PowerPoint – pointers

Once again this week, the misuse of PowerPoint was evident at a major conference.  I believe that this reflects the continuing misuse in schools and colleges where the teachers should by now know better. Yet, if used properly, it can be such a fabulous and powerful tool

For me, PowerPoint is one of the lower common denominators in the ongoing battle to have practitioners embrace the inarguable benefits of e-Learning. Practitioners can easily learn the technical skills required to produce a PowerPoint but sadly, this is sometimes where their development ceases.

Let’s just look at text and images.

Once someone has learned how to add text, it is just a short step to adding an image. We therefore see PPT’s with lots of text on screen and occasionally we see images too. But that simply isn’t enough; more thought about the PPT being created is required.

How many of us consider our audience when preparing a PowerPoint slideshow? How many different audiences can there be?

1. In-class, to support the didactic teacher
2. In-class, to support independent exploration
3. In-class, to support group work
4. In-class, to support extension activities
5. Out of class, to support independent exploration
6. Out of class, to support group work
7. Out of class, to support extension activities
8. At a conference – to support front-led pontification

There are probably many more instances but in each case the audience will be different; at least the way in which they will be expected to (or able to?) interact with the PPT.  Dave Foord has blogged several times about the misuse of PPT (e.g. http://snipurl.com/rsutz) and his website contains an excellent guidance sheet (pdf) http://is.gd/3e0ks aimed at promoting good use.

There are many things to consider when creating a PowerPoint but why oh why can’t teachers and trainers (less so) put themselves in the place of their audience and ask themselves something about font size, background colour and possibly the words themselves:

i- Can the class/audience read size 14 font at the back, or even at the front? (Conversely, if used as 2,3,4,5,6,or 7 above – is the size 36 font used too big?)
ii- Have I put too many words on screen? (Probably!)
iii- (a) Why are the words on screen? (b) Will I be saying them anyway?
Why indeed? If the words are on screen they must have a purpose. They have no purpose if you are going to speak them anyway – your audience will only be tempted to write them down and not listen to you – yet your only reason to be in the room at all is to be listened to – remember that. Why not use an Image or two to represent the point of your talk? These could be captioned – or you could ask your audience the relevance. This way too, you are creating a 2-way dialogue with your audience. Surely that can’t be bad.
iv- Now you have altered the background colour (you love groovy black) what colour font do you need to use and NOT use? Red on Black is invisible to even the grooviest of readers! Do Not Do Red On Black. Sometimes a plain white background with black text is enough.

PowerPoint is a PRESENTATION package.

Remember that!

If you do wish to use it for numbers 2-7 above different rules will apply and there are many tricks and facilities available for use in PPT that you may not yet be aware of:
* Hyperlinks to other files and folders and web sites
* Show web sites ‘live’ inside the PPT
* Embed videos in the PPT
* Create movement with carefully chosen (but minimal) animation
* Embed sound – maybe a voice-over to explain an image or point you’ve made:  Perhaps you could embed an audio file containing everything you had said in class (useful for 5,6 and 7) – see http://www.ipadio.com for an easy to use free (ish) means of recording audio.
* Insert interactive text boxes
* Insert timers for activities etc.
The list is not exhaustive.

None of the above techniques take much more in the way of technological skill, but they do need a commitment to improve delivery to an audience and learner engagement. Worksheets for some of the skills can be found at: http://www.village-e-learning.co.uk/resources.htm

Rant over.

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