Center for Teaching Excellence




Center for Teaching Excellence Tip-of-the-Month Archive

Using PowerPoint Effectively

Before you continue on to the recommendations, please visit Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation online. You won't be disappointed.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Ian Parker

Clifford Nass has an office overlooking the Oval lawn at Stanford, a university where the use of PowerPoint is so widespread that to refrain from using it is sometimes seen as a mark of seniority and privilege, like egg on one's tie. Nass once worked for Intel, and then got a Ph.D. in sociology, and now he writes about and lectures on the ways people think about computers. But, before embarking on any of that, Professor Nass was a professional magician - Cliff Conjure - so he has some confidence in his abilities as a public performer.

According to Nass, who now gives PowerPoint lectures because his students asked him to, PowerPoint "lifts the floor" of public speaking: a lecture is less likely to be poor if the speaker is using the program. "What PowerPoint does is very efficiently deliver content," Nass told me. "What students gain is a lot more information -- not just facts but rules, ways of thinking, examples."

At the same time, PowerPoint "lowers the ceiling," Nass says. "What you miss is the process. The classes I remember most, the professors I remember most, were the ones where you could watch how they thought. You don't remember what they said, the details. It was 'What an elegant way to wrap around a problem!' PowerPoint takes that away. PowerPoint gives you the outcome, but it removes the process."

"What I miss is, when I used to lecture without PowerPoint, every now and then I'd get a cool idea," he went on. "I remember once it just hit me. I'm lecturing, and all of a sudden I go, 'God! "The Wizard of Oz"! The scene at the end of "The Wizard of Oz"!'" Nass, telling this story, was almost shouting. (The lecture, he later explained, was about definitions of "the human" applied to computers.)

"I just went for it - twenty-five minutes. And to this day students who were in that class remember it. That couldn't happen now: Where the hell is the slide?" (Parker, Ian. "Absolute PowerPoint: Can a Software Package edit Our Thoughts?" New Yorker, May 28, 2001.)

With these caveats in mind...

here are some straightforward recommendations for utilizing PowerPoint in the classroom effectively and not losing the dynamic process that gives life to teaching.

  1. Don't be a slave to the technology. Use B to blank the screen so that you can pursue creative ideas that emerge during the lecture.
  2. Don't read what's on your presentation; let it offer examples or illustrations of what you are explaining as can be done with digital storytelling.
  3. Rehearsal is key to any presentation, but it should be of the sort that frees you from the PowerPoint. If students get accustomed to the fact that the richness of your lecture is with you and not the projection, they will be more apt to pay attention.
  4. Less is more. Don't waste your precious time by constructing elaborate designs on your slides.

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Contact Information

For more information about the Center for Teaching Excellence, please contact:

Becky Kasper, Ph.D., Director
SUNY Plattsburgh
301 Feinberg Library, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-3043
Fax: (518) 564-5100