PowerPoint makes us D-U-M-Dumb
One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to write a weekly “tech tips” column for the online faculty news. This is one such tip.
As we head down the homestretch of May and June, more and more students (and teachers) are experiencing siyyum for their coursework, either as final papers or presentations or projects. Projects and papers are delightfully straight-forward and easy to facilitate and grade… at least, when compared to presentations, which have the added benefit of being a potential exercise in goodwill and patience to sit through.
The first hurdle our students have to get over is the technology itself — bringing together all the disparate elements of their presentation into one place and time. A few years ago, I wrote up a cheat sheet of tips that help to avoid the most common student pitfalls. I have not run into technical problems with student PowerPoints since I started giving them this handout (I kid you not).
In general, a good presentation has to nail not just the content and technology, but also visuals and public speaking. And this is the hardest thing to do right. For adults, even. Experts have started to decry PowerPoint as not just problematic, but actively destructive when it comes to communicating information and especially nuance clearly.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.
“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.
Shifting the focus from a PowerPoint document to the holistic presentation will further the student’s ability to communicate complex ideas — a key skill in today’s (or any day’s) world. Some further reading that is both informative and motivational on that front:
- Merlin Mann talks about “How [he] made his presentations a little better” (know this: he was pretty good to begin with)
- Business Week breaks down how to “Deliver a presentation like Steve Jobs” (the inimitable CEO of Apple)
- Edward Tufte (the master of information presentation — and notorious PowerPoint-hater) examines how to get the absolute most out of PowerPoint (or not)