What Happened to Me?

Back in 1996, when I started at UC Davis, I remember that one of my very first classes used slide shows. I think it was a psychology class… or maybe a philosophy class. I remember it required a “lab” class (really just TA sessions) which I never attended.

At any rate, I remember that the instructor used slideshows. The old fashioned ones on carousels.

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Then… one day… he put on a slideshow and the craziest thing happened. He clicked the controller to change the slide, but instead of the clunk, whir, clunk we usually heard for a slide change, the slide dissolved and the next slide kind of whirled onto the screen. Text started flying onto the page. It was, in short, glorious.

I asked the guy next to me (lived in the dorm room down the hall) what was going on. he said, “That’s this new stuff from Microsoft. It’s called PowerPoint. It’s really expensive. I think it’s like $1,000.” That price tag briefly ended my infatuation.

Once I became a teacher, a lot of noise was made about teachers getting access to the software. Site licenses made it easy to get the software, but there was no way to deploy it back in 2000. Some tech savvy teachers were able to plug their giant desktops into their TVs. Everyone else had a screen a whole 15″ diagonally. CRTs. Regardless, districts loved to offer the training on how the software worked. The nuts and bolts. Screen transitions, automated slides, sounds, inserting pictures, slide masters, etc. I’m sure that I wound up being fodder for someone else’s resume at least a dozen times (“provided training in presentation software”).

Finally, we got access to LCD projectors. You could check one out from the media person. It came on a cart with a laptop connected. People started checking them out regularly.  Students would really light up when they realized that the day’s instruction would be partially done through PowerPoint. It was, looking back, kind of similar to watching TV for them.

And, as more staff members started using our new toy, we started… using it, using it, using it, and then abusing it. It started out with students being excited about the day’s content, then over a few years with them becoming ambivalent, then to them asking for bathroom passes.

What had changed? The newness had worn off. Worse, I started to realize that there was more to a presentation than just throwing a bunch of words and pictures on a page, only to have them fly across the screen.

Eventually, I came to the realization that our technology had not grown with our intelligence and wisdom. PowerPoint might have been the educational version of the atom bomb.

I eventually began looking at presentations much as I look at writing.  There are things that we do when we look at our audience, consider their needs, organize, etc. We must do the same thing with our students and fellow staff members when we present to them and teach them those same skills.+

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