PowerPoint is a disaster for teaching: Could you do without it?

30th September 2016 at 17:15
education technology, teachers, united nations
The ubiquitous slideshow programme stops teachers being spontaneous and removes them of their pupils’ attention, agues one teacher-writer

Back in 2010, the US Army, one of the world's great organisational behemoths, declared war on Microsoft PowerPoint. Marine General James Mattis, Joint Forces commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, is quoted as saying 'PowerPoint makes us stupid'. He is not the only senior military figure to have opened fire: general after general has warned of the presentation software's tendency to obscure information, as it is reduced into bullet points, or tangled visual organisers.

Perhaps it's time that the teaching profession joined them.

In an over-reliance on PowerPoint, teachers not only reduce the impact and quality of their teaching, but add to the abominable workload pressure teachers are already under.

PowerPoint robs the teacher of student's attention. Standing there in the dim, as the teacher reads from slides, all eyes are on the screen. Nuance and body language are lost as hands holding pens scramble to get everything down. The vital skills of listening and tracking the speaker are lost – students simply transcribe what they see in the screen.

PowerPoint robs teachers of spontaneity and adaptability. Try as we might, it is incredibly hard to deviate from a script we write for ourselves. When there's twenty minutes of class left and six slides, the temptation to 'finish' the lesson overrules the need to slow down and focus on areas students may have problems with.

Full understanding lost

More importantly, PowerPoint teaching is boring. The drama of history disappears when the cause and effects of great events are reduced to a simple thinking map. The beauty and wonder of poetry vanishes as kids diligently note down what the teacher considers to be the most important techniques employed. Full understanding of natural  processes is lost as the teacher stolidly plows through all the slides within 59 minutes.

I argue that we learn more effectively when we're engaged and focused on another human being. PowerPoint removes that human element.

If bleeding the colour and detail from teaching wasn't bad enough, when teachers rely on PowerPoint, they make more work for themselves. Sure, you could purchase a pre-packaged presentation from somewhere, or nick someone's from the internet. You then, however open yourself to possible errors, misinformation and a host of references or localisations that your students may not understand.

How many times have you used a PowerPoint from elsewhere, only to sadly mutter, 'Disregard that bit'?

Thus, at one time or another, we've all found ourselves working into the small hours carefully crafting our own PowerPoints, spending way, way too much time finding pictures and nailing those slide transitions, with no clear idea of the return on our investment.

PowerPoint also has a horrible tendency of not working. In order to present, you need to ensure that a laptop, electronic whiteboard, projector and remote control are in working order. In many schools, this by no means guaranteed and I can't begin to count how many times I've had to teach a lesson on the fly as technology refuses to cooperate.

PowerPoint offers a promise of clarity, ease of use and adaptability. Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that these are but illusions. I urge teachers across Great Britain to eschew the fluorescent allure of snappy presentations and go back to the simple whiteboard and marker.

At least when a whiteboard marker dies on you, you can angrily toss it in the bin.


Mike Stuchbery is a teacher and blogger. He tweets at @MrMStuchbery


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