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Banning PowerPoint in Switzerland

September 25, 2011

There is a political party called “The Anti-PowerPoint Party” (APPP).  Its political goal is, as you might expect, to ban PowerPoint.  The APPP blames PowerPoint for a decline in the quality of presentations.

I’ll let you explore APPP’s website on your own, but it seems to mostly be hyping books and coaching by its founder, Matthias Poehm.  In the end, this humorous political party seems to be less about a political principle and more about raising money for Poehm – perhaps we could write

Anti-PowerPoint Party : Matthias Poehm :: Scientology : L. Ron Hubbard

Still, the party has its supporters, such as Julie Bindel in The Guardian who self-righteously brags:

On leaving academia seven years ago I vowed that I would never use PowerPoint again. I still speak at conferences, though, and have been known to rant at organisers when asked in advance for my PPT presentation. I inform them that I will be turning up with a set of index cards on which I have jotted down key points, but will not be boring my audience to tears with fiddly slides consisting of flying text, fussy fonts or photo montages. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in having a real discussion about ideas as opposed to force-feeding an increasingly sleepy crowd with numerous graphs and bullet points projected on to the nearest wall.

The APPP website collects the “horror-slide of the month” which are sometimes painful but also sometimes not-so-bad.

And, of course, there are some classics in teasing PowerPoint clichés, such as Peter Norvig’s “The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation.”  But there is even artwork made with PowerPoint, such as David Byrne’s “Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information.”

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In fact, I think that the PowerPoint hate is misguided – we do not blame Microsoft Word for a decline in the quality of writing (although, perhaps, it is properly blamed for some odd “auto-correct” spelling errors!)  Speaking now of academic presentations:  I think that those who despise PowerPoint do not remember the general quality of presentations in pre-PowerPoint days.  Sure, there were plenty of engaging chalkboard or podium presentations, but there were plenty of clunkers or inscrutable presentations as well.  We only need to go to certain humanities conferences and listen to papers being “read” to remember just how awful those days were.  In general, I suspect that that PowerPoint has greatly improved listener comprehension and even the dreaded Microsoft Powerpoint Autocontent Wizard has probably helped unskilled presenters both organize their material in a more logical manner and break the material into more manageable chunks.

It is just a little bit too easy to take a swipe at PowerPoint.  One can’t help but think that pecuniary interests motivate Matthias Poehm’s crusade (or even Edward Tufte’s.)

Now there are places where PowerPoint is inappropriate.  I can’t imagine going to a religious service where PowerPoint was used (even to flash hymnal lyrics up on the screen.)  I don’t believe PowerPoint should be used as an archival medium or to replace written essays or books.  But overall, it seems to me that we are blaming the wrong thing – we are blaming PowerPoint when we should be blaming schools that fail to teach students proper presentation skills.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 25, 2011 5:53 pm

    Ha ha ha – I did a presentation with Open Office recently and I put in some sound effects which were hilarious – specially the drum roll for psalm 145. Anyway, I’ve just started to write instead – and I’m not going to publish any more of this ‘writing’ till the whole is ready for some unsuspecting publisher somewhere. It is called The Story in the Psalter and I will try to keep it under 400 pages.

    The Pah Point pres. is here in pdf form. I even tried it out on my wife – very useful in fact. She had lots of quizzical stares which caused me to change things.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 25, 2011 6:10 pm

    We start teaching presentation skills in in Smart Notebook in grade one. By grade 7 the students are fully integrated into our professional development. One of our graduates earned a full scholarship into the UBC business school. (Well, he did attend secondary school in the intervening years.)

    I usually focus on classic books and dramatic presentation one term and more technology in the next. This fall will see an enactment of the Mad Hatters Tea Party. for the grade 4’s.

  3. September 26, 2011 5:27 pm

    Bob: re sound effects — I guess that harp sounds in Psalms 33, 71, and 98 are no-brainers, but what is the sound of hanging a harp on a poplar (Psalm 137)?

    Suzanne: what is “Smart Notebook”?

  4. September 26, 2011 6:16 pm

    I still need to hear more music. Perhaps your question was rhetorical. But I decided to review the careless way I had with the translation of the skin-bottle instrument, nbl. I have changed it to lute except where it means foolish or senseless. It is the opposite of senseless of course – but that’s what we do to language sometimes. It occurs also in that context of feeding corpses to the fowls of heaven (79.2). But in 71 it is the human skin I think that gives thanks. The sound in 137 is the sound of memory. Both the chief good and the evil. I wonder at the impact of the exile. Without it, who knows if we would even have a Psalter. Have you heard the music as reconstructed by Suzanne Haik Vantourna? You will find it here at the bottom of the post.

  5. September 26, 2011 7:04 pm

    Bob, I first heard Haik-Vantourna’s “reconstructions” when I was 12 years-old — I was skeptical then, and I still am today!

    But she certainly has an amazing personal story.

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 26, 2011 7:26 pm

    Smart Notebook is the software from SMART Technologies that has largely replaced PPT in education. It is the product for use on an interactive white board, which you can touch and manipulate as you present or teach. Students use it for presentations as well, or just as a medium for a learning activity of some kind.

  7. September 26, 2011 7:43 pm

    Interesting. I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps they have not yet fully penetrated the higher education market.

  8. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 26, 2011 8:12 pm

    it has been used by the US military for about 10 years, and by TV stations. But I have to admit that the profs that I know don’t have much use for it. In resolution it doesn’t match projecting a tablet or using a document camera with paper and pencil, although that function is certainly encorporated into Smart Notebook. I have discussed this at length with bioengineering and math and science profs and they all show the same disinterest.

    It is a great tool for the elementary scene but my colleague presented her use of the SMART board at a Harvard Business school session and they seemed impressed. Like everything, it has mixed reviews.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 26, 2011 8:19 pm

    It is possible that if 4 boards were integrated to display at the same time and tablet input was displayed or a document camera was integrated that it could actually produce superior presentation capabilities. Its hard to say whether there is a cultural resistance on the part of higher ed, but certainly this is a product that is now in almost all classrooms in the UK, and many in the US and Canada. There are other brands of course – Prometheus, Team board, etc.

    You can also write on the board on top of a projected word document and then at a click the handwritten notes are encorporated into the written text of an MS Word document. This is used to edit in a large group, especially in a business arena.

    I’m am not going to act as a advocate, but this medium does make PPT a thing of the past for most of us lower educators.

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