Sunday, January 20, 2008

PowerPoint: Is This Really The Answer?

Certainly I have used PowerPoint for conferences and special talks (and I continue to do so, grumbling all the while), but for day to day teaching I find PowerPoint to be more trouble than it is worth, especially when you consider that teachers must not only acquire images (or relevant content), but then also edit it all to work within PowerPoint. It would be ideal were teachers allowed to spend prep-time actually preparing lesson plans and shaping the intellectual content of their coursework, rather than negotiating PowerPoint.

Still another drawback with PowerPoint is that as a classroom presentation tool, it becomes little more than a digital slide projector. It's serial format allows teachers to only access images in the order in which they have been saved in the slide deck - which is impractical in a dynamic learning environment.

Let's be honest, teachers continue to use PowerPoint simply because it is available. I don't know anyone who claims to enjoy using it. It certainly appears clumsy compared to many of the latest more nimble Web 2.0 technology solutions that people have become accustomed to using online. Having said that there are still those who continue to find fresh inspiration with PowerPoint. In Japan they even hold PowerPoint competitions.

I get around PowerPoint by teaching with an in-house database of art images, which essentially interfaces like a website. From the beginning I chose not to use PowerPoint and I believe now more than ever that this was a wise choice as I see my colleagues wrestle the beast. Many confess to hard drives cluttered with folders of slide shows and images that were created for specific courses, but are often impractical to migrate from course to course. Then there are the most stubborn colleagues who use the same slide deck for every course and somehow make it work.

So while the trend toward larger online shared databases of images, like ARTstor, which is quickly becoming the standard, might solve the problem of a ready supply of quality images, the problem of presentation software remains. ARTstor's lackluster Offline Image Viewer - OIV - is unfortunately a PowerPoint-like interface that is not a significant move forward. So we wait.