Why I do PowerPoint

There’s been a bit of a hoo-hah on Twitter today about PowerPoint (PPt). I think it began following this post from Jo Facer, which makes some fair comments. This led to a share of a previously written, more balanced argument by Robert Peal. I certainly agree with points in both, but not all. Here’s why I think we shouldn’t be so hasty in dismissing the use PPt:


1. It provides a structure for lessons – note the term lessons. I often have a PPt that spans more than one lesson and based on the content that needs to be taught. I don’t see a problem with planning via PPt, so as long as the time spent is on thinking about the order/structure of content. Taking the time to think about the structure helps to organise my thoughts and enables me to move information around to suit the needs of the class. It’s as if I am putting my schema to paper (figuratively speaking). I could use other means to do this, but the PPt serves as a prompt during the session and means that the risk of learners missing out on crucial information is minimised.

2. The ‘visual’ argument – there’s no denying the vast body of research supporting Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory. I used to be guilty of putting reams of text on slides, which I proceeded to read to my learners and wondered why they never remembered anything. The issue was that whilst I read aloud and learners read the text (self talking), all information was entering working memory via the verbal pathway. Having developed a (basic) understanding of the theory, I began to change my approach, ensuring that more visuals were used to support explanations rather than text. Where visual information can’t be used, I keep text to a minimum, emphasising key points only. Having the visual means that the two pathways to working memory are being used, thus less of of burden for the learners (as shown below). PPt is a platform that enables me to quickly create or add visuals, meaning that all I have to concentrate on is explaining it clearly.


3. Animations – I’m not talking the swirling and whirling of individual letters which take ages to create sentences. No, I’m talking animations to grab learners attention, to direct them to important components of visuals as they are being discussed. I have blogged about this here, but the Clark and Lyons research is a much more comprehensive read on this. Whilst there are many other ways to direct attention, PPt can be used really effectively to do so.

4. Everything in one place – Another benefit of PPt is that I can place my quiz, my content, links to reading, learner task instructions etc all in one single place. I can upload this to the Virtual Learning Environment and if learners wish to access anything, it’s all there for them. The fact that everything is in one place also helps keep my OCD in check.

5. Aesthetics – I must admit, I am guilty of putting too much time into the aesthetics of my PPts. I have got better at making the information less of a burden on the working memory; gone are the GIFs, the tenuously linked images, and text heavy slides. In spite of this, I still like to have clear, crisp, well designed slides. The fact that I put effort into making my resources look nice probably won’t get me any thanks from anyone, but with the care I place, I know that the spellings will be correct, the animations will support the learners at the right time and (I’m going to throw this out there) it’ll probably engage the learners a little more (by engage, I mean grab their attention). Whilst this probably makes no odds to the learning, it’s far better than my handwriting on a white board.

To summarise, bad PPts are bad. Similarly, bad teachers are bad; as are bad pens, bad textbooks and bad technology. There is another way and I strive to be at the opposite end of the continuum.


9 thoughts on “Why I do PowerPoint

  1. Spot on. Thanks for putting my feelings into a succinct format (although a supporting power point may have helped). I’ve been teaching English in an SEMH special school for the last ten years and power point has been a large part of my teaching. One thing I always do is ensure my slide matches exactly the sheet the students have. This makes modelling easier and avoids the students getting lost (for some of them, getting lost for 15 seconds is enough to lose them for the whole lesson). I’m interested by your comments on working memory and how having two different formats aids learning. I’ll look more at that aspect. Thanks again.

  2. Good solid blog. Useful in that respect. As to aesthetics, I think it better to frame in terms of design. That way, you’ll be inclined to look at what the print industry has grown to develop to ensure reading is both inviting and easy.
    So, the following are what most designers say are the bedrock of easy to read communication:
    1: Create a grid that stays in the background. For Ppt, I tend to work with a 5×5 grid. That means dividing up, equally, the slide into 5 vertical and 5 horizontal sections. Then use this to place your elements
    2: Align elements. The eye is looking for organisation, so the grid and its use by aligning elements (text block, images, icons, lines etc) helps enormously. The absence of alignment (and the underlying grid) is the first sign of a non-designer’s piece of work.
    3: Only two fonts — normally one serif (bits on the end: Georgia) and sans-serif (without those bits on the end: Arial). Then change weight and size. Never underline; it’s a left-over from the typewriter. Cutting of some of the descenders makes reading harder. Why would one want to do that?
    4: Fewer colours. Never more than, say, three. Forget nursery colour schemes.
    5: Don’t overcrowd. Don’t put your white space dotted around the slide. Try to group it into a large area with nothing on it.
    6: Be very concise (and concrete) with your language.

  3. Totally agree Dan, although possibly from a Dyslexia/ADHD perspective and poor working memory tendencies in these cases. I find it helps me to travel the distance of my presentation and, as you say, keep on track. I sometimes read people extolling the virtue of no PP in their training/teaching but I wouldn’t enjoy being a participant of this unless at the theatre.

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