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EdTech Update





Is PowerPoint Evil?

Johnson’s Observation on Multimedia Content:
You can put all the pretty clothes on your dog you want, but he’s still a dog.

Yesterday’s e-mail brought the following question from ISTE’s editor, Jennifer Roland: Learning & Leading with Technology is looking for a few good editorialists to argue both sides of this question: Is PowerPoint Crippling Our Students? Some say that PowerPoint is an important tool in any classroom because of its real-world applications. Others say it is an unnecessary distraction that leads students to go for glitz over substance. Where do you stand on the issue?

Good question. Since it is unlikely I’d be considered a “good editorialist” in anyone’s book, I’ll just pipe up here.

(I’ve weighed in on this topic once already in a 1999 column Slideshow Safety. As with a frightening number of things I’ve written long ago, I’ve found that my thoughts haven’t changed much – which says more about my obstinacy than my prescience. You’ve been warned.)

Here are the main things I’d think about when looking at working with kids and PowerPoint:

1. PowerPoint doesn’t bore people: people bore people. As an old speech teacher, I have a bias that PowerPoint falls under the category of visual aid – with aid being the operative word. If we are teaching kids how to use this software, it needs to be within the context of good speaking skills, not in a computer class. (But then I think all technology skills should be taught within the content areas.) Yeah, the old stuff like eye contact, expression, and gestures are still important. Oh, so is having something worthwhile to say.

2. The sins of the overhead user shall be visited upon the computer user. Tufte, in his The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (Graphics Press, 2003) makes a compelling case that complex information is not best shared using this software. He argues persuasively that PowerPoint makes it far to easy to reduce complex topics to simple bullet points. He argues that some graphic information is too detailed for the low-rez graphics of the computer screen. I’m just not sure choosing the wrong tool for the wrong job is the tool’s fault.

3. There are more visual learners than meet the eye. Cautions aside, good visuals are exceptionally powerful, and our kids need practice in harnessing this power. Too bad more teachers themselves don’t have at least a fundamental knowledge of good design principles, knowledge of typography, and photocomposition.

In the best of all possible worlds, an oral presentation accompanied by a well-designed slide show that helps inform or persuade the audience can be one the products of a good information literacy unit. I get the feeling a goodly number of our kids will be one giving these things as part of their jobs, They may as well do it skillfully.

Keep in mind Johnson’s Rule of Technology Neutrality: Technology is neither good nor bad. The same hammer can both break windows and build cathedrals.

Your thoughts on pitfalls or promises of PowerPoint? What to do you do to make sure the tool is being used well?

All 10 fingers, all 10 toes

 Miles Benjamin Roberts was born yesterday, September 22 at about 2:00PM.






Miles will start school in 2010 or 2011. Here’s what I hope he finds:

1. A place that cares as much about his happiness as his education.
2. A place that cares more about his love of learning than his test scores.
3. A place where he feels safe and welcome and can’t wait to get to every morning.
4. A place that honors creativity more than memorization.
5. A place that has a library full of stories and a librarian who makes them come alive.
6. A place where technology hasn’t taken the place of playing with blocks, finger-painting, naps, graham crackers, or a teacher’s soft encouragement.
7. A place where he learns to work and play with kids who make not have been given the blessings of a middle-class lifestyle or a fully-functioning body or brain.
8. A place that teaches kindness along with math, tolerance along with history, and conservation along with science.
9. A place where teachers are excited about teaching and passionate about encouraging the passions in their students.
10. A place where he is never compared to his older brother, Paul.

Mom and baby are doing fine, but Dad sounded a little hyper. - Grandpa Doug
Congrats and good wishes!
Your list is inspiring… especially #10.

Comment by Alice Yucht — September 23, 2005 @ 2:57 pm

I wish the Johnson/Roberts family all the very best with their new little one and hope Mr. Paulie will adjust easily. I’m watching for a picture as soon as you can post one. Your list is wonderfully touching. Hope you get to cuddle him soon

Comment by Sara — September 23, 2005 @ 6:35 pm

Congratulations!! I have shared your list with my faculty. I copied it into an email along with the blog address so they would not miss it - in spite of the fact that our filter will block access to the actual blog. What a lucky baby to have you for a grandfather.

Your blog posting will go into my “beginning of the year” folder so that I am sure to read it every September. Enjoy every moment with your new little blessing!

Comment by Jacquie Henry — September 23, 2005 @ 7:11 pm

Mazel tov! Don’t worry - Dad will calm down and Paul will figure things out. Can’t make guarantees about the other items on your list, but we can all hope. Enjoy!

Comment by Frances Jacobson Harris — September 24, 2005 @ 4:37 pm


Preaching to the Sinners or Only to the Saved?

Home after a wonderful time at Encyclo-Media in Tulsa. As I expected, the folks there were both gracious and organized, just as they were when I visited in 1999 and 2000. I commented earlier that I’ve long thought Kathryn Lewis has some of the best school librarians going working in her Norman program. I’m going to have to add Tulsa as another exemplary group, led by its outstanding director, Ellen Duecker.

Encylo-Media just ought to be the model for educational conferences. It started, I believe, as a school librarians’ conference, but they just kept inviting more and more kinds of educators to join them in the fun and learning. Now tech-types, gifted and talented teachers, school counselors, and administrators attend as well. It’s a great chance for cross-discipline networking.

And as a speaker, it’s both a delight and challenge to speak with mixed groups. School librarians and techies are without a doubt, my favorite people to visit with. We share the same concerns, talk the same language, and work toward the same goals. (I know what jokes and stories work!) But at the same time, I often feel like I am preaching to the choir at library and technology conferences and worry I’m not reaching the unconverted, so to speak. One of the comments I get most often is: “If only our administrators/teachers could have heard this talk!”

All of us in education need to hear each others’ “talks.” Should the issues of social studies teachers, reading teachers, superintendents, elementary classroom teachers, PE teachers, and business ed teachers be of concern to me as a techie and librarian? You betcha. Do these same folks need to learn about how libraries and technology can help make them more effective. Of course.

Do we need to re-think discipline-based conferences and move in the direction of Encylo-Media?

PS. A personal thanks to David Warlick. Late Tuesday afternoon I received an e-mail from the keynote speaker we had arranged for our MEMO conference that is about three weeks away, explaining that for health reasons (documented with a really ugly digital photo) that he would be unable to come to Minnesota. I gave David a call and he’s agreed on very short notice to step in as a replacement. Whew!

If you aren’t reading David’s 2 Cents Worth blog, give it a look. Today’s entry makes four interesting points including this provocative quote from William (Neuromancer) Gibson: “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”