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PowerPoint is dead: long live Prezi!

October 10, 2011 1 comment

I disagree.  There seems to be a pervasive snobbery about the use of PowerPoint and, indeed, Microsoft could do more to ‘freshen’ it up: add a few more modern design templates and features, but it is not dead – YET.  When used effectively, it can be an excellent support to a well delivered presentation.  Emphasis, however, is on the qualifying When. 

In my view, it is not the tool which is the problem; it is the user!

The problem is that just about anyone can use PowerPoint.  How many of us has seen it used effectively, however?  I know I can probably count on just about one hand the number of good presentations I’ve seen over the years.  The answer is not to ‘kill it off’ and replace it entirely with applications like Prezi.  I enjoy watching a Prezi presentation, but if I’m honest, I can’t quite get my head around putting one together – my brain simply doesn’t work that way and I don’t think I’m the only one.  Prezi is great, but it is not for everyone.

No, in my view, as educators, what we need to do includes:

  • teaching PowerPoint properly – not teaching the skills in isolation from the idea of audience, purpose and delivery.  Lesson objectives should place equal weight on each of these.  What is the point of being able to embed a video, if the presenter stands in front of the screen and at no point engages with the audience or its needs?
  • spelling out to our students that it is the presentation that is important, not the application itself – the skills we teach using PowerPoint need to be transferable and this is where an introduction to something like Prezi at the same time can help;
  • finding out what students already know and ensuring we are moving their knowledge and understanding forwards, not sideways, or even worse, backwards. A brief conversation with a feeder school colleague, this morning, allowed us to compare notes in this respect.  It doesn’t take long to get a sense of what they have already been taught and to discuss progression!
  • As staff, weaning ourselves off using it for non-presentation purposes!  It sends out the wrong message.  Yes, it can be really handy for structuring lesson material and I’ve got to say, I’m reluctant to give that aspect of it up, but let’s look at alternatives.  (Ideas welcome!) Just because it is easy doesn’t mean it’s right – which returns us to my main criticism of PowerPoint! (User, rather than tool, error.)
  • Discourage staff  from allowing their students to submit work which should be on Word, or a similar application, via PowerPoint.  Why are they doing this?  Surely, this is the equivalent of trying to open a bottle with a knife, instead of a bottle-opener!  It makes no sense.
  • Too much of anything is boring and does not engage.  Avoiding the overuse of PowerPoint is another area we must aim to address.
  • Being more critical of students when they present using PowerPoint in forums such as assemblies. Just because they have spent a lot of time on it doesn’t mean it’s good and they shouldn’t be led to believe it is: these students have to go into the real world to pitch and sell – they need to be told it how it is!
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