my Pal Julie writes...
Ah, my good friend, I'm about to disagree with you:
You're right, of course, that PPt is a tool, but like all tools, it's not "just a tool." Tools are *created* out of a particular set of values AND assumptions about the use for said tools.
I've been convinced (thru personal experience as well as the analysis by researchers/scholars in the field of technical communication) that PPt is a tool with limited usefulness - and perhaps a cost greater than its beneficial uses - because of the following reasons (just for starters):
1) the hierarchical structure of slide creation forces all slide content into a hierarchy when content may not be hierarchically related
2) the hierarchy forces viewers/auditors to understand the content in a way that may not coincide with their preferred way of understanding (you know, all the "learning styles" and "multiple intelligences" stuff that Howard Gardner has described)
First of all -- it is quite possible to use tools in ways divorced from the assumptions under which they were created. Human kind has been doing that for years, if PowerPoint is a tool, then I'm not sure why it is any different.
A professional conference is VERY different than the classroom settings in which I find myself teaching. When I need to present complex ideas and arguments in large classes of community college students, (Ethics is 50 students, don't forget...) I don't have many of the tools available to those whose classes are much smaller. I can't reasonably have a large number of writing assignments, objective quizzes are terrible ways to assess learning philosophy and having a conversation/discussion in class that lets me assess understanding on an individual level is impossible. Add to the mix the problem of accurately assessing reading comprehension and the fact that even students who are actually at college-level have problems with Kant, so even if they've tried to do the readings (which isn't necessarily the case) they may not have understood it..
So, when faced with a large class that isn't necessarily understanding the material, in order to facilitate classroom discussion, my current method for writing PowerPoint slides is to begin with some think/pair/share discussion questions linking their intuitions to the material. I then present the main ideas or questions that will lead the discussion to the main ideas of the work -- and I end with a blank slide for objections...
Additionally, I do use the black/white board to further illustrate points etc -- but, having the outline on PowerPoint also assures me that I haven't left out a point in one class that I cover in another.
In terms of your learning-styles point -- I think that a good PowerPoint can actually facilitate more learning styles than a more free-flowing class discussion... why? Well, visual learners respond to the words on the screen -- and the images if appropriate or available. Discussion-based learners benefit from the resulting class discussions and from the think/pair/share exercises. Those of us (this is me all the way) that learns best within a linear progression of ideas (sometimes called 'logical' learners) can put the information into the bigger context of the slide presentation. Finally, since I make the PowerPoints available to my classes in advance, those who learn by writing can use the printed PowerPoint slides to structure their notes.
So, again -- why isn't it the case that poor PowerPoint presentations are the result of mis-use of PowerPoint and not a problem inherent in the tool itself?