/ for details.

Why a VLE is like a pizza

Earlier this week I was presenting at an event on behalf of the HE Academy, and one of the fellow presenters Santanu Vasant quoted that a VLE is a bit like a pizza, which I thought was an excellent analogy which I will build upon here:

pizzas_2011_001

Image of a pizza

Many educational establishments including schools, colleges and universities will have a VLE or Virtual Learning Environment (e.g. Moodle, Blakboard, Frog, Fronter etc) and these are used to a lesser or greater extent (sadly usually lesser) with a varying range of some just using it as a place to dump files others using it to its full potential.

So

  1. If we think of a blank course on the VLE itself as the pizza base – this is technically edible but not very tasty or useful on its own.
  2. To improve the pizza we will put some tomato puree and cheese on top and make this into a basic cheese and tomato pizza, a bit more tasty but not very exciting. The VLE analogy would be adding some basic content to the VLE – e.g. PowerPoint presentations, course notes, links to a few websites and assignment information. This is now edible and you could live on this, but not very exciting, challenging or demanding and not likely to make you lots of money if the only thing offered on the menu. This sadly is where most people get to.
  3. The next step is to add toppings to the pizza – and by having a different selection of toppings used in different quantities we can create an almost infinite combination of  pizza flavours, from hot and spicy, to meat feast, to cheese supreme or a seafood special. In VLE terms, all of the different activity types that are available (discussion forums, quizzes, wiki activities etc. each being a different topping).

So the skill of the tutor is to be more like a master pizza chef and knowing which toppings to use and how much of each to create the ‘perfect pizza’. Jalapeno peppers I think are a great pizza toping, but if that was the only topping on the pizza and there were lots of them it wouldn’t make for a pleasant meal – similarly with VLE use – activities like quizzes are great, but if that is the only activity used then students will start to disengage.