Death by powerpoint it does not have to be!

We’ve all sat there, probably less so as teachers actually as it is much more of a problem in the corporate arena.  But rather than me remind you in text prepare to laugh out loud at this comedian give his experience.

This video was actually shared in our online notes this week by Dr Jackie Gerstein and it was so good I just couldn’t resist sharing again. But what is the point – well if you’ve ever sat through a presentation similar to the one described above and you’ve also sat through a great presentation then you know the point already.  It’s not powerpoint’s fault! It’s not the tool’s fault – it’s the presenter, the designer, the instructor, the teacher.  It’s really no different to a poorly designed or delivered lesson. Sure we all have the odd lesson that falls flat or short of our expectations but if the majority are not hitting the mark with our learners then something is wrong – AND IT IS NOT THE STUDENTS OR THE TOOLS.

So how can you make your lessons more productive? More engaging, more powerful? What simple tools can you use in your planning and preparation, preferably ones that are probably already on your laptop? The “basic productivity tools” (Roblyer, 2016) or basic software tool suite is what!

A word processor – more than likely MS Word, Google Docs or Pages.

A spreadsheet application – more than likely Excel, GoogleSheets, or Numb3rs.

A presentation tool – more than likely Powerpoint, Google Slides, Keynote.

Of course there are a myriad of other phenomenal options that are Cloud-based, fancier, more 2015 than 1990’s but having tried almost all of them I almost always come back to the holy trinity produced by either Microsoft, Google or Apple. As Roblyer (2016) states “for many professionals in education and other fields, these tools have become an indispensable part of their daily work”.

Logos of Microsoft, Apple and Google.

So why should you use their tools? What is their relative advantage to pen and paper or whiteboard markers?

In my teaching area of Mathematics they syllabus is so crowded with content that we “must” transfer to our learners there is simply not enough time (IMHO) to write the theory notes on the board in a marker and wait for students to copy them down. Two thirds of a lesson is lost doing this which leaves minimal actual time for discussion and analysis of a problem, if you’re lucky. This, in part, explains why the craze of “flipping” or the flipped classroom approach is such a hit with Mathematics teachers. We’re always looking for a way to front load the content and then spend lesson time actually solving problems and modelling our thinking for our learners. But what if you could do both?

The first main way I use the basic suite is to produce my lesson notes, in Google Docs, and then PDF them for easy printing and accessibility across devices. I upload a copy on our school learning management system (LMS) but also have a copy printed ready for my students in class. Here is an example of a booklet from one of my senior classes last year:


I know it appears static. I realise it doesn’t have fancy transitions or animations. It also has lots of screen shots from various texts that I reference and use. Here is why – the relative advantage of this resource is that it is portable, accessible, transferable, mutli-faceted in it’s use-case and also easily editable and updatable. If I want to share it with other teachers I can easily do so, it’s not embedded in an LMS that others cannot access, it’s not in a whiz-bang cloud-based format which whilst visually appealing is not easy to print. Most of all this booklet becomes my canvas. It is a PDF format that is easily annotated via most apps on a tablet and printable to be annotated by students without technology. It is a cross-over document that bridges the digital divide. Here is how I use it live during a lesson – I record the lesson using Doceri and annotate the lesson notes via Doceri on my iPad.

A lesson recording on Series and Sequences

Why Google Docs and not Microsoft Word? Pretty simple because of ease of use, google is fast, word… not so much. Formatting is simple in google docs, throwing images in is simple, and collaborating is simple.  It also sits easily accessible in the cloud.  I know Office 365 has now almost caught up and the online versions of the Microsoft’s basic suite are much improved but for me Google Docs still has it over Word (for most things).

In terms of presentations though I have found myself falling back on Powerpoint again and again.  This is mostly because of integration with Mathtype for writing Maths equations and also it’s great functionality with Doceri, my go to for lesson recording on a daily basis. The relatively advantage a presentation has over a PDF or Word processed document is that the lesson material can be “slowly revealed”. It can be animated to engage and highlight content AND more importantly one can embed video content within a powerpoint which cannot be done in a word processor.

Have I convinced you yet? If you’re not making your own lesson notes with one of the above tools you and your learners are missing out. And whilst recording your lessons is not a tool that is part of the “basic suite” I certainly think it should be. I think Jordan and Papp (2013) summed it up best when they reviewed and summarised the wide body of research on the impact of Powerpoint and found that overall while there was “no impact on desired outcomes, they were also able to demonstrate that impact depends almost exclusively on how it is used”.


Jordan, L., & Papp, R. (2013). Powerpoint: It’s not “yes” or “no” – it’s “when” and “how”. Research in Higher Education Journal, 22, 1-12.

Roblyer, M. D.. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (7th Ed). Allyn & Bacon


4 thoughts on “Death by powerpoint it does not have to be!

  1. Doug,
    You make some very strong points. I like how you brought up Microsoft word vs. Google Docs. I think that the Google Apps have such an impact on the way teachers can collaborate with students and also students with their peers. I teach young students, so if I can share a document or article with them in the cloud, they there is no way that they can lose it.
    I have looked into Doceri before, but I have not used it that much. I like to use Explain Everything to make my flipped lessons. It is very compatible with Google Drive, which is where I keep EVERYTHING, so everything runs smoothly together. In my second grade class, we cannot send devices home with students for them to watch the lessons before they come to school, but it is a way that I can differentiate instruction in the classroom. I like to level math lessons and front load small reading groups with flipped lessons.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing your idea. I love Google Docs and use this all the time for school and sharing with my students. Especially Google Docs syncs with Google account, this makes accessible on your phone devices as well.

  3. Hi Doug,
    You make some great points in this blog post. I also believe in the power of the basic suite of software tools, and loved how your referred to word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software as the “holy trinity.” It’s a great metaphor, as this basic suite of technology tools is something that we as educators to this day rely on, despite all the great new technology tools that have come onto the scene in the last five to 10 years. Social media tools, assessment tools, etc.., are awesome, but without the basic suite of software tools, it’s difficult to get anything accomplished in a modern, innovative learning environment.

    I also agree with you and prefer Google Docs over MS Word. I find Google Docs to be faster than Word too. I also love MS PowerPoint and hope that Google Slides evolves and gets some more features to make it more like PowerPoint. Don’t get me wrong though, I use Google Slides a lot, as I love the fact that it’s cloud-based and collaborative. Microsoft also has cloud-based PowerPoint software through Office 365, but I think Google has the upper-hand with all things that are cloud-based. Thank you for a great blog post. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the basic suite of software tools! – Norm

  4. While I’m all for learning management systems, these three programs have gotten immensely popular for a reason. To be honest, a lot of people don’t even use half of their features and still manage to deliver a decent final product, would you agree?

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