An ongoing change within teaching is the the slow embrace by educational leaders of a multimedia approach. Classrooms have tech from Smart Boards to student tablets, all of which is supposed to enable better teaching and better learning.
However, this change has been met with backlash, by those same educational leaders’ peers and also, interestingly, teachers. A key gripe from EFL teachers seems to be whether using PowerPoint Presentations for lessons is a good or bad thing.
In my roles teaching in the UK and China within language schools, colleges and universities I have used PowerPoint and also gone without and never thought much of it until my most recent role at a university in China. I work in a department affiliated with a UK university and at the centre of this cultural clash is the debate on whether PowerPoint Presentations, or PPTs, are a useful teaching tool.
To which my immediate response is:
Yes! Yes, they are! Of course they are! Why is this even a question?
This is not to say that they are a must-have tool. But they are certainly a tool.
But my workplace is polarised and the key arguments are below.
Firstly, I’m not sure all of the above is true. There are many claims within teaching made at face value that lack academic or scientific justification.
For example: the idea that students don’t practice listening skills if instructions are written. Are there any studies that illustrate this? Plus, perhaps it’s helpful for students to know where they are in the lesson. I certainly have enjoyed learning from PowerPoint classes during my Chinese study.
But the same can be said for the claim that students are encouraged to take notes. Many might just wait to be sent the presentation by the teacher. Or in the case of many of my Chinese students, they’ll take sneaky photos.
These pros and cons are all ideas related to using display screen equipment and are ultimately down to how the teacher uses this tool.
If you, as a teacher, are able to quickly develop a PowerPoint presentation that is engaging and helps you stay on track without being repetitive and over-reliant on a rigorous structure, then this is a good tool.
If you find that PowerPoint presentations make you feel dull and you don’t enjoy making them and find they don’t help your students, don’t use them.
But that being said, it’s not pragmatic to campaign for their removal. I’ve worked in roles that demand their use because students need to get the same lessons across the board. Teachers need to accept this and work within it. Especially in areas like EAP (English for Academic Purposes) where… the material is a bit dry, the courses are intensive and students have a clear deadline to reach their goals. Freedom to teach how you want to teach will be a little diminished for the greater good.
Similarly, I’ve worked in jobs that demand teachers minimise or abandon the use of PowerPoint Presentations. Teachers should have the skill to do this too. But visual displays can be great and their use shouldn’t be restricted without good reason. Reasons other than “that’s what was said on my CELTA”. Many of the cons above, however, are true, especially the planning and the technical difficulties.
But whilst I can think of situations where a screen really helps get a message across, I can’t think of a situation where you absolutely mustn’t have a screen or PowerPoint. Can you? Let me know in the comments.
There are pros and cons but, ultimately, a PowerPoint Presentation can be used in an effective and sometimes preferable way, if that’s what the job requires. It does allow for creativity and you can always go off-plan if needed.
Let’s be pragmatic and focus on clear aims, clear planning and clear lesson delivery, whatever the tools. It is important to be aware of the limitations of the CELTA/TEFL teaching bubble.
Where do you stand on PowerPoint vs Board?
Agree or disagree?