Powerpoint and Sage vs. Guide

Keith Burnett posted his response to the Learning Circuits Blog's question of when and how to use Powerpoint. He obviously uses Powerpoint in ways that go beyond presenting material. Here's some of the ways he uses it:

  • Activity briefs
  • Quick whole class exercises
  • Voting slides
  • Mind maps and bubble diagrams
  • Builds in diagrams
  • Photos of a procedure

You'll need to go to his site to get the explanation for these, but they show that you can use Powerpoint in creative ways and not be limited simply to using it for a lecture presentation.

One point that needs to be considered a little more is Burnett's preference for Guide on the Side as opposed to Sage on the Stage. This is a common refrain based on the belief that students constructing knowledge from the ground up results in better learning. However, one point of the initial question of how to use powerpoint was some research reported by Anna Patty (Sydney Morning Herald), which had several findings.

One finding was that people don't process the same information as effectively when it's presented both verbally and in written form. With respect to Powerpoint, then, you don't want to just read words off a slide. Rather, if used, the slide should provide a visual, such as a picture or graph, that supports the points that you are saying.

Another finding was this:

instead of asking students to solve problems on their own, teachers helped students more if they presented already solved problems.

"Looking at an already solved problem reduces the working memory load and allows you to learn. It means the next time you come across a problem like that, you have a better chance at solving it," Professor Sweller said.

The working memory was only effective in juggling two or three tasks at the same time, retaining them for a few seconds. When too many mental tasks were taken on some things were forgotten.

In other words, this research indicates that in learning something new, it's better for teachers to act as Sages who present examples of "already solved problems." After a problem or process been learned and students are moving towards mastery of that area, then the role switches to Guide.

In a related post Learning with Examples, I commented on the power of examples for learning:

I've learned by observing what Mark did. Previously, I would duplicate an entire file to have a practice file; Mark simply added a new CSS note. Previously, I would export an entire document to see how it looked in html. While in Boston, I noticed that Mark just used the Preview button. And from the code he sent, I began to understand the difference between "float" and "absolute". In trying to re-design this blog, I spent two full days acquiring quite a bit of frustration but little understanding, as opposed to taking a few minutes to look at Mark's re-coding to learn where I had gone wrong.

For myself, I prefer to have a Sage tell me what to do and save me hours of frustration and wasted effort.