PowerPoint-Not So Bad Afterall?

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I really enjoyed Ian Parker’s essay “Absolute PowerPoint” in Tribble and Trubek’s Writing Material because Parker seemed to fairly present both the positive and negative aspects of PowerPoint.  For instance, Parker writes, “In the glow of a PowerPoint show, the world is condensed, simplified, and smoothed over…” (356).  Despite the somewhat sarcastic or negative tone, Parker points out in this quote that although “simplifying” the world may not be exactly positive, it can be positive in some situations.  He cites Stanford professor Clifford Nass as one proponent of the constructive aspects of PowerPoint: “‘What PowerPoint does is very efficiently deliver content, Nass told me.  ‘What students gain is a lot more information—not just facts but rules, ways of thinking, examples’” (357).  I think this can be very true.  When I was in high school, only one teacher in the building had a Smart Board in his room.  The rest lectured, read from notes, or wrote on the board or plastic overhead sheets for the projector.  I would have loved to have had PowerPoint that would neatly list important terms, ideas, and a basic outline for the information we would be covering that period.     

When I came to college, however, I found that PowerPoint was not as great as I thought.  One course in particular influenced my opinions of PowerPoint.  In this course, the professor used nothing but PowerPoint lectures every class period.  This professor’s PowerPoint lectures were filled with text that he read word-for-word while standing behind the podium.  He used an obnoxious bright blue color with white, and worse sometimes black, lettering that, although it did not fly onto the screen, usually involved some sort of text animation.  Don McMillan could have used one of this professor's PowerPoint slides in his comedy acts.   

Occasionally, such a presentation is necessary, although the colors, flying text, and large amounts of text are not.  I have given similar PowerPoint presentations before, as have other professors whose courses I have taken (with none of the added headache and boredom creators), because at times, PowerPoint can be the best way to explain material simply.  PowerPoint is simple to use, simple to understand, and it effectively simplifies most topics.  It provides an easy way to incorporate large visuals into the classroom or workplace, and even, as Parker points out, at wedding receptions or religious services (354-355).  However, it for the same reasons, it can also be negative.  Sometimes, ideas should not be simplified, or simplification can lead to misinterpretation.  Also, PowerPoint removes creativity from the picture.  Yes, one can chose the colors, font, and text placement, but I would rather look at a scrapbook of special photos that a husband and wife worked on together instead of a PowerPoint of hundreds of photos.  Parker refers to these dilemmas in a different way.  He writes, “Instead of human contact, we are given human display” (355).  PowerPoint, when used all of the time, allows us to hide our human imperfections behind each bullet point and sweeping line of text.  I personally do not mind PowerPoint when it is used to show visuals and some facts, but I think that small and large group presentations and discussions, online chatting and blogging, and one-on-one conversation is just as appropriate to use at various times in the various settings in which PowerPoint is used.  Such varied interaction allows us to truly understand one another and what we all have to say.

See what others have to say about Parker's essay.

2 Comments

Simon Morton said:

Erica,

Thank you for a really interesting and balanced view of PowerPoint.

Despite earning a living developing impactful and engaging PowerPoint presentations for clients, I totally agree that it has it's place. I cannot imagine a less romantic gesture than an animation filled wedding presentation - the homemade scrapbook wins every time!

Thanks again,

Simon

Erica Gearhart said:

Thank you for your comment, Mr. Morton! I am so glad that you found value in what I had to say.

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