Power Point Poisoning and Treatment


A student recently explained to me that, by the end of just one week at our faculty, most of the students suffer from severe PowerPoint poisoning, as she called it. A very good description, I think, for something everybody has experienced either in school, university or many professional meetings. Just as an example of never ending presentation with slides that look like this:



This, of course, is an example of my own teaching materials, some years ago. Frightening! So why do we let it happen, despite the bad learning outcomes of such slides and our knowledge of thousand recipes on how to avoid it? Is it just the lack of time?

Maybe it is just that: There are a million good tips to get on the internet or in educational books. The main challenge is to focus on just a few, to reduce information to what really is relevant to the topic. And this applies to both your own learning and the preparation of your next talk or lecture. Do not try to teach everything to your student in 45 minutes – It is proven scientifically that they won’t remember anything. So why don’t we listen to those experts who have already thought about the issue: The following speech by Melissa Marshall can be a good starting point for some general thoughts, so check her TED talk. But if you don’t like TED talks, take a look at this more scientific introduction Rethinking Presentation Slide: The Assertion-Evidence Structure.

The biggest challenge for using PowerPoint in a more appropriate way is to have enough time and the right attitude. It really takes time to create a good, informative and motivating presentation. In addition, the challenge is to be able to rethink something you already did. Because it is quite frustrating to have assembled so many good bullet points on a topic to, afterwards, simply take them out.

So, given a situation where you have to give a lecture and the only thing you can do is to choose between motivating presentations or boring ones, what are you going to choose? There are several other teaching methods like flipped classrooms, inquiry based teaching etc. that you can use. This Australian MOOC called “Learn to teach online” is a very good starting point.

In my case. the biggest challenge I faced was to shift my mentality: Fewer words on a slide do not mean the presentation is less serious!

I don’t think students will lose respect for you if you don’t bomb them with written words. Most of them are capable to listen and to realize you are prepared for your lesson even if you are only showing pictures and some keywords. So this is my own, pragmatic approach:

Instead of using many hours to try to reduce the amount of information given in a .ppt presentation or trying to state them in a more engaging way, I simply cut out the whole text and paste it in my comment section. In that way, I gain lots of white space for an illustrating picture. The following picture might have been on a previous slide of a presentation but maybe just as a little funny thumbnail in the right corner. Now it is the main message and it’s purpose is to hopefully be remembered. Here you see an example I used to discuss the activation of the reward system, the state of ecstasy and how to connect it to real life situations:



However, if you are bored of only using Power Point, why not use other programs? You can find several of those, free of charge and for educational institutions, like Prezi.  (Here my own presentation on the same topic)

On another line, if the majority of your students own smartphones, why not try an even more modern approach and make your presentation an interactive quiz? Different programs, such as Socrative and Infuse learning, have been on the market for a while, to enhance the quality of lectures, presentations and teaching in general. Read more about the different qualities here: http://itechbob.blogspot.no/2013/01/socrative-vs-infuselearning.html

During the last months, in Norway one program really hit the market and I am sure it will be loved by you and your students if used here and there. KAHOOT gives you an authentic game-show impression and adds thus another dimension to your students learning experience. See again the same topic as above: https://play.kahoot.it/#/k/ca5b962d-66de-4f8c-8b7e-3f3539758e3b. Or you may try a little quiz about Scientix: https://play.kahoot.it/#/k/dc74f9e1-8bf6-44c8-8806-921f27e481dd. The program itself is very intuitive and it will only take a short time to create your own example. The harder part here is to find appropriate questions and answers that will create a positive competitive environment for your students and will enhance their learning process. Good Luck!

Article written by: Jan Höper, Scientix Deputy Ambassador

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