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November 06, 2005

PowerPoint Presentations in English Courses

PowerPoint in the ESL Classroom.jpg

"Professors known as outstanding lecturers do two things; they use a simple plan and many examples." ~ W. McKeachie

If my memory doesn't fail me, it seems that the business types latched on to this technology first, the publishing field being no exception. The administrative branch of the school system used it to “preach” their new policies to the faculty branches.

When their use first became prevalent in teaching, I thought that they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. I still use them a lot, not only for course lectures but also for conference presentations, etc. If you suffer from stage-fright, it certainly gives your “audience” something to look at besides yourself! Even more importantly, as the quote suggests, they keep any “lecture” you feel compelled to impose upon your class "simple" by sticking to a planned outline and even entertaining with the ability to use graphics, examples and even “quotations” as writing prompts. I shouldn't even have to make a comparison to the expense or making (and trouble of making) overhead transparencies, the older method.

Apparently, students are now being prepped to use MS-PowerPoint as early as grade school. Recently, almost all of the individual projects that require a presentation that I assign to students are being done with this very graphics-heavy technology. I don’t want to say that I’m getting bored with it (more like addicted to it), but I do often wonder if, perhaps, something crucial might be missing from this kind of pedagogy. This might be especially true if we, as instructors, begin to rely on it as a crutch or overuse it.

The current consensus seems to be that lately, since so many people are now using them that know very little about graphic design, that the majority of them stink! This might be, as pointed out by Brad Feld here, the fault of the user and not the software itself.

Anyway, I just wondered how many others in the ESL field are using, or have their students use, the PowerPoint technology (or something similar) in the classroom? Do you find this to be a practical/helpful educational tool or the metaphorical path to eternal damnation? I would seriously appreciate it if any of you might share your concerns about the use of PowerPoints including what you feel are good (and bad) ways to use it in an academic environment.

Next slide please!

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief
ESLemployment.com

Posted by lhobbs at November 6, 2005 02:39 AM

Readers' Comments:

Lee,

Power points are definitely 'def when it comes to teaching business English. I mean is there anything more to a businessman's life than sitting around and doing power points to clients during sales presentations?

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Note from Lee:

Take it easy ESL Nerd. The last thing I wanted to do is start bashing all our business friends out there. PowerPoints are helpful I think, but what ways can we make them seem less "business-like" in class and more academic-oriented for your everday, run-of-the-mill, non-business English ESL class?

Posted by: ESL Nerd at November 8, 2005 02:33 AM

Lee,

The business community is starting to think critically about the utility of PowerPoint, and question how to improve it - everyone's recognizing that reading complete sentences off some bullet points is lousy communication, even if the bullets fly in from all sides.

I think the point is that, whether business or teaching, it's all about communication, and Powerpoint can be easily abused.

Here are some resources about some "new" approaches, in case you haven't seen them:

http://www.presentationzen.com/

http://www.beyondbullets.com/

Also, Cathy Sierra has a nice post on PowerPoint and presentation techniques. But since everything she writes is brilliant it's worth browsing as well:

http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2005/06/kill_your_prese.html

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Note from Lee:

Wow, thanks for those resources Cleve! Those PowerPoint-related links are awesome. Some very good advice. I will definitely have to spend a little more time learning from the PowerPoint experts out there.

Posted by: Cleve at November 8, 2005 02:36 PM

i like it when its got music and cartoons and stuff.then its more funny.dont like everything all numbered everywhere.boring man.

Posted by: TEFL Dweeb at November 9, 2005 07:14 PM

Lee,

I would like to use powerpoint in my classroom occaisionally. But I will not ask Ss to use it as I want them to focus on their language skills not thier tech skills. If a student wanted to use it I wouldn't say no, but I also wouldn't encourage or require it.

Posted by: EFL Geek at November 12, 2005 10:47 PM

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Note from Lee:

Fair enough EFL Geek. Another point to consider is that some schools overseas are faring so poorly (economically speaking) that getting chalk and erasable magic markers are a bigger concern than PowerPoint. I mean, how can we incorporate PowerPoint into the classroom when the facility isn't even set up for it, i.e. no computers, no lcd overhead projectors, etc.?

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:42 PM

Lee,

I use them all the time. I teach Year 3 (7-8 year olds) in Thailand. I find PowerPoints a great help to me as a teacher as well as to my students.

The children love seeing things presented in such a graphic way (I often add little animated clip-art pictures in to make them more child-friendly). I also find that they are more receptive seeing the basic stuff presented like this. It just catches their interest. I also think it helps to appeal to the more visual learners within the class.

As a teacher, PowerPoint means I have a resource I can use again and again. Once they are made, they are easily adaptable. They only take as much time as a Word document to preapre. I also like the fact that you can print out the slides, making a colourful display in seconds.

www.brainybetty.com has loads of free templates which are great for use in school.

I have put some of mine up for download on my own blog at http://littlemissteacher.blogspot.com

Deb

Posted by: Deb at November 26, 2005 11:46 AM

Lee,

At Assumption University in Bangkok nearly all Thai teachers use Power Point - and so do their students in presentations. It is a bore, an excuse to look at pics and sit back and let it happen. But Thai students can hardly speak their name in English.

Foreign teacher generally do not use PP. Their students can be seen to participate actively in the classroom save for teachers who talk too much.

Learning is rarely achieved by pretty presentations. It might make everyone feel good but that is generally all.

Peter

Posted by: Peter at November 26, 2005 12:11 PM

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Note from Lee:

Thanks Peter for that insight into your own university. I've noticed that more and more of the undergraduate classes being taught at my own university (not only the ESL ones) are following a similar model. On lecture days, the professor comes in and presents his/her material with a PowerPoint presentation. Much of the "group" activity of the class seems to revolve around assigning students different days in the semester (usually enough to fill every day outside of lecture day) to give a presentation to the class on course material read/learned. This usually results in the students sitting in the dark (sleeping half of the time) while the student presenter shows a PowerPoint outline of an assigned chapter or subject. On the surface, they do seem like a good idea...I still think they must have a purpose somewhere (perhaps for condensing particularly heavy theory that you don't want to spend too much class time on), but to replace traditional teaching methods...I'm still not convinced at this point. Anyone know of a PowerPoint Theory and the ESL Classroom Course out there?

Best,

Lee

Posted by: Lee at November 26, 2005 04:02 PM

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Note from Lee:

Deb,

I can appreciate your argument that PowerPoint presentations are especially appropriate and helpful in teaching very young ESL learners. Your blog sounds like a great resource, I will refer it to ESL-Lesson-Plan blog readers. Please come back and comment anytime!

Posted by: Lee at November 28, 2005 03:53 PM

I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. As an E.S.L. educator and a professional writer, I often use Powerpoint presentations in the classroom. Not only are they convenient for me, but the students are very familiar with Powerpoint and, thus, focus better on the material being presented to them.

Posted by: panasianbiz at July 23, 2006 05:28 PM

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Note from Lee:

Hi PanAsianBiz,

Thanks for your comments. Like, you, I've found several of these observations true for me as well.

Posted by: Lee Hobbs at July 24, 2006 11:06 AM

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