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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Use PowerPoint Effectively

Used in support of clearly articulated pedagogical goals, PowerPoint can enhance student learning in several ways. First, it can substitute for more cumbersome technologies like the overhead projector or a slide projector. A CD ROM loaded with images is a lot simpler and more portable than a collection of slide trays—even if the picture resolution is considerably diminished. Similarly, complex mathematical and scientific drawings or formulas can be clearly and simply presented. PowerPoint can also vividly show processes: animated slides, for example can illustrate a chemical reaction, or reveal how a poet edited and changed a poem. Still the effective presentation of information does not ensure that learning has actually taken place.

PowerPoint slides can provide starting points for interactive processes that promote learning, but they are only a small part of that process. For example, prompts for writing or discussion, instructions for in-class activities, lists of talking points, or student comments can be clearly displayed to an entire class in large and easily legible type. In addition PowerPoint can enhance a discussion or lecture by providing supplemental materials for a variety of learning styles, including photographs, illustrations and graphs in color, and charts that reveal relationships.

Many teachers believe that students using PowerPoint presentations is a productive learning activity (Alster, 2002; Mason & Hylnka, 1998); yet detractors believe that its rigid format stifles not only students’ creativity, but also their ability to understand and convey information (Tufte, 2003; Keller, 2003). Consequently, teachers need to make as clear as possible what the use of a tool like PowerPoint is supposed to accomplish, both in terms of skills and learning.

Outside of the classroom PowerPoint can be used to provide review and supplementary materials to students: for example, notes with references to important passages discussed in class can be posted to a website and downloaded by students after class. For the disorganized teacher or student, PowerPoint can support preliminary organization of data. However, it does not support the processes of analysis and interpretation of data equally well, especially the complicated and extensive interrelationships among them.

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