Don’t “Make a PowerPoint!”

As an ICT teacher, at this time of year my room is always booked out by other teachers doing some ICT with their classes.  It’s the only time of year they can get such free access to the ICT suites and many of them do some great ICT lessons.

However what really makes me irritated is when a class is told to “Make a PowerPoint about X”.  It is this kind of lesson that has given ICT such a bad name.  One worse is when students have to print it out at the end of the lesson…..

PowerPoint is designed to create screen-based publications.  This means that animation can be effective (it can also be horrible) and that whilst it will print OK, it’s best viewed on screen.

Briefly there are 3 ways I have used PowerPoint within lessons successfully.  Other presentation packages are available obviously and we have used Google Docs as well.

Create an Information Point

This is designed to be viewed by the user sitting in front of a computer (or touchscreen).  The user should be able to navigate the information point using the mouse (or touch).  It should be clear to the user when all the content on a slide has loaded.

Features needed:

  • action buttons or hyperlinks
  • animation on slides all with previous or after previous
  • auto or mouse click transitions disabled between slides so the user has to use the navigation

Create a Digital Poster

This is designed to run on a screen in (say) a reception area.  The school probably has one.  It should run with no user interaction at all.  These can even be displayed in the school reception.  (In industry these are called digital signage so I should probably call it that).

Features needed:

  • transitions between all slides to be set to go automatically (with careful timing)
  • animation on slides all with previous or after previous
  • slide-show set-up to run in a loop

Create a Presentation

This is designed to be presented by someone standing in front of a room full of people.  Any user interaction should be carefully considered based on the content of the presentation and the impact the presenter wants to make.  I think if students are going to make presentations they should actually present them.  This is difficult in a class of 30 which is why I prefer the two previous options.

Features needed:

  • the design of the presentation should mean that the presenter does not read their slides as this is very boring and assumes the audience is stupid
  • the presenter should decide how they want the animation to run – do they want every slide to load automatically or do they want to reveal bits of content manually? (This takes practice.)
  • speaker notes should be created – mainly because it removes the temptation to write everything on the slide!

Testing and a little tiny bit of Computer Science?

Any of these options needs careful testing.  The first two, provided a tight brief has been set (e.g. 5 slides or 3 minutes) can be easily peer reviewed by having a quick trip round the class by lots of students.  They can also be uploaded to the VLE and peer reviewed at home.

The testing part also encourages pupils to consider the HCI (Human Computer Interaction).  It’s very, very simplistic here but will start to get them thinking along the lines of other screen-based apps and websites they have used – what works and what doesn’t.  Neil Brown from University of Kent has blogged about using HCI as a way of teaching Computer Science without the programming.