That's the subtitle of a Wired article by Edward Tufte.  My brother sent me the link.  I prefer to believe he didn't know I was in the middle of working on a PowerPoint presentation of pictures from our recent trip to Europe.

Tufte is not speaking primarily about education, but he makes this perceptive observation: 

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

PowerPoint isn't really the villain here, however.

When our children were in high school, long before classroom computer use became pervasive, they were sometimes asked to "report on" books by making posters about them.  This was in honors, "gifted," or Advanced Placement classes, mind you!  Being artistically-minded, the girls enjoyed these projects, but they took up a lot of time and their educational value—except possibly in graphic arts—was essentially nil.

Speaking from experience, it's much easier and more fun to find clipart, arrange graphics, tweak colors, choose backgrounds, and play with shapes and shading than it is to craft text—and I happen to love writing.  How much more so to a student who is still struggling with the art of putting his thoughts down on paper! The making of an attractive presentation of written and visual information is not a bad skill to learn, but any teacher who frequently allows students to get away with Internet research instead of library visits, and low-content, high-graphic PowerPoint presentations instead of well-written, detailed, highly verbal reports, is wasting their time and taxpayers' money.

That said, I'll get back to my own PowerPoint work.  :)  To me, it's computer-based scrapbooking, and I want to get our trip pictures into a form that's easy to appreciate.  Some people prefer to read an illustrated story—the blog version is for them.  A few (very few) people will want to see every picture we took—all 900+ of them—minus the really awful ones.  Most, however, will appreciate the PowerPoint version, condensed, edited, and spruced up with some music and a few graphic effects.  At least I hope so—that's why I'm creating it.

I doubt any English teacher will ever see it.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Edit
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One big problem is that PowerPoint is inherently passive. It's simply a digitized chalkboard. (The irony, of course, is that the strength of computers is the potential for interaction.) From a school perspective, the only motivation is to teach the kids a basic familiarity with using them... why? So they can do so later in business. But there, they're a liability as well: I don't care how good Mr. Businessman's PowerPoint is, it's not going to make his audience sit up and say, "Holy cow, I never saw something like that before!" Because we all have. Many, many times. But if companies "fasted" from PowerPoint, they'd be forced to resort to more creative and original vehicles—skits, models, mnemonic songs, whatever. And that would get attention, and be remembered longer.



Posted by Andy Bonner on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 9:41 pm
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