[Let me first reveal that the most loathsome aspect of Power Point actually appears through Microsoft Word. When typing, or rather mistyping “Power Point”, Word sardonically refuses to auto correct, forcing the writer to capitalize and include the space within this Microsoft entity. Therefore, sometimes I changed it to be Microsoft-correct, other times I left it well alone.]
Moving forward: In the readings this week, there are two arguments presented. The Christine Tardy article “Expressions of Disciplinarity and Individuality in a Multimodal Genre”, the Alan Perry “PowerPoint Presentations: a Creative Addition to the Research Process” and Tara Williams’ “Multimedia learning gets medieval” argue that Power Point presentations, and other multimedia opportunities, enhance student learning as they contribute to current lessons and activities within the class. As students, we have all been exposed to Power Points. We have collectively groaned upon seeing a handout with endless slides on it. Depending on our undergrad experiences, our level of exposure to this presentation has probably influenced our opinions toward the style. I went to a small, liberal arts school and majored in English. My lectures were taught by professors who used chalk if writing any notes, and regardless, still mesmerized me with interesting and insightful lectures. My college roommate however, majored in marketing. She sat through PowerPoint after PowerPoint, worked collaboratively making more power points, analyzed data on PowerPoint, and was bored. What would have been better?
Tardy writes, “though the verbal mode does provide one means for expressing individuality, the visual mode adds an important layer of self-expression. Color, background design, and use of images are just some of the elements that writers can manipulate according to their own tastes, purposes, and sense of self”. The appearance of a presentation is important, and reveals a personal insight to the writer. How we manipulate the slides thus affects the interpretation of the audience. Tardy furthers to acknowledge the benefits of incorporating visual with verbal modes to help developing writers: “And as developing technologies offer new visual possibilities for scientific researchers…visual modes will continue to grow in importance for multilingual research writing”. The technology allows students to express their writing by combining various medias, something we have discussed in depth this semester. PowerPoint is clearly one manner to combine visual and verbal elements. Further, Alan Perry asserts Tardy’s position, writing ““I believe that requiring students to create and present a PowerPoint project in addition to writing a research paper is an effective means of organizing research assignments for high school students”. Thankfully, Perry does not wish to replace the research assignment and sees the value in supporting the research with a component that allows for presentation and collaboration. In addition, Tara Williams’ “Multimedia Learning Gets Medieval” acknowledges the negative sides of PowerPoint. She cites sources who believe the slides are “pedagogical parsley”, “PPPhluff”, and do nothing more but trivialize important information. She cites in particular Jacqueline Foertsch, who “argued that they too often become “dessert,” functioning as the ‘students’ rewards for choking down the literary broccoli I’ve been cooking up all semester long.’ More provocatively, [Foertsch] contends that ‘courses in film and television analysis bring out the couch potato not only in students but in teachers as well’…For Foertsch, technology precludes rather than encourages active learning and threatens to turn the literature classroom into a living room”. Williams bravely acknowledges these beliefs, but expresses her belief that multimedia learning greatly enhances students, especially her students studying Medieval Literature. Technology allows students to deepen their understanding of this time period, help them to place the period with a cultural lens, and give them a greater appreciation for the literature. She writes, “multimedia elements can be valuable in an academic setting when carefully designed and implemented”. The careful design and implementation of a lesson is no more than good teaching, and yet still not an easy feat. Williams concludes her essay, writing “In a society structured around religious and courtly ceremonies and invested in dramatic spectacles, reading was a performative and communal experience; those same qualities now characterize encounters with multimedia and Web technology. Similarly, technology and technological media will never supplant literary texts in English departments, but they can enhance the ways in which students understand and approach those texts”. I love to read these connections between “Old World” and “New World”. It makes me feel better to read that the Internet might not be ruining the world, but actually mimicking pre-existing cultural norms. The belief is that technology can enhance student understanding of text. To enhance is not to replace, but to improve. Again, this is good teaching: how do we do it?
In the spirit of debate, there exists a completely opposing argument in this weeks’ readings by Edward Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. I include his background, because upon reading the essay, my first thought was “Who is this guy?” and upon realizing he seems to have the background to make such statements, I read it again. His argument is clear through the title of his essay “PowerPoint is Evil”. He writes: “The practical conclusions are clear. PowerPoint is a competent slide manager and projector. But rather than supplementing a presentation, it has become a substitute for it. Such misuse ignores the most important rule of speaking: Respect your audience”. Tufte succinctly creates our discussion: yes, PowerPoint can enhance (or supplement) a presentation, but too often it is becoming the substitute for a presentation. Something (What?) is lost through the use of the slide manager, and not much is gained according to Tufte.
We need to determine where our opinions lie, and how we can incorporate a potentially helpful technological tool into our classrooms, without being lazy. My questions for the readings are:
1. How do we create successful presentations that incorporate PowerPoint, but do not act as a substitute for our lesson? How do we ensure that our slides are not simply “pedagogical parsley”?
2. Tufte argues we need to show respect for our audience. How is this done? What do our students want (need) from us in regards to a lesson or presentation?
3. How do we discern “good teaching” from “good classroom management”? Often times, a class will sit quietly and take notes while listening to a PowerPoint presentation. This is easy, and totally frightening. How do we know our lesson is actually “good”, and not easy to sit through because we talk spiritedly about a subject we love?
4. What are your experiences with PowerPoint? Am I wrong to assume that these experiences have influenced our use of it? How do we use PowerPoint in our lives? Where do we see the future of PowerPoint heading?
5. What is the “Something” that Tufte argues is lost through the use of PowerPoint?
Christine Tardy’s article discusses a Peter Norvig PowerPoint on the Gettysburg Address. I’ve included this link here, and a YouTube video with Jeff Daniels reading Lincoln’s speech…Enjoy.