Does Presenting Online Content with PowerPoint™ Serve My Purpose?


An editorial comment by Melanie Thornton, Director, Project PACE, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Stop and think for a moment about your use of PowerPoint™ as a medium for providing information to students online. We are all guilty on occasion of getting trapped inside the box instead of thinking outside of it. We use PowerPoint™ in class or in presentations, so we automatically think about how to use it online.

PowerPoint™ is a visual presentation software that was developed to augment a live presentation. By adding audio, you can also use it to create a stand-alone slide presentation. The majority of people who use PowerPoint for educational purposes, however, use it to:

  1. Provide bulleted lists or key information that emphasize the high points of a presentation or lecture
  2. Provide charts, graphs or images that illustrate visually the major points of a presentation or lecture
  3. Accomplish a combination of the above

Without the content of the live presentation, most PowerPoint™ slides would not be very meaningful. One way to overcome this problem is to incorporate the spoken portion of the presentation with the slide presentation in some way—either as text or audio. The question remains: Is this format the ideal format for providing your course content? Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a slide format for online learning.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Provides information in small chunks
  • Helps students identify the key points of a learning module
  • Allows an easy method of creating content in an attractive format
  • Allows us to re-use what we have already created
  • For web-enhanced courses: Provides a format for reviewing information covered in class
  • As a stand-alone format, chunks of information may actually be too small
  • Information may not be meaningful without the spoken presentation
  • Requires lots of clicking to navigate from one slide to another
  • Difficult to scan slides for specific information
  • The 'Save as HTML' method of conversion does not create an accessible format
  • If audio is added:
    • The file format may require students to download special software
    • Special care needs to be taken to make sure that the video output is accessible by adding audio description, captions, and ensuring that the application is accessible by key strokes
    • The ability to access the information with a slow connection may be limited

Based on the PowerPoint™ presentations I have seen, I would say that in the majority of cases, the slides would have to be modified in order to make them meaningful and an efficient means of providing online instruction. This modification could take the form of:

  1. Increasing the amount of text on the slide to fill in the gaps that are normally clarified by the spoken presentation
  2. Providing a format that allows descriptive text to be added below the slide, such as with PPT2HMTL
  3. Providing a format that allows audio and slides to be shown simultaneously

Given the extra effort needed to provide content effectively in this manner, it seems that it would be more effective and efficient to add a little more effort and develop content in a way that is more appropriate to online learning. If we return to the rule of "content first, then design" we may be able to better determine the best tools for providing our online content.

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