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Author: Courtlann Thomas

Four of us who teach four separate courses (statistics, English, reading, and College Success) met to discuss student PowerPoint presentations and how they could be improved. Based on our experiences, we identified these common problems: slides overloaded with words and data; students who read their slides word for word; presentations that exceeded the allotted time; and uninteresting presentations that bored fellow classmates. And it's not just students who exhibit these problems in their PowerPoint presentations. In 2001, Angela R. Garber published an article that coined the now common phrase “Death by PowerPoint.” Since then, numerous business professionals and educators have expanded the concept by writing books and articles and uploading video presentations that offer strategies and parodies to help everyone create savvier and more interesting PowerPoint presentations. Based on our review of available options, we decided to see if we could help our students improve their presentations by having them use one of two related platforms, PechaKucha and Ignite. PechaKucha, which means “chitchat” in Japanese, is a PowerPoint format that was created by two architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dythamin. It's a 20-slide, user-friendly, auto-timed slide show that allows the speaker 20 seconds per slide to speak. Sometimes PechaKucha is referred to as “20 x 20” or “6:40” as each presentation lasts exactly six minutes and 40 seconds. Ignite is a shortened version of PechaKucha launched in Seattle in 2006. Like PechaKucha, Ignite talks are auto-timed and use 20 slides but with only 15 seconds per slide, so they last a total of five minutes. These formats use pictures more often than words and sentences to illustrate the speaker's points. Other higher education faculty (in business and psychology, for example) have used PechaKucha and reported positive outcomes. Each of us uploaded an auto-timed PechaKucha or Ignite template to our classes through the online supplemental space in the college's learning management system. After our students used them for their presentations, we compared experiences. Here's a list of the positive outcomes we experienced and then some notes about what we think will improve student presentations even further. Positive outcomes:
  1. There were no surprises. We knew exactly how much class time to allocate for presentations.
  2. This presentation software gave us opportunities to reinforce information literacy concepts for citing information and using graphics ethically.
  3. The student presentations celebrated individuality; students who had similar topics created very different presentations.
  4. Each of us found it easy to develop rubrics that helped students meet the objectives of the assignments. Students knew exactly what was expected and how their presentations would be graded.
  5. The software worked well in an online environment. The newest PowerPoint software allows students to record audio as they present the slides.
  6. The format encouraged deep learning, scaffolding, and critical thinking. Students need to have a thorough understanding of their topic and the points they want to make in a time-sensitive environment.
  7. By linking the auto-timed templates to the online learning management system course shells, collateral learning took place for first-time-in-college students and students who had never taken an online course, by introducing them to successful navigation in the learning management system.
What we'll do differently the next time we use these presentation formats:
  1. Reinforce the differences between a traditional PowerPoint and PechaKucha and Ignite.
  2. Reinforce the importance of practicing prior to the class presentation. Twenty seconds is a long time if a student has only a word or two to say per slide. On the other hand, time slips away quickly if a student has quite a bit to say per slide. In fact, one of us has decided to use the Ignite format next term because the PechaKucha slide discussions were too long.
  3. Emphasize the importance of using pictures. Some students still created a traditional PowerPoint presentation with words (and few pictures) and read through each slide quickly in concert with the timed presentation.
  4. Encourage students to use note cards. Even if they had practiced, they sometimes forgot their content when they were in front of an audience.
  5. Encourage students to use their own photos or those from open share photo sites such as Flickr, morgueFile, and Coppermine, to name a few.
  6. After each presentation, allow follow-up questions.
Overall, all four of us agreed that using both PechaKucha and Ignite were preferable alternatives to traditional PowerPoint for student presentations in our courses. Contact Courtlann Thomas at Cthomas@polk.edu.