Last week I read a post called ‘Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring.’ The author also described PowerPoint as being:
“Not fit for teachers.”
Both of these statements are likely to generate a lot of debate and even though the author has led a move to ban on PowerPoint in the classroom and lecture hall, he can’t be as strongly adverse to PowerPoint as these statements would suggest because he says:
“We do allow lecturers to use it to show images and videos as well as quotes from primary authors.”
However, he prefers that the main content should be given with a ‘chalk and talk’ approach because with PowerPoint there is less improvisation, teachers read their bullet points off the screen and while students may take them as authoritative fact, it bores them at the same time. The author also mentions that students used to complain about the PowerPoint presentation not being shared before the presentation.
After reading with the article, I was left with this image of the author’s experience of presentations in my head.
I would argue that if your PowerPoint presentation looks like this, the problem isn’t with the presentation software.
I completely agree with Joanna Malefaki’s response to the PPT debate. PowerPoint is a tool, and how useful that tool is largely depends on how familiar we are with the software. I think learning how to use a tool is a better approach than just simply banning it.
Marisa Constantinides wrote a great post called CELTA and Technology – With or Without it? It was partly about introducing PowerPoint skills into the CELTA course and the reactions to it. I think that it is a good idea to introduce trainee teachers to presentation software, so that if they choose to use it as a tool in the classroom, they can learn ways to use it effectively.
Then I came across this post by Sandy Millin. She also wrote about introducing technology into CELTA courses and commented:
“[I am] amazed at how many people, especially under 25s, are still petrified of PowerPoint and/or have never opened it in their lives!”
This anecdotal comment surprised me. So, rather than write a response to the original article, which claimed that PowerPoint wasn’t fit for teachers, I want to share a few tips and tricks for teacher trainees and experienced teachers who want to improve their presentations.
These tips are for content and improving presentation skills.
Tip #1 – Keep it Simple
Keep it simple. The best advice you will ever get when it comes to presentations. Yes, PowerPoint comes with default themes and wide array of transitions and animations but don’t let them detract from your content.
Some of the earlier presentations I created for use in the classroom used the default themes, but the default themes can be a visual reminder of presentations that your students have seen before, or they can employ a design which isn’t appropriate for your classroom. How do you think your students will respond to a default corporate design in PowerPoint?
I think it is better to have your own unique style, but keep it simple. I usually choose a single background color and apply it to all slides. If I have more time available, I will sometimes use a custom made design.
The same advice applies for transitions and animations. Yes, you can use elaborate and decorative transitions, and you add lots of animations. However, once they have been seen, they soon lose their appeal. You want your students or audience thinking that you have invested more time in the content of your presentation than you did in the design of it.
The other reason to keep it simple is that the more complicated you make something, the more chance there is for something to go wrong. This is especially true for people who use other presentation software such as Keynote and then try to run it in PowerPoint on a different computer. The conversion will change animations and formatting.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for transitions and animations in your presentations. I recently wrote an article about Video Diagrams, which use animations as a method of instruction. Where animations have been used with an aim or purpose they can enhance your presentation, when they are being used purely for decorative purposes they can detract from it. Keep your design simple, but unique and your content will speak for itself.
Simplicity also works for your content and makes the difference between a presentation that is driven by content to one that is guided by content. If you have too much information in your PowerPoint, you aren’t creating as many opportunities for improvisation in class. If you have too little content, you are losing opportunities to offer support and help to the students. Between those two extremes there is a happy medium. Enough content that the students are guided by it, but not so much that they feel they can’t deviate from it and your presentations will generate conversation.
Tip #2 – Think of your students
It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but don’t use small text.
Think about the teaching space and where the furthest student from the screen will be. The further away they are, the larger your text should be. Walk around your classroom and make sure students don’t have to strain their eyes to read any of the text. If you have students who are finding it difficult to read the text on the screen, you can rearrange your seating plan or invite them to move closer the screen. Alternatively you can use the magnifier tool to zoom in on the text.
Zooming with keyboard shortcuts Ctrl + will zoom in Ctrl - will zoom out Pressing Ctrl - beyond 100% zoom will show all slides. ESC returns to 100% view. Pressing ESC twice stops the presentation.
One other thing to consider is whether any of your students are color blind or not. Are you using a combination of colors that are difficult to read or see?
This post by Joanna Malefaki discusses color blindness in an educational setting and she mentions some color combinations to avoid. I can only describe it as an insightful read for teachers who don’t have any direct experience of how color blindness can affect the learning experience.
Tip #3 – Don’t read from the screen
Don’t read the screen!
It’s such an important thing not to do during presentations that it needs repeating. If your head is looking down at a computer screen or if your head is turned facing the projector screen you are not looking at your audience, which means you are not engaging with them.
One way to avoid this is not to write too much text on your slide and if you need additional prompts, write them in the notes section.
As you can see from the video, your notes from each slide will be visible in the presenter view. This is often the default view when you connect to an external monitor or projector. Look at your audience and only glance occasionally at your notes. They should only be prompts to jog your memory, not to be read word for word.
Tip #4 – Shifting focus
Your presentation doesn’t have to be the focal point for your students. If they are spending too much time looking at the screen, switch it off.
Press B to turn the screen to black Press W to turn the screen to white Press the same key again to return to the slide.
This isn’t a new technique. Ken Wilson has done seminar called ‘motivating the unmotivated’ where he uses a blend of technology, coursebooks and engaging speaking activities to help motivate students.
He switches of the screen to change the students’ focus or to get them involved in an information gathering activity.
The Information Gathering Activity
Write some sentences on the PowerPoint and number them. (If you write ten sentences, number them 1 – 10)
Assign each of the students in your class one of the numbers and ask them to memorize one sentence.
Switch off the screen by pressing B and ask the students to mingle and collect all the sentences.
When the students have finished, you can then turn the screen back on by pressing B and the students can compare their sentences to the originals.
I have tried this activity out many times and I have found it a great way to introduce, facts, conversations, and opinions. Turning the screen off can make the content of your presentation more memorable because the students have to take in the information rather than passively acknowledge it.
Tip #5 – Don’t point
Depending on the position of the projector screen you may find large parts of it are out of reach and if you are pointing in a vague direction, will your students mistake what you are pointing at? What to do?
You can try and jump to reach it, but that isn’t ideal especially in a professional setting. You could use a makeshift pointer like a ruler. You could go out and buy a laser pointer if you really wanted to spend the money, or you can just click on the laser pointer tool in PowerPoint and save yourself the money.
The laser pointer can involve the students in the presentation by guiding what they look at. By having the students read the text, describe the images, interpret what they see and offering hints to organize the information and the classroom you are involving them in the class and they no longer just passive listeners. Sometimes a little red dot can go a long way.
Below the laser pointer on the same menu is the pen tool to highlight areas of the screen or to make annotations on your PowerPoint.
The Pen tool performs best with a digital pen or a touch screen device.
One of the great things about the pen tool is that it allows me to make annotations and add students’ answers or ideas to a presentation. These annotations can also be saved with the presentation. If you don’t have a touch screen or digital pen, this tool will be less useful for you.
However, there is a way to show live typing during a presentation but it is a technique that requires its own tutorial, so I will write about it another day.
Tip #6 – Skipping Slides
We don’t always get to teach everything that we want to or that we set out to do. When it comes to presentations there are generally two kinds of people. The people who frantically keep clicking to skip a big section of their presentation and the people who do it seamlessly without the audience being aware of it. Which kind of person are you?
It’s worth learning a few tips and tricks for Navigating PowerPoint, but my top tip is Number+Enter. It’s very useful if you need to skip animations and slides and it avoids all the unnecessary clicking.
5+Enter = Takes you directly to slide number 5 22+Enter = Takes you directly to slide number 22
When you need to skip several slides, don’t resort to panicked clicking, just use this quick keyboard shortcut and your audience will never know there was another section to your presentation.
Tip #7 – Use SmartArt
I have mentioned before about using SmartArt in a previous post called 5 Tips for Creating Activity Instructions in PowerPoint, but it is also useful for explaining information.
In this short video, I use SmartArt to create a ‘pyramid of time’ used to explain the different prepositions we use to talk about time. The pyramid of time gets wider as the period of time gets longer.
I have also used SmartArt to create clines and timelines to explain points of grammar, but it can also be used to create board games. A suggestion I picked up from this tweet by Sandy Millin.
You can make board games using Smart functions on Microsoft says Suzanne Goodwin #Ihtoc7 (and they look very pretty, says I)
— Sandy Millin (@sandymillin) May 8, 2015
The reason SmartArt has made this list because there are other ways to present information other than bullet points and numbered lists. Explore different ways to present your lessons and find what works for you.
Tip #8 – Photo Galleries
Teacher’s lives are very busy and we often don’t have the time to do all the things we like. PowerPoint is great for showing images in class, but creating presentations can be time consuming and often seen as a low priority because our time could be used better to do something else.
If I wanted to show several pictures I used to have to insert the picture, re-size it, drag and move it in position before creating a new slide and repeating the process. When I explored the ‘photo album’ function, I quickly realized how much time I was wasting.
When you create a photo album, it inserts all the pictures for you and arranges them on different slides.
There are a number of different activities that might use pictures like this. Picture dictations, where one student describes an image to a partner or picture stories, where the students take a series of pictures and try to construct a story about them. They can also be used to generate a discussion or lead in to a topic.
Try ELTpics for a great selection of images to use in the classroom. The moral of this story is that by exploring PowerPoint I learnt something new, which turned out to be a faster way of doing something.
Tip #9 – Office Mix
I have written about Office Mix before, but I thought it was worth mentioning again as PowerPoint was described as ‘not fit for teachers.’ Office Mix is a free add-in for PowerPoint that allows educators to make more interactive presentations and on the website, Microsoft say:
“Office Mix was created with educators in mind”
Office Mix allows you to include quizzes and polls into your presentations, record a presentation with video narration to help you flip the classroom and it allows you to video capture what is on your screen – giving you the ability to create your own tutorial videos.
Many of the videos on this site are created using Office Mix.
Because your Mixes are stored on your account, you are given a link so they can easily be shared via social media, e-mail or linked to from a blog or a website. Making is easy for your students or audience to preview the material before class or to review it after class.
Tip #10 – It’s good to share
I briefly mentioned about sharing in tip #9, but there are other ways to share. Aside from sites like slideshare and online storage like google drive and dropbox, there are ways you can share the material in class. In fact, your presentation can really become an interactive experience if you don’t mind using mobile phones in the classroom.
I have written about using QR codes and taking photographs before. With QR codes your students or the audience can scan a code to receive a link to the presentation. Alternatively you can ask them to photograph key slides. At the moment I am enjoying using Office Lens for taking photos of material in class.
Office lens can take a photo of a blackboard / whiteboard or projector screen and straighten the image so that it is not skewed. Then, if you have a Microsoft account, you have the option to convert the image into a Word Document or PowerPoint document for editing. If you don’t you can save it as image, convert it as a PDF file or e-mail it to yourself. This handy little app means you will be able to photograph hand-written notes, a whiteboard or capture a key slide in a presentation for review later.
To sum up, here are my top ten tips for using PowerPoint in the classroom.
Keep it simple. Think about your students. Don’t read from the screen. Learn how to shift your students’ focus. Don’t point – there are better ways. Learn how to navigate like a pro. Use SmartArt – be creative in the way you present information. Explore PowerPoint – you’ll find features that save you time. Check out Office Mix for more features, and there are a lots of ways to share. The burden isn’t on you.
Leave a comment on the site if you have any other tips or suggestions for using PowerPoint in the classroom.
Thanks for reading and take care!
Featured Image made using a photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ The images used in the Photo Galleries video belong to the author of this post.