PowerPoint often gets bad reviews by educational psychologists and graphic designers such as Edward Tufte (mentioned in Brad’s earlier blog). They claim it is harming teaching and learning. I would like to address the criticisms of Edward Tufte as listed in the Wikipedia article about him.
First Criticism: “It is used to guide and reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience”
My Reaction: Guiding and reassuring the presenter is a great thing. A disorganized or unconfident presenter will not enlighten the audience. Being organized and confident is the starting point in making a good presentation. The next step is to ensure that it does engage and enlighten the audience.
Second Criticism: “Unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of computer displays”
My Reaction: Yes, a computer screen does not have the resolution of a sheet of paper or a poster. Yes, many presenters make the mistake of showing a chart that is unreadable on the screen. To counteract that, PowerPoint can be designed to zoom in on the necessary details. In a presentation this is better than a poster. The presenter can zoom in on the details of the information they are currently covering.
This technique is good for anything that has details. Show the overall chart, table, or image then add extra images that zoom in to show details.
Third Criticism: “Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings;”
My Response: Yes, regarding typography there is limited control over text in PowerPoint text boxes. For example, there is no way to change the spacing of characters. WordArt text, on the other hand, has a lot of controls; however, in practice, this is a rather insignificant issue.
Regarding PowerPoint’s chart layout and templates, these are just some default settings. A presenter can change them to suit their needs. Also, charts don’t have to be made inside of PowerPoint. They can be made with any program and then imported.
I usually do not use any built-in templates or layouts, but they are OK if one knows how to modify them.
Fourth Criticism: Simplistic (and linear) thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points.
My Response: All of these problems would be the fault of the presenter not the PowerPoint program. I also don’t like bulleted lists. When the user makes a new page, PowerPoint creates one with a title and a bulleted list. That doesn’t mean the user needs to use it. I usually suggest that the user turns that page into a blank page. That will spark creativity and jump them out of the bad habit of bulleted lists.
Regarding the linear aspect of PowerPoint, that again is a fault of the designer. PowerPoint has the ability to hyperlink to any slide and even slides within other PowerPoint files. It can also jump to Websites and other programs. The jump to these other places can be done by clicking or even simply rolling over a specific object on the slide. So PowerPoint can be very non-linear and very interactive. I teach faculty how to make slides so their audience needs to choose what course the PowerPoint presentation will go. In other words, one PowerPoint presentation can actually look very different depending on what direction that audience wants it to go. Also, the spontaneity of PowerPoint can be enhanced if the presenter goes into “pen mode” and writes on the slide for emphasis or to add extra data not included in the presentation.
I strongly disagree with the critics of the PowerPoint program. It has immense capabilities that are always underestimated. It also gives users the power to do very effective presentations in a relatively short time and without extensive training. The shortcomings professed stem from the lack of training of those making the PowerPoint presentations not the program itself.