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.

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Making PowerPoint active not passive

This is a 9th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

A lot of people criticise PowerPoint because of the well known phenomenon of ‘Death by PowerPoint’, but it isn’t PowerPoint that is at fault but the people creating the presentations (or the people that haven’t trained and educated them) that are too blame. What is really sad is that many people know that they have produced an ineffective presentation but still use it anyway. The problem with bad PowerPoint presentations, is they tend become a very passive form of learning – the tutor puts the presentation on the screen, talks a bit (often just reading the words on the screen) in a hope that the students will absorb this information. It doesn’t help that we often have to darken the room by drawing blinds or curtains to make the presentation show up, but that just helps with the sleepy effect and the students will drift off….

So – if we don’t want to make the presentation passive then we need to make it active – in other words getting the students to do something. Over the years I have found many ideas for making presentations more active, and have shared templates with others through this blog and the PowerPoint resources section of my website

These examples include:-

Editable text boxes

The template that I use most within PowerPoint, is editable text boxes. These are really easy to use, they reduce the preparation time for the presentation significantly and make the learning more active, so a win all round situation!

I often use these at the end of a session to summarise what has been learned, or if doing a comparing activity (e.g. advantages v disadvantages of something). Basically – you add your editable text box into your presentation, the students suggest what goes in the, you type them in (or if you have a wireless keyboard, they can type them in) at the end of the session when you save your presentation all the contributions will be kept, so you can share the presentation with the students via the VLE or similar.

Countdown timers

If you set the students a task (which is a good way of making the learning active), then use a timer to keep time – this helps keep the tutor to schedule and helps focus the learners on the task and not to drift off into other distracting activities.

Score Ladders

Some people think that competition within education is a bad thing. My background is in the area of sport science, so I believe that competition (used appropriately) is a good thing. I would often split a class into teams for an activity and pitch them against each other as a way of focusing them and motivating them. Score ladders can be used to keep score within teams (up to 6) and can be used with verbal questions or any other non-technology related activity.

Top 6 activity

I once started a new topic with a simple activity to set the scene / break the ice, where the students (split into 2 teams) had to identify the top 6 something to do with that topic. The activity worked really well, and the template that I created to make this can be adapted very easily for other topics – as long as you have a list of top 6 somethings (or an ordered list).

An example activity can be found here.

And

(note to make the next link work, right click on the link and choose ‘save’ then open the file from where you have saved it- otherwise it may open in the Internet window rather than PowerPoint)

The blank template can be found here

The blank template includes instructions on how to use the resource within the notes section (often visible at the bottom of the screen)


The principle of all the above resources is that as long as a tutor has the ability to copy and paste then they can add these templates to existing or new presentations – make the learning more active and hopefully more engaging and effective.

All of the templates above are free for people working in education to use and to share (e.g. on their VLEs).

Using technology to create paper based games

This is the 7th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

As a lecturer, I quickly identified that traditional ‘chalk and talk’ was not an effective method of teaching especially for someone like me with a monotonic voice and really bad hand writing. It was this that guided me into the area of using technology in my teaching, but I also looked at different ways of creating little activities to do, and over the years I produced dozens of non technological resources out of card, paper, wood and laminated sheets.

Most of these were very bespoke to a particular topic, but 2 of my ideas are transferable to other areas.

The first I have called ‘multi-choice’ patience, The tutor enters 36 multi-choice questions and the answers into an Excel grid, which then converts these into a 36 card activity, where you pick a card out of the pack, answer the question, then choose the card identified by the answer. You keep doing this until you have answered 6 questions, if you have all 6 questions correct, then the 6th card should point back to the first card in that set. You then pick another card and try to complete the next set of 6 cards.

Multi choice patience

Screenshot of the multi-choice patience activity

The difficult part of this is thinking of the 36 questions, but once they are created, very easy to print out the cards, cut them up (and laminate if used more than once).

The template can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/MultipleChoicePatience.xls with the worked example (anatomy and physiology based) being http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/MultipleChoicePatienceEXAMPLE.xls

The second activity that I created is ‘Buzz word bingo’, and was originally for myself and colleagues to use at boring meetings, to make them more interesting, but they can be easily used in a teaching and learning situation.

All you need to do is add a list of buzz words (which could be the answers to questions) into an Excel grid. This will then convert these into different bingo cards of different sizes, which you print out, cut up and give to the learners. Very easy to do especially as an end of topic revision activity, or something to do in that last week before Christmas.

Buzz Word Bingo

Buzz Word Bingo

Buzz Word Bingo can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources/BuzzWordBingoGenerator.xls

All of the resources listed here can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_class_management.php which also contains links to resources that can be used to split classes up into random groups, and allocate topics to students.

Using Score Ladders in PowerPoint

My background is as a lecturer of sport science. Sport science students have a tendency to be energetic, lively and not always the best behaved – they also have a tendency to be competitive. I often used this competitive nature to my advantage to try and channel their energies into the desired work, rather than disruptive behaviours, and one tool that I used was score ladders which I dropped into a PowerPoint presentation – this is a simple mechanism for keeping score between 2 to 6 teams on any activity (who can solve a problem first, or answer a question quickest etc), and these ladders can be used by anyone in education – and all they need to be able to do is copy and paste. This video will show how.

The resource and others like it can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php