Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why We Stick With Slides and Other Archaic Practices

Despite a vast sea of problems with slide presentations (aka PowerPoint), we continue their use.

Rather than moving away from slides, this has spawned a whole industry on improving slide presentations. The N.Y. Times article raises the point that PowerPoint is deeply embedded in the military culture. This clearly extends beyond military culture, PowerPoint is deeply embedded in the educational culture as well. How did we get here?

In certain contexts slides are highly effective. Most of us have had positive experiences with them used in an educational context, building an association between slides and effective presentation. Further, the presenters included faculty in positions of authority, building an association between slides and success, which we want to emulate. This effect is magnified by the Microsoft marketing machine, which has placed into the field, according to Tufte, several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint turning out trillions of slides each year.

So we have something that is proven to be successful, albeit in a limited context, and it is backed by a large, over-hyping, marketing machine. It is no surprise that it has obtained a massive market presence, and that an entire ecosystem has grown up around it. This ecosystem includes significant business interests and self proclaimed experts who are motivated to expand their reach as far as possible.

This brings us to an important point. Many of the people who produce this static content think they are doing a good job and some actively oppose more advanced techniques.

In reality, the effective contexts for slides are generally associated with situations where the presenter is the center of attention. The slide is limited to the role of a visual aid and the dynamism and interactivity is provided by the speaker.

Modern digital content provides an entirely new context that allows, even demands, an entirely new approach. In this new context the student interacts directly with the content with no intermediary. In this new context the interactivity and the adaptation to the student is provided by the content itself.