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.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Great points! -- the OIV (which is a nifty tool and better generally for art historians) and ppt create slide shows that very much -- as you indicate -- replicate exactly what we've been doing in the classroom for close a century! I have seen some mighty awful OIV and ppt classroom art history lectures. I think instructors tend to use these tools even less dynamically than we used to use the plain old slide projector -- I don't see a lot of zooming going on for example.

I use ARTstor live (online) in the classroom. This way, I'm on the web, we can go to related sites, I can respond nimbly to student questions by searching the web, students often like to see youtube videos of the places we are talking about (the duomo for example) or any of the other great multi-media being produced by art historians. The other advantage is that students can see my thinking process -- I'll often choose two or three ARTstor images of the same work of art, so I can project them and see which one is better in terms of color etc. They learn that not all digital images are created equally. I also met my class in a lab last semester, and they would all log on to ARTstor and follow along. Why is our discipline so old-fashioned?

There are no last names for any of the bloggers here -- and I have a feeling that our interests coincide! Who are you? Here is a blog I keep with a colleague, Steven Zucker -- he's the one who discovered yours.