Projecting Fluff, by Shanthi Manian, points out another flaw in this ever-continuing push for more technology in schools. Manian focuses on how PowerPoint presentations are becoming commonplace in classrooms around the country. Even elementary teachers are giving PP presentations. However, Manian writes that there are those who question what PP is doing to teaching, to presentations, and to our cognitive processes as a whole:
- "It's only a little better than teaching children to smoke cigarettes," said analytical design expert Edward Tufte about PowerPoint in the classroom. Tufte says PowerPoint's low-resolution and bullet-point style make the presentation of complex concepts impossible. Lecturers try to compensate for the thin, oversimplified content with animations and tricks, a phenomenon labeled "PowerPointlessness" by Jamie McKenzie, the editor of From Now On: The Education Technology Journal.
- But Tufte and McKenzie say that bright colors, music, and animations fail to disguise what Tufte calls a "poverty of content."
- "A vicious circle results," Tufte said. "Thin content leads to boring presentations. To make them unboring, PowerPoint Phluff [extraneous elements such as animations] is added, damaging the content, making the presentations even more boring."
- But Tufte and McKenzie's criticisms of PowerPoint are not restricted to its many extraneous features, however. Tufte says the limitations of the software are so severe that it can never be used in a positive way. In his essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, he reviews the flaws that inherently doom PowerPoint users to failure.
- Vague, broad ideas forced into artificial hierarchies characterize virtually all PowerPoint presentations, according to Tufte. Because slides projected onto a wall or screen are of such low resolution, he argues, each slide can only hold a few words. It is simply an issue of space: Complex statements do not fit on a PowerPoint slide.
- The lack of space also forces the viewer to see data or graphs in a sequence, rather than all at once. It is much easier to analyze two graphs drawn side-by-side on a blackboard than two graphs that can only be viewed one at a time, Tufte says. For this reason PowerPoint does not effectively communicate important information.
- Moreover, the bullet style of PowerPoint forces complex ideas into short "catch phrases," Tufte says. And bulleted lists can imply causality where it does not exist. When three items are in a list, the relationship between those three items is unclear - does one cause another? Do they happen simultaneously? "Bullet outlines might be useful in presentations now and then, but sentences with subjects and verbs are usually better," Tufte wrote in his essay.
- McKenzie adds that PowerPoint encourages a linear progression of ideas, which denies students the challenge of reasoning. "It's the difference between pedagogy, when the professor has all the answers and the students ask all the questions, and androgogy-that's a fancy word for adult education," he said.
We are being digitized, being turned into thoughtless machines that question nothing. This emphasis on technology is forcing us to conform to the computer way of thinking, via a sequence of zeros and ones.