Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Technology/PowerPoint

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How can PowerPoint presentations be used effectively?
There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.

—Robert Frost

If you want your class to stay awake, take note: the bar has been permanently raised with the new technologies in computer-based presentation design. Forget the overheads and slides. Attracted by the same slick interface and easy learning curve that drew the corporate types, educators and students are employing the presentation software in classrooms in ever-increasing numbers. For some teachers, the computerized slide-show format is deposing the black/whiteboard.

It’s especially good for the visual learner; but while it's relatively easy to learn the basics of the program, it's not always obvious to teachers how to turn a PowerPoint presentation into a useful learning experience.

Unfortunately, good software alone does not make for good presentation design. In fact, quite the opposite! As computer-based presentation design has become more the norm, classrooms are being overwhelmed with productions that seem to use every feature and font that the teacher (or student) can find. You may think your presentation is great and the class is with you as they politely nod their heads, smile, and take notes, but beware: the emperor believed that only a "fool" couldn't see his beautiful new clothes!

One of the criticisms that's been raised about PowerPoint is that it can give the illusion of coherence and content when there really isn't very much coherence or content. Jamie McKenzie, a former school superintendent and editor of the education website From Now On, uses the term "PowerPointlessness" to illustrate the drawbacks of the program.

Too many flying letters, animations and sound effects without seeing much original thought or analysis can be a real issue. In many cases, the medium shoves the message aside. Too many people forget that they are making a presentation first and that PowerPoint is just their assistant. Resist the temptation to make a PowerPoint presentation that uses sounds, colors, pictures, and actions that do nothing to get the message across and do everything to distract the students from the message that you are trying to deliver.

A quick Web search for PowerPoint lesson plans reveals a wealth of sites offering archives of presentations in subjects ranging from art to world history. Individual projects include such subjects as how to dissect a fish, perform the Heimlich maneuver or solve a long equation.

PowerPoint works well in the classroom in a number of ways.

  • Present information or instruction to an entire class.
  • Create graphically enhanced information and instructions for the learning centers.
  • Create tutorials, reviews, or quizzes for individual students.
  • Display student work and curriculum materials or accompany teacher presentations at parent open houses or technology fairs. You can set PowerPoint presentations to run automatically during such events, providing a slide show of classroom activities and events as parents tour your classroom or school.

PowerPoint and the Student[edit]

"It's a neat tool, but it should be thought of as a supplement rather than as a way of providing your basic research," said McKenzie, who believes the program is often overused in student projects. (McKenzie, 2000) Teachers shouldn't allow a slide presentation to take the place of writing assignments. Students should use technology and things like PowerPoint to summarize their points and put their thoughts in order, but they still must have the experience of actual writing.

Intent on producing students with strong reading, writing and thinking skills, teachers should be on the lookout for thin quality of the student work, with an emphasis upon flash and special effects rather than content and thought. We must focus on student outcomes worth achieving, upon value added rather than glitz, glimmer and gimmicks.

Linear vs. Non-Linear[edit]

PowerPoint can be a very effective and valuable tool, but it can also serve as a downfall in the classroom. There are two main differences in PowerPoint presentations: linear and non-linear. Linear is the most common type of PowerPoint used by educators today. The presentation is slide after slide that is watched by the student while the teacher lectures in the background. The other type is non-linear presentations. As defined by Guides and “they engage the user by allowing him/her to control how the presentation is viewed and in what order.” Students are able to move around the presentation in any order which enables them to refer back to previous pages or jump around to retrieve the slides as needed. Many teachers add hyper links to allow the student to retrieve vital relevant information that has been posted online. There are many advantages of using Power Points within the classroom when used appropriately.

Organizing Your Presentation[edit]

  • Engage and inform
  • Think concepts, not just facts and figures
  • The Joy of Six
    • Six points per slide maximum
    • Six words per point
    • Phrases, not sentences

Decide what the message of your presentation will be and be familiar enough with it so that you could talk about the subject even without the PowerPoint presentation. Suppose there was no projector or the bulb burned out. If you can’t carry on, it’s probably either because you weren’t familiar enough with your topic or your presentation was loaded with a lot of useless and uninteresting facts that would bore your students to death anyway. Presentations should flow like conversation, not be a never ending list of useless or uninteresting facts. You might as well stand up in front of your class and read your grocery list. As you talk to your class, your presentation should just highlight points. Those points should follow the Joy of Six Guidelines. To keep your slides uncluttered and more importantly, to make it more likely that your class will remember/write down things, try to limit your slides to six points per slide and no more than six words per point; and phrases are easier to read and remember than sentences. You’ll be speaking the sentences.

Consider Your Audience (Class or co-workers)[edit]

  • Give them what they are expecting
  • Give them what they need
  • Don’t insult them by reading
  • Involve them & ask questions
  • Use the B key where appropriate

Begin by asking a few questions to get an idea of the class expectations and experience. Then gear your presentation toward the bulk of the class, but make sure to give enough background to help those who need it, but not so much as to lose a large part of the class. For older students, one of the most deadly mistakes you can make is to read your presentation. The middle and high school students shouldn’t need you for that. And use the B key where appropriate in PowerPoint. What does the B key do? Very simply, it turns the screen black. There will be times in your lecture/presentation that you want the class to focus on you and forget the slides. Hit the B and the screen will turn Black. Hit it again and it will come Back.

Color & Layout[edit]

  • One background color
  • Use contrasting but complementary colors
  • Stay consistent with fonts and colors
  • Don’t clutter
  • Balance your slides

There are some simple design considerations that you should follow. You do want to use contrasting colors that work well together. Your words will be sending one message and your color choice another. Pick a background and stick with it. Constant changes cause your students to pay attention to the changes not the message. The same thing is true of your fonts, their color and size. Keep them consistent. If you change them, people will be watching to see what font you come up with next instead of listening to your message. Keep your slide balanced and remember the Joy of Six.


  • Use graphics to enhance or emphasize
  • Sound effects should be appropriate
  • Sound clips should be short
  • Avoid constant movement

Once again, when it comes to multimedia, anything you use should enhance or emphasize your message. Using cute pictures, video, or sounds without thinking about how they will help you get your message across may result in your students remembering the cute picture, but forgetting what you were trying to say. People like to use animations, because they are fun to watch. However, do you really want your students watching animations on your slide or listening to what you are saying?

As The Old Saying Goes, Practice Makes Perfect[edit]

  • Script the lecture
  • Use the notes area and print them out
  • Practice paraphrasing
  • Watch for like, ahh, umm, ya know
  • Be aware of time

A great slide presentation without a well-prepared lecture is like a great recipe in the hands of a poor cook. The final product may be edible, but it’s not going to be a meal you will remember or want to have again. We all have speech habits that we don’t notice, but our students will pick up on quickly. If you are in the habit of pausing and saying things such as ahh or umm, or worse yet, ya know, people will begin to focus on that instead of your words.


The comparative politics courses of the university of North Carolina did a study of PowerPoint usage in the classroom. They found that is was more of a benefit then a hindrance. Surveys administered to gauge student reaction to the PowerPoint presentation show that students perceive increased retention, grasp of material, organization, and enjoyment. PowerPoint also has a low learning curve, allowing busy instructors to integrate the software in their teaching without extensive retraining.

Avoid PowerPoint Poisoning[edit]

  • Prepare the presentation before PowerPoint
  • Know and consider your audience
  • Think of PowerPoint as your assistant
  • Deliver your material in an interesting way
  • Be prepared

So to wrap it up, you should prepare your lecture before firing up your software. Have enough information available so that you can provide your class with what it needs. Choose your design and layout so that it is consistent and doesn’t take away from your message. Remember that the technology is your assistant and should help you, not take over the show. Tell a story, involve the students, use humor, be engaging, but stay on track with your lecture. Talk WITH your students not AT them. Be well prepared when you make your presentation.


Remember, as a teacher, to focus on teaching, learning and thinking. Remember the equipment/software is nothing much more than a set of new tools to support questioning, exploring and creating. It’s all about showing students how to make sense of their worlds, preparing them to think and read deeply and well. Our purpose should be literacy — not illiteracy or e-literacy.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

PowerPoint is a useful tool in the classroom that can replace:
A. Planning and writing
B. Overheads and the blackboard
C. Conversation
D. Coherence and comprehension

B. Overheads and the blackboard

If students are conducting research into a problem or issue - if they are exploring an essential question - then we should monitor the proportion of time devoted to research and thinking in contrast to the time spent preparing slides.
A. True
B. False

A. True

In some cases, students may do a glib and superficial job on the problem solving and decision-making:
A. Because they don' know how to use the software.
B. So that they can turn the project in on time.
C. In order to rush into the multimedia production phase of the project.

C. In order to rush into the multimedia production phase of the project.

Students may lose sight of the big picture in a presentation because:
A. Big ideas appear on their own slides.
B. Details appear on their own slides.
C. The context is lost moving from slide to slide.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Students should prepare to speak concisely and effectively to a group about the ideas represented by the slides. To do that:
A. They should not read the slides to the group.
B. The slides should be a carefully elaborated piece of writing.
C. The slides should contain lots of graphics, colors and animations.

A. They should not read the slides to the group.

PowerPoint is good for what type of learner?
A. Abstract
B. Kinesthic
C. Visual
D. None of the above

C. Visual

PowerPoints should replace writing assignments.
A. True
B. False

B. False

The Joy of Six is:
A. Six point per slide maximum.
B. Six words per point.
C. Phrases, not sentences.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Which University helped prove that PowerPoint was beneficial?
A. Old Dominion University
B. University of North Carolina
C. Virginia Tech

B. University of North Carolina

While using the PowerPoint presentation show, students grasped the material better.
A. True
B. False

A. True

PowerPoint has a(n) ________________, allowing busy instructors to integrate the software in their teaching without extensive retraining.
A. Low learning curve
B. High tolerance feature
C. A PowerPoint for dummies handbook

A. Low learning curve

Ann wants to make a PowerPoint slide for her biology class. She has so much information though. How should she present it?
A. Put all of her information on as many slides as possible.
B. Pick out the key points and put those on as few slides as possible.
C. Only use one slide and just put the topic in the middle discuss the rest of her information.

B. Pick out the key points and put those on as few slides as possible.

Josh is having a problem figuring out how many animations to put on his slide. How many should he use?
A. One or two.
B. As many as he wants.
C. None—it would make it too confusing .

A. One or two.

Liz is making a presentation on PowerPoint for one of her classes. How should she use the slides she has made in her presentation?
A. Just read off of them the whole time.
B. Talk to the class and just let them look at the slides if they want to.
C. Talk with the class while pointing to the slides every time she introduces a new topic.

C. Talk with the class while pointing to the slides every time she introduces a new topic.

Billy is studying for a biology test he decides to reread the material on the PowerPoint. The PowerPoint he is using allows him to skip around the slides to focus more on certain topics. Which type of PowerPoint is Billy using?
A. Demonstrative PowerPoint
B. Linear PowerPoint
C. Multimedia
D. Non-Linear PowerPoint

D. Non-Linear PowerPoint

Which is a not a reason teachers misuse PowerPoint presentation?
A. Using sentences rather than terms.
B. Too many sound effects and slide transitions.
C. Application concepts and questions.
D. Reading from the slide.

C. Application concepts and questions.

What is not true about the saying “the joy of six”?
A. The amount of points per slide.
B. The amount of slide transitions and sound effects per presentation.
C. The mount of words per point.
D. Using short phrases opposed to sentences.

B. The amount of slide transitions and sound effects per presentation.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall. How can you relate this scenario to the use of PowerPoint?

The comparison of PowerPoint to a drug that promises to make us beautiful but also is known to induce stupidity, turn everyone into bores, waste time and degrade the quality and credibility of communication helps to demonstrate the possible negative side effects of utilizing PowerPoint for presentations. PowerPoint is a tool that continues to become more widely used by teachers and students during presentations. They are able to create a slideshow with various background and text colors, graphics, sounds and actions. The benefits of PowerPoint are obviously to make a more visually appealing presentation that will especially affect those who are visual learners. The main goal of all presentations though is that the topic be clearly presented, accurate and well researched. If the presenter spends the majority of their preparation time creating a most impressive slideshow, they may lose sight of the purpose of the presentation. The content of the presentation should always remain their focus! The slideshow should contain a minimal amount of distractions that will take the audience’s attention away from the topic. Frequent flying words, graphics and sounds not only distract from the message but create a longer slideshow. The presenter should also minimally rely on the slideshow to make their presentation. Reading the slides to the audience is boring and would make the presentation less appealing. While ultimately the PowerPoint slideshow can improve a presentation, one should always focus on the content and their comfort in discussing it with the audience. —Sarah Murphy

As an avid user of the PowerPoint tool in my lessons I find them very useful. I, unlike many in my field do not think that PowerPoint makes teachers lazy, and is a poor substitution for old fashion writing. On the contrary; PowerPoint is just a viable tool as Microsoft Word or Corel. The issue isn't the viability of PowerPoint, but rather the level of training that instructors receive or have received prior to the implementation of PowerPoint in the classroom, and the inclusion of PowerPoint in the lesson plans. Many times the teachers as well as students are overloaded on the wonderful art of creating slide shows, and so the tools capabilities actually have an adverse effect when teaching in the classroom. I think the best way to work slide shows into a class lesson is to not teach the entire lesson from PowerPoint. If the kids are not fully engaged with you, having them stare and copy off of a screen for fifty minutes to an hour and a half is the quickest way to increase classroom management issues. Why? Because as interesting as swooping in and flipping pictures of WWII, x2+2, and microorganisms are, they just aren't quite interesting enough to keep a kid's attention and reinforce material retention. That part of the burden still rests on the instructor's shoulders. So, how do we as teachers engage our students, increase our awareness and use of technology such as PowerPoint in the classroom with out becoming completely detached from our students' learning experiences? By using PowerPoint as the side show and NOT the main attraction in our lessons. PowerPoint is important and useful, but just as the chinese proverb goes "everything in moderation..." If we don't suppress the urge to overindulge in the simple expediency of technology we, as well as our students, will fall prey to watered down lectures, and disrupted learning time. —Nichole White

I strongly agree with Nichole White’s response in that the burden to educate lies on teachers, not on technology. Power point is indeed a great tool for teachers to enhance their effectiveness. But if teachers are not qualified to begin with, Power point will not make them good teachers. If a teacher can bore students using the blackboard, he/she can bore them just as easily using Power point slides. Nichole also makes a valid point on the need for moderation. No matter what new technology may appear, be in Power point or SmartBoard or anything else, teachers must not depend on these technologies to do the teaching for them. I believe it is important that teachers be open and willing to learn new technologies to keep up with the times, but we need to, first and foremost, be concerned with our ability to engage our students and show them how to learn. If we as teachers can keep Power point as the “side show”, our students can greatly benefit from what it has to offer. More than anything, Power point is a tool to communicate the information and learning opportunities that teachers already have to present. The technology without the information is useless. —Carol Visotsky