Dance vs. PowerPoint

As a musician (albeit positively terrible), I have a love for the arts. As a teacher (also, arguably quite terrible) I have developed a certain disdain for powerpoint, when used in the manner in which it seems the majority of its users are accustomed to (myself included at one point). This TEDx talk by John Bohannon explores a few messages. The first, (but not necessary the primary) is using dance to aid explanation of complex ideas; science in this instance. The second intertwined offsetting the USA’s ridiculous national debt, and the blatant, lazy misuse of PowerPoint epidemic.

Apparently I am becoming (or possibly have become) a total powerpoint snob. Bohannon says “apparently there are some 30 million powerpoint presentations created, every day”.

30 million! …and I wager most of them bad.

I have nightmares about powerpoint. Both from sitting through days, weeks….sheesh, what felt like an eternity of college lectures with bullet point after bullet point…my head flipping back and forth like a cheap car dashboard novelty toy. What makes it worse is that when I think back through my own teaching history, for the longest time I did the very same things. One particular lesson I remember vividly was on ‘units of measurement’…it was literally all abbreviations and acronyms! Can you imagine? This is ft lbs…this is newton meters…can I introduce you to the Vickers scale of hardness…my word, it makes me shudder to think about it. I remember a discussion around PowerPoint from a previous PIDP course; in essence, the instructor said “just, don’t”.

Don’t get me wrong in enthusiastic, creative hands, of course there is a time and a place for PowerPoint; but I seem to recall the statistics for information retention from heavily loaded PowerPoint lessons, are diabolical.We’ve all sat through the bad ones, I don’t need to remind you. Its just too easy for people to ‘cobble together’ something that vaguely resembles a lesson, using the crutch that has become Microsofts PowerPoint.

Bohannon begins to conclude with “The more he said, the less…I understood, because, if you’re trying to give someone the big picture of a complex idea, to really capture it’s essence, the fewer words you use the better. In fact, the ideal, might be to use no words at all”. Surely It’s a romantic image to think that dance could be regularly used by faculty to assist the learning process, but creating lessons which inspire, touch and motivate students, are absolute reality. Dance won’t inspire everyone. Even on a recent teaching forum, teachers commented that they were too distracted by the dance. Strangely, as a person who sometimes feels like he is genetically connected to a meerkat, the dance in Bohannon’s TEDx didn’t draw my attention away from the presentation, moreover, it connected my thoughts to the speech; it enhanced it. Perhaps the beautiful choreography heightened my senses, and therefore my intrinsic motivation to listen and digest (the terrible musician in me). Whether you agree or disagree with ‘learning styles’ theorems, it is difficult to argue against the fact that we all have a preference; according to the VAK model of learning, my preference is visual – kinaesthetic. The point here is that the message that you send, needs to be via a medium that your learners can connect to, it’s no use throwing up OHP’s (remember those?)in an orderly fashion, while you’re students frantically scroll their Twitter feeds.

While there is truth in Bohannon’s statement “that bad powerpoint presentations, are a serious threat to the global economy”. At grass roots, the issue is that bad powerpoint presentations are a serious threat to our students learning environment, and our validity as educators.

Do something different. Be creative. Dance.

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