Thing 11 of 23: SlideShare and the point of PowerPoint

According to Wikipedia, PowerPoint is 23 years old this year. In the last 23 years of my information-seeking, I can’t remember any moment at which I’ve thought ‘What I really want is to see a PowerPoint presentation on X’. I’d often have been interested in an article, a diagram, a video or maybe even a lecture or a podcast, but not a presentation in itself. So given that Thing 11, Slideshare, is all about making such presentations publicly available, I find it hard to be enthused.

I can see the practical uses, especially if you’re someone who gives a lot of presentations and wants to make them easily available for reference. But as Trainee Mermaid points out, they’re really only useful for those who have already attended the presentation, because otherwise you’re missing half the content. Of course, it would be possible to create presentations that were intended to be viewed independently (and I suspect some are), but then there’s no need to stick specifically to PowerPoint.

As a historian, I’m dragging myself reluctantly into using PowerPoint, at least for lectures. It seems to be expected now: in a training course on presentations I once got told that I was ‘brave’ for not using it (I presumed ‘brave’ was being used in the Civil Service sense of ‘stupidly reckless’). It obviously makes sense for archaeologists, art historians, palaeographers and others using a lot of visual evidence, but for those more textually-focused historians, how do you use PowerPoint successfully in teaching?

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6 thoughts on “Thing 11 of 23: SlideShare and the point of PowerPoint

  1. I use it for all my lecture courses, but I never use it for bulleted outlines. Rather, I choose a striking image — often a modern one — that underlines a point I want to make, and add a caption. This often means I can lecture w/o notes. Of course I use images contemporary with the subject matter when I can, but often I can’t.

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  2. It is the norm for all science presentations. You put everything important on the slides. It re-enforces your important points. I use power point all the time in online courses too.

    I’ve also done history presentations with power point. I put all my quotes on the slides, plus of course maps etc.

    As for the presentation containing information alone, that is what the notes section is for, if you don’t want to do voice with it or put practically everything on the slides.

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  3. I use Powerpoint throughout my classes up to the senior level. (The seniors use it to project text excerpts from primary sources that they use to lead an analytic discussion.) It’s great for getting up hard-to-write names as I can’t write quickly on a chalkboard due to nerve damage. I also project short text passages from tutorial readings so that students can’t BS me that they didn’t bring their readers.

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  4. I used to use PP as my lecture notes: throw up pictures, some bullet points and then riff off that. I always tried to keep the ratio of pictures to text pretty high, though, since I didn’t see what PP could do with text that a handout couldn’t do better. Ideally, in fact, I’d give the students a printed-out copy of the presentation and they could annotate it as I talk.

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  5. I’m still working this out. For teaching I use Powerpoint for bulleted structures and hopefully-relevant illustrations, the idea being that all learning styles get something to titillate them into paying attention, be it a picture, a story or a pithy phrase.

    For academic presentations, though, I’m less sure. Maps and quotes are an obvious possibility but really belong on a handout so that the audience can look back at them. In my next paper I’m going to use it for an animated map, which the handout can’t do but which I could duplicate with shading, and then pictures of relevant sights and crucial quotes, but this is mainly because apparently I asked for a projector and now I feel I ought to use it…

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  6. Thanks for all the replies – they have some interesting differences, which I suspect partly reflect different purposes of the lecture/presentation. To start with a point made by Michelle about science presentations, there is a definite distinction between arts and science subjects in the significance of lectures. During my first degree (in mathematics), the lectures were by far the most important source of information. I looked at a few textbooks, but my use of libraries for mathematical topics was minimal, as opposed to reading Malory. In contrast, history lectures (at least at UK university level) are not intended to be sufficient unto themselves: students are expected to do a lot of reading. So the purpose of lectures is less about reinforcing the three key points they must know in order to progress to the next topic, and more about awakening their interest so they’re enthused about this week’s reading. It’s a more open style of lecturing, as opposed to a more closed/complete one for science. I tend to associate the bullet point style of PowerPoint with a completist view of the lecture (this is what you must know) and the use of striking images for the open one (provoking thoughts for future exploration).

    The point made by Theo and Jon about handouts is also important. I always find it frustrating in archaeology presentations (where they obviously do need to use a lot of images) that I can’t make notes on some of the key points because they’re made graphically. Having handouts with the slides would help with that, but I’m not sure how well most PowerPoint images come out when they’re reduced and in black and white. Maybe what you really need is a handout with simplified/tailored images for the lecture itself, and something like SlideShare or a VLE to store the presentation itself for future reference by students (though that would be extra work for the lecturer).

    I think I probably could make more use of PowerPoint both for putting up unfamiliar names (as Janice suggests) and for key short quotes, where I’m wanting to unpick a particular idea. What I’m still less convinced about is how useful images are for discussing something like ‘The church in the ninth century’ or ‘The rise of the Carolingians’, which is the kind of lecture topic I tend to get landed with. I don’t personally get much thrill in lectures from generic pictures of Carolingian clerics or ‘this is how a nineteenth century artist imagined Pippin III meeting the pope’, but I’m not sure what would be better for such less visual topics. Maybe I should take up Steve’s idea of striking modern images, but how do you avoid your students getting distracted by those details, or thinking that Charlemagne’s warriors really did ride round on motorbikes?

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