Recently a colleague and I were discussing attempts to improve presentations. Most schoolkind can share tales of endless screeds of plagiarised text read straight from the screen without any reference to the audience, enlivened only with stretched, pixelated images taken without thought from Google images. This defines too many presentations using Powerpoint or Keynote or similar software. She expressed her frustration:

I’m fed up with pupils using Powerpoint to write reports.

I thought that was an interesting way of phrasing it:

  • Are pupils using Powerpoint to write reports?
  • If they are, is it wrong to use Powerpoint in this way?
  • Does it matter what software is being used?
  • Why do so many pupils use Powerpoint all the time, for everything?

So I asked them : what do you use Powerpoint for?

The pupils all looked at me with that familiar, she’s-lost-it-again expression, and told me

It’s for making powerpoints.

And that I think is precisely the problem. Pupils are not considering whether they’re writing a report or a presentation or making notes – they’re making ‘a powerpoint’. It’s a stand alone piece of work which they often don’t connect to any particular purpose, because it’s a purpose in itself.

And to be honest, staff (including me) are equally guilty of telling pupils that they’re going to ‘do a powerpoint‘ as shorthand for ‘present your learning in an interesting way with the assistance of presentation software‘.

No surprise that pupils’ focus is on the slides, rather than their talk: they’re doing what we ask them to do.