27 November 2006

The Rhetoric of PowerPoint

An excellent essay and lecture from Jens E. Kjeldsen, an associate professor at the University of Bergen, Norway. In it he uses an analogue to media literacy, namely media rhetoracy, to think critically about the effects of PowerPoint, and how to construct effective communication that engages thought, rather than diminishing it:
The presentation program PowerPoint is probably the most used tool in the schools, high schools and universities of today. The use of this program, however, comes at a cost, because it is not just a different and neutral way of teaching. Like the use of any technology, PowerPoint affects not only the way we present and teach, but also the way we think, learn and understand. The program carries an inherent tendency to crate fragmentation of thought and cognitive overload. In order to avoid this we should stop thinking in terms of technology and begin to think rhetorically. What we need is media rhetoracy: the ability to communicate persuasively and appropriately.
This is an academic presentation, so it deals with, among other things, PowerPoint in pedagogy, but the lessons are quite transferable to other contexts as well - including the business world for which PowerPoint was originally designed. One of my favourite lines from the essay is this one:
“If you’ve got nothing to say”, starts a maxim from the advertising world, “then sing it”. Perhaps we could say much the same about PowerPoint: “If you’ve nothing to say, PowerPoint can help you say it loudly and clearly”.
Also quoted, of course, is Edward Tufte, whose critique of PowerPoint set off a firestorm of controversy. Tufte maintains that PowerPoint slides
“make audiences ignorant and passive, and also to diminish the credibility of the presenter. Thin visual content prompts suspicions: ”What are they leaving out? Is that all they know? Does the speaker think we’re stupid?” ”What are they hiding?”
Of course, Tufte's critique might well be the reason for the program's popularity, even among teachers.
Via Jill

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out Mike Wesch's post here at Savage Minds.