Death By PowerPoint: Avoiding a Classroom Tragedy – Lucas Gillispie, Instructional Technology Coordinator, Pender County Schools, NC Introduction: For the last several years of my experience in the science classroom, I used PowerPoint to deliver my lectures on topics ranging from the parts of the atom to ecological succession. Many of my students, after a few short minutes, would start fading out. Have you ever tried to make Endoplasmic Reticulum interesting? One of the culprits, aside from the subject matter, was the design of my presentations. Many of my colleagues had presentations that were getting the same results… fast-fading students. Some of my fellow teachers had slides that were pedagogically brutal! That’s when I heard about Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen book. So, in this presentation, I’ve adapted some of those principles to classroom PowerPoint. I highly recommend the book. No, it’s not a miracle cure for bad presentation. Remember, a PowerPoint slide should highlight what you are saying to your students. You, as a teacher are the presenter, and as I would argue, the entertainer and storyteller. So craft your story well! If you do, your students will be engaged and they will retain so much more.
So, what’s the problem with PowerPoint in the classroom?
The problem is, that we’re not using the technology to do anything above and beyond what we were already doing with overhead projectors. The best teachers are reflective practitioners. As they are designing and delivering any instruction, they are constantly asking themselves, “Is this effective?” So, ask yourself… “Is my presentation effective? Are my students engaged?” The following slides include some signs that your students are affected by what I call Presentation-Induced Cerebral Necrosis! (or Death by PowerPoint).
Notice how this young lady’s head has tilted to the side, slightly. Unless you’re teaching from the ceiling, she’s probably not looking at you. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mloesjeenzo/840480460/
This young man’s face has become increasingly plastic. Also, he’s looking at something or someone that’s probably not you. See? He’s even forgotten that he’s eating a banana. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/seagers/1434400200/
Notice the down-turned mouth. Clearly, this young man is not enjoying class. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/mad_african78/399009749/
This young lady is showing more advanced progression of the PICN. Notice, one eye is nearly shut. The second one is sure to follow. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatshername/3390623924/sizes/l/
Here are two students suffering from the advanced stages of PICN. Notice one’s head is down and the other, obviously in sheer agony brought on by boredom, hides her face. Notice too, these subjects have caffeine to combat the effects, but to little avail. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/39367033@N00/240566360/
In its most advanced stages, PICN results in the effects you see here. This student is lying in the follow, a shallow pool of drool beneath his face. Notice the whitening of the eyes. He may, in fact, become a zombie. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jakub_hlavaty/2163782581/
Humor aside, it really IS possible to improve your presentations. One of the keys to making this happen is storytelling.
For centuries, storytelling was a primary means of conveying ideas and passing down knowledge from one generation to the next. Our technology should enhance an age-old practice. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/pierre_pouliquin/395084015/
Using imagery to support our words has been around for many years. Cave paintings were used to reinforce stories that were told. Perhaps this was the earliest form of PowerPoint? Image Credit: http://flickr.com
“When did story become synonymous with fiction?” At some point, probably in the Industrial Age, a division was made between storytelling and the relaying of information. It doesn’t have to be that way. As a former Biology teacher, I can assure you that each cell in your body is a wonderful and amazing story of intricacy. Each organelle moves busily about in these miniature cities, each carrying out a role in the cell critical to life. I’m sure your subject area has its own stories. Think back to what teachers or subjects inspired you in school. I bet it wasn’t writing definitions from an overhead that turned you on to that topic. Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Biological_cell.svg
Remember when your class had Show and Tell? That may be a good model for presenting to students… Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2850669383/
I highly recommend this book. In it, Daniel Pink argues that we’re no longer in the Industrial or even Information Ages. He says we’ve moved into the Conceptual Age. What does this mean for your students? It means that the best jobs in the future will require not only left-brain activities like logic, programming, and mathematics, but the real demand will be for individuals who can put a creative, right-brained spin on those things. We do our students a disservice if we only teach half their brain. Image Credit:http://www.amazon.com/Whole-New-Mind-Right-Brainers-Future
Interestingly enough, your students may revolt. Expect to hear questions like, “What am I supposed to write down?” It means they’ll have to work harder to gather critical information when note-taking and they’re not used to it. Their right brains may have atrophied. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisjohnbeckett/3405043040/
So, what’s the key to designing your slides? Well there are a few principals that can help. Largely, if you think about it, they’re common sense principles. So, keep them in mind when crafting your presentations for students. Image Credit: http://www.demotivatorblog.com
Here are some guiding questions to ask while designing:
What’s the point of this slide or information? That’s exactly what your students will be asking. If you can’t answer that question, don’t use it! Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattymatt/3017263513/
Would a handout work better? Many teachers make the mistake of cramming. They try to cram every possible item that might show up on a standardized exam into their presentations. PowerPoint was not designed for documents. That’s what word processors (Word) were designed to do. If a handout would be better, give your students a handout. Or, consider providing students with a handout to supplement your presentation. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunny/1889820241/
Here’s a huge common sense question: “Can your students read and listen at the same time?” Of course they can’t. Yet, teachers often present material as though they could. If you want your students mindlessly copying information from a slide to their notebook then please, don’t verbally explain to them the concept at the same time! They won’t be listening to you. They’ll be quickly writing down all the words on the screen before you can advance to the next wall of text. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/63538407/
Again, when designing a slide, ask yourself “Is this really necessary?” Could it be presented better? Image Credit: http://flickr.com
You know your content well. Your students, don’t. When you design your slides, are they key points obvious or do your students mentally have to filter through excess words to find the key point? Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com
It is critical to send a clear message with your slides. Again, the visuals should support what you are saying and especially the words you have on the slide. Keep it minimal. Make sure your images are placed in the vicinity of the words they relate to, and by all means, make sure they RELATE! Image Credit: http://funnysign.com
Remember Pink’s Conceptual Age? At the end of your presentation, will your students see the big picture or will they simply have a collection of non-connected facts and trivia? How can your presentation build those connections? Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com
Cognitive science has much to say about the design of multimedia (such as PowerPoint). To learn more read, Mayer’s book. Image credit: http://www.amazon.com
Here are some more tips to guide you to better presentations:
When you consider it, you may find that PowerPoint isn’t even a good idea for teaching your students a particular concept. Sometimes, a chalkboard or white board and stick figures are the best method. Trust me, your students will laugh at your art skills… and they’ll remember what you were teaching. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raeh/97731566/
Plan your presentation ahead of time. Consider your goals and objectives and how you can make sure your learners conceptually go from point A to B. Reynold’s suggests planning away from your computer and it’s a good idea. PowerPoint’s templates and design channel us into making abusive bullet-point-oriented presentations. Go to the local coffee shop. Take some paper (or a napkin). Try storyboarding, planning your slides like scenes in a movie. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonnygoldstein/3194105413/
Keep your slides simple. Less is more. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/euart/282104427/
Use visually surprising images that are relevant. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com
Any time you relate your material to their lives and experiences you’ll increase learning. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/halloelle/2818182385/
Incorporate emotion into your presentation and they’ll remember it. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/trojanguy/3046207115/
Here are a couple of practical suggestions for slide design:
Design your slides, particularly the text, so they can be read by the kid sitting in the back of the class. Yes, that means less word per slide and more slides. We all have 2 Gig thumb drives now, right? It’s OK to have 100 slides. Image Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/ijames/112866961/
This tip will not only improve your slides but also your digital photographs. It’s called the Rule of Thirds. I don’t understand the psychology behind it, and I know it’s somehow associated with the Golden Ratio, but it does seem to work. Place the most important elements of your slides a third of the distance across the width of your slide. The green dots show the sweet spots. Please don’t center everything. Yuck! Image Credit: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/Michael_Fodor/Photo_School_-_Rule_of_Thirds/ruleofthirds.jpg
Empty space on the slide is fine. It helps emphasize the important elements. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com
Cluttered slides are less effective. Reduce the noise. Remove unnecessary elements of a slide. Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cayusa/814985254/
To learn more, check out Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen. Also, keep in mind there are great resources online for free-to-use images. Flickr has a great Creative Commons search: http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ If you’d like to contact me, Lucas Gillispie, my websites are: http://www.pcs-tech.net and http://www.edurealms.com. Image credit: http://www.amazon.com
1. Death By PowerPoint Avoiding a Classroom Tragedy Lucas Gillispie
2. The Problem:
3. How to identify the symptoms of Presentation-Induced Cerebral Necrosis (or “Death By PowerPoint”)
10. Telling Stories:
12. Early Versions of PowerPoint
13. When did “story” become synonymous with “fiction?”
14. Remember Show and Tell?
15. “ Conceptual Age” Teach Their Left and Right Brains
16. Your Students May Revolt
19. Ask yourself:
20. What’s the point? … because that’s what your students will ask.
21. Would a handout work better?
22. Can your students read and listen at the same time?
23. Is this slide really necessary?
24. Is what’s important, obvious?
25. Is my message consistent?
26. When you are done with your presentation, will your students see the big picture?
27. Used well… Words + Pictures = Powerful
29. It’s OK NOT to use PowerPoint
30. Plan your presentation away from your computer .