PowerPoint presentations are frequently referred to as “death by PowerPoint” because often the slides are crammed with paragraphs of words or lists of bullet points. The slides that come with textbooks are often perfect examples of what I believe should not be used in a classroom lecture. For example, here are the two consecutive presentation slides that come with the text that I use in my organic chemistry class. They are a copy of a figure from the text book outlining how one draws the chair form of a cyclohexane ring.
These are not horrible slides, but they show too much information all at once. It is human nature for us to read everything that appears on a slide rather than listen to what the presenter is saying.
It is very easy to make an “animation” that gets across the same information without having an overwhelming amount of information projected on the screen at all times. Here is a short video that I have made showing how this same information can be imparted using very simple techniques in PowerPoint.
Obviously, in the classroom, we work our way through the information in a step-wise manner over a period of several minutes. Here I am just quickly clicking through the two slides. In the lecture, the students have been given a handout onto which they physically draw the chair form of cyclohexane as we progress through the “animation”. Drawing the cyclohexane chair may seem like an easy thing for students to do, but traditionally, mine do not seem to be able to make intelligible drawings without some guidance! While working our way through the “animation”, everything on the figure from the text is incorporated into the discussion plus we look at physical “ball and stick” models allowing the students to relate their drawing on paper to the three dimensional molecule.
Making this more interactive visual was not very difficult. If I can make something graphic, anyone can as I have little artistic talent! All that was required was to insert lines, boxes or circles using the shapes on PowerPoint’s drawing toolbar and then tell them when and how to appear and disappear using the animation toolbar and animation pane. Although it takes more time to make slides like this compared to just typing a list of bulleted items or using a stock figure from a text book, it is far more interesting and attention holding for your audience. With small bits of information appearing on the screen, students are less likely to quickly read what is on the screen and go back to their social activities like texting, tweeting, etc.
Most people tend to remember pictures better than paragraphs of words so I try to incorporate pictures as much as possible on my slides and use words somewhat sparingly so they have more impact when they do appear. If you want to give students more information, you can always provide them with a lecture outline or make presenter notes to share.
A while ago, I posted about Clarify, a great application in which you make screen capture images and incorporate them with written instructions to generate tutorials. However, sometimes you just want to capture an image from your computer screen to use in a webpage or a slide show. If you are using a Windows PC, you can capture the entire screen using the “Print Screen” utility (PrtScn key) or a specific window using the Alt+PrtScn key combination which copies the image to your clipboard. If you only want to make an image of a portion of the screen, you will need to edit the screen shot using some graphics editing application. If you are using a Mac, you can capture the entire screen using the key combo Command+Shift+3. This will save the screenshot as a .png graphic file on your desktop. You do have the ability to capture only a portion of your screen using the key combo Command+Shift+4. When you use this combination, you will be able to draw a rectangle around the area you wish to capture and save the image to your desktop. If you don’t want your image saved as a file but would rather be able to paste it directly into another application, you can place the capture on the clipboard using a four key combo by adding the Control key to either of the combinations above. All of this works, but if you want to capture items on a screen frequently and add annotations as I do, you will want something with more capabilities. TechSmith provides the perfect tool, Jing, and it’s free!
Jing is a utility that allows you to screen capture images, animations and video to either use in other applications or share on the web. When running Jing in the background, a small unobtrusive sun is placed at the edge of the screen either at the top in Windows or on the upper side on the Mac. When you want to capture something on the screen, you drag your mouse over the sun, and three little sunbeams appear. The cross-hair icon is the one you select for screen capturing. The middle beam (history) takes you to your list of past screen captures, and the beam with the gears allows you to modify your settings. Clicking on the capture beam brings up cross-hairs that you use to select the area of the screen you wish to capture. Clicking on the image capture button in the menu that appears grabs the information that you want and places it in a window where you can modify it by adding text, arrows, highlighting, etc if you wish and then either copy the resulting image to the clipboard or save it as a .png file.
You can also screen capture video up to 5 minutes long. My very first how-to videos showing my students simple lab data collection via computer apps were done using this feature of Jing. All you have to do is attach a microphone to your computer; select the region of the screen you wish to record; click the video capture button; and add your voice-over and computer actions. You can upload your video to screencast.com for on-line viewing. If you want to move around the screen during your screencast, Jing is not an appropriate tool, but it works great for very simple recording tasks. If you need something more advanced for making video, TechSmith makes a very full featured screen capturing/video editing product called Camtasia which I use for recording the Powerpoint lectures I use in my flipped and online classes. TechSmith also sells a more robust relative of Jing called Snagit ($49.95; $29.95 academic) that gives you more annotation tools and other advanced features. Head on over to TechSmith and download a free copy of Jing
PowerPoint gets a lot of negative criticism because so often presentations (and class lectures) using it are filled with slides crammed with words, tables full of hard to read data and mind numbing lists of bullet points….but is that a fault of PowerPoint or the way in which so many people use it?
I had the opportunity to attend a full day workshop on Keynote 6 (an Apple product) presented by Les Posen of Melbourne, Australia at MacWorld/iWorld last month. I have to say that Les is truly a presentation magician, and I was really sorry when it was time for the workshop to end! Although I own Keynote, I had never played around with it. I have always been a PowerPoint user. It is true that there is a lot of really cool stuff that you can do in Keynote that you can’t really do in PowerPoint, but there are a lot of things you can do with PowerPoint to make engaging presentations. Although Les showed us a lot of interesting things we could do with Keynote, the main content of the workshop was the psychology of presentations (Les is a psychologist) and how to design presentations to engage the audience. First on the list is to get rid of slides filled with words, which is something I already try to do. Some of the worst slides I have ever seen for engaging an audience are the stock presentation slides that come with chemistry text books often comprised of entire pages of paragraph length bullet points. Who designs these things? Have they ever actually looked at them on a screen?
My thoughts are that rather than blaming the software (although there are lots of areas in which PowerPoint could be improved), perhaps we need to change how we think about what we put into a presentation and how we can make it more engaging for our audiences.
There are a number of tricks that you can do to bring animation to slides with static drawings or to make data on tables, graphs or charts more visually appealing with trends easy to see. Since I use PowerPoint as the screencast base for the recorded lecture videos I use in my flipped classes, I have had to come up with a number of techniques to allow me to animate objects on slides that you can’t animate directly. I will post some of the things I do as I find time.
If you are interested in learning more about how to make great presentations, I would suggest that you check out Les Posen’s blog, “Presentation Magic – The Art, Science and Magic of Presenting“. Although Les is a died-in-the-wool Keynote man, his tenets apply to any tool you might want to use to prepare presentations.