Monday, February 9, 2009

Powerpoint and Levels of Comfort

Scott Meech had posted a question on whether an assignment was good or not: - Technology in Education isn't the Future... It is the Present!: Is this a Good Assignment via kwout

I think it touches on some many issues that have to be taken apart layer by layer as to why this is a good or bad assignment. First when I look at just using PowerPoint, I sort of feel uncomfortable and want to ask the teacher why they are necessarily using it? Howard Tufte has written an essay and also posted an excerpt and article in Wired on the problems of professionally using PowerPoint as a way of presenting information. I don't think this is completely relevant for education but it does get at the issue of depth of ideas versus something which is visually appealing. Second, the teacher has instructed the students to access the visual candy of what the software can do. Is there a reason to use backgrounds or designs, none that the assignment makes clear. However the teacher may look upon Powerpoint as a computer generated version of a poster or Kidpix, its not clear. Also, there are no instructions on how the presentation is going to be used, will it be used as support for an oral presentation or is it meant for someone to look at and read later on, why else to necessarily include web links.

This vagueness of specific details moves the question on whether the assignment is good or bad to then be based on us the reader. We have to fill in and determine whether the teacher was going to use rubrics, or what sort of organizers or organization might be given. I feel as if the assignment is being given by a teacher that is not comfortable with using these tools or hasn't had the professional development necessary to see the use of power point as nothing more than a continuation on the traditional way to present. Not only that, but it looks as if each student is responsible for their own presentation so there is no incorporation of peer to peer learning in the project. We don't know what sort of interacting the students themselves will do.

Can we blame a teacher for doing something wrong because they still give these sorts of assignments in Powerpoint? Several years ago I remember that there was a great push to teach students how to use Powerpoint to help them begin using computers in the classroom. Powerpoint was presented as "the" multimedia tool to bring in Quicktime videos, photographs, and even sounds. The tool always came across as a one stop solution for teaching computers skill and for the teacher to organize their ideas and since almost all presentations that a teacher would see in their district were done using Powerpoint, then it was natural for a teacher who was thinking about what a student might need as even a skill in the workplace to feel a need to teach it.

Unfortunately, the style of teaching and presenting which uses Powerpoint has fallen out of favor, but unless a teacher has gone to a conference in which the presenters have become more like facilitators and modified how their information was presented, then even a teacher today could probably argue that within their experience there is still a value to be placed on teaching using Powerpoint. My middle school even last year was making sure that each teacher had their presentation station with projector and computer, again an extension of the overhead and teacher directed instruction. Several teachers were still putting great effort into their Powerpoint presentations for students as the school year started and during the year.

So, who is to blame for this type of assignment still being given? If the teacher has given up on learning, no longer attends conferences, pulls the same lesson off the shelf year after year and doesn't take advantage of new research or discussions on how the classroom of today should look. Then a great deal of the blame goes on the teacher. In that case it doesn't matter what sort of professional development is offered or how new ideas are presented during learning days or ideas sent out from district offices to schools by directors of instruction or technology. However, if a teacher who is engaged with their community and is always trying to find new ideas or websites and dialogs with other teachers about what they are doing in the classroom and feels comfortable giving this type of Powerpoint assignment then I say a great deal of the responsibility lies with the administration of the district and those who help shape what the teacher are doing in their district. Is this then one of those teachers who is primed to be plugged into the global community. I wonder how many teachers are at this point in their teaching?

But one difference today versus a short while ago is that even the mainstream sources of information a teacher might be exposed are being altered. If we look at Alec Couros widely used Typical Networked Teacher than even that teacher is getting exposed to alternative uses of media.TypicalTeacherNetwork by courosa.
Almost all popular media outlets have podcasts and use social networking resources such as Twitter and Facebook to share ideas. The teacher of today who still refuses to acknowledge that the education landscape has not changed and isn't required to change because they don't see any difference in the media around them is putting their head in the sand. So a teacher using Powerpoint today may be a teacher ready to join the global community or it could be a teacher in which Powerpoint is now that dusty lesson on the shelf that they continue to pull every year.
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