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Powerpoint is the enemy?

NYTimes has an article about Powerpoint with an image that has been making its rounds online. I take the opposite view of the central concern expressed in the article: the problem with PowerPoint is that it reduces complexity to bullet points (as General McMaster mentions). The image getting bad press is actually far more useful than slide after slide of small text and bullet points. At least the image attempts to provide context by showing interconnectedness of concepts.


  1. Mira wrote:

    I was remembering how some, including Edward Tufte, Carol Adams, and an official investigation, implicated PowerPoint in NASA’s Columbia space shuttle disaster.

    But to me an interesting thing about the “bowl of spaghetti” concept map (shown in the NYT piece as an illustration of what would be an unmeetable expectation – that PowerPoint can transmit mental models from one person to another) is that it avoided two major pitfalls of slideware – it wasn’t bullet points, and it wasn’t linear.

    Perhaps part of the reason the Generals were unhappy is because Afghanistan is complicated and intractable, rather than because PowerPoint is facile and reductive.

    Friday, April 30, 2010 at 4:05 am | Permalink
  2. Mateo Jovan wrote:

    The only problem with the whole “PowerPoint Is The Problem” scenario is simple: A tool is not the enemy … poor logic and implementation is the enemy. It’s like blaming my car for taking me to a bar and getting me drunk. It doesn’t make sense. Any tool, properly used, is a plus … abused, it’s always going to create havoc.

    Friday, April 30, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  3. Geoff Cain wrote:

    I hate being in the position of defending Bill Gates. I love Tufte, he is definitely one of my heroes but you can’t criticize chalk for not being a word processor. I agree with Mateo: if a word processor turns out romance novels it is not the word processor’s fault. I have used Powerpoint to demonstrate dynamically animated concept maps. Not that other tools can’t do that. This is a critical thinking and visual pedagogy issue, not a tool issue.

    Friday, April 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  4. Guns don’t kill people…people kill people.

    Friday, April 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
  5. Mira wrote:

    “if a word processor turns out romance novels it is not the word processor’s fault”

    Geoff, I think this is about out-of-the-box default settings and how they might shape the ambitions of new users. I found Carol Adams is convincing on this – Adams, C., 2006. PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38(4), 389-411.

    PowerPoint is not a neutral authoring environment – its interface and defaults are designed according to certain assumptions from the world of business. Those of us who have the time and inclination are good at meddling with these defaults, but there’s plenty of evidence that most people make do with them.

    So with respect to slideware my job these days is to raise other non-default possibilities, explore how to make your audience work hard rather than simply watching, and how to avoid splitting the audience’s attention. But I wouldn’t want to do without slideware.

    Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink