Thursday, March 01, 2007

Absolute power(point) corrupts absolutely

I was in a lecture theatre about 4 years ago when informed that powerpoints as a basis for teaching were the death of teaching, and i disagreed. I believed it was how they were used. I had a similar experience defending the use of online teaching when notes online were believed to lead to widespread non attendance and maybe the death of education. But things are never that simple are they? As Latour points out, the world is messier than that, there are simple expositions and there is complexity. I know I can use ppt to be evocative, to capture attention, to provoke. Admittedly this does not tend to happen when using bulletpoints.
Seth Godin explains this well. demonstrates how ppt need not be bulleted, and instead provokes by using imagery, he might also have considered the invocation possible with music which he talks of but doesn't embed.
Nonetheless, I note he finishes with a list despite his admonishment that bullets are for the NRA.... And these too can be critiqued, for example
"Never use more than 6 words on a slide"
Doesn't it depend? If I want to show prose or poetry or even have students critique the value or limitations of lengthy verbage there is method in my madness.
The 'point' he makes though is that teaching and learning needs engagement. Parker Palmer (using text) described the image of a teacher with a cartoon balloon filling the space between teacher and student as if it were a airbag distancing the connection, total predetermination of words can create barriers.
The transfer of a medium designed for one setting into another comes with possibilities, in this instance the medium was designed for the boardroom and condensing of info was a priority, the transfer to the educational sector needs to be a thoughtful process (surprized?). There are first and second level effects (Sproull and Keisler), where first level are anticipated and known in advance, or at least anticipated in advance.... But it is the second level of effects that may be doing damage, changes unexpected and sometimes unwanted.
The full possibilities of a new technology may be hard to see, are likely to emphasize planned uses and underestimate the 2nd level effects.
They argue that unanticipated consequences usually have less to do with efficiency effects and more to do with changing interpersonal interactions. Such changes alter how each of us works and even the work we do. These 2nd level effects emerge somewhat more slowly as people renegotiate changed patterns of behaviour and thinking and can cause insidious changes.
But these 2nd level effects are not caused by technology on its own trajectory or operating autonomously on passive people or organisations, they are constructed as technology shapes, and is shaped by interactions.
For example, does teaching by bullet point lead to an inability to construct arguments, sustain this argument across an essay....Is this why lecturers lament that students can't write an essay, perhaps insidious alterations to teaching styles creates this?
There is always push and pull, as much as we think we shape, the medium too has agency and is shaping us.