Enough About PowerPoint: Rethinking Slides For Student-Centered Learning

The world has enough PowerPoints, and it doesn't need any more. I've been contemplating these ideas since first hearing them from Alan November.

Instead of having students make new slide presentations, he suggests making the lesson about using the Internet to find a good one. This is all part of his position on how critical thinking must be taught in the context of searching the web.

Although searching for ready-made slide presentations is an activity with a lot of potential, we can go straight to an à la carte approach with Google Images. Since sites like Slide Share started using clipper tools, I've noticed a lot of individual slides showing up in image searches.

This approach to presentation making provides several opportunities for critical thinking and tech skills. Students learn how to handle image files – a crucial skill for business and lifestyle media sharing – and practice framing searches and evaluating the results.

We used Verso App to upload and discuss the slides before working in groups to decide which images to contribute to the final presentation. Verso provides a safe place for learners to participate in discussions. Anonymity among the students is maintained, while providing the user identities to the teacher.

Here's what we did.

1. Upload Images 

In this activity, students were looking for images that related to the causes and effects of the Spanish-American War. Some found summary slides, while others searched for specific causes and effects. These included political cartoons and headlines for yellow journalism and the USS Maine wreckage photo, to name a few.

Verso has an upload option for responses. I know that this step may seem like extra work, but the first two steps with Verso allow for the deeper thinking in this activity. Take it away, and we're back to making PowerPoints for the sake of it and missing out on critical thinking that our kids need to develop.

2. Discussion

Students commented by guessing which event the image represents. If students agreed with a comment already written, they liked the comment. While they commented and liked the correct ones, I reviewed their work and paused to reinforce expectations face-to-face as needed.

The way I designed this step lends to skills that support responsible use of social media. We could add an argument piece by instructing students to provide evidence as to why the image is a particular event. I would add something like that if the final product were a thesis statement or summary paragraph.

3. Contribute Slides

We organized into groups to determine which images should be added to the Google Drive folder, which had editing permissions for every student. This was a simple step in the process, but I thought it was important to get their heads out of the screens for a bit to talk it out face-to-face. 

4. Final Edits

As a class, we decided what stays and what goes. I labeled the images based on cause, effect, or trash. Then, we deleted all the trash images and were left with the final cut. Movement could be added to this step by instructing your students to do a total body response – one side of the room is cause, the other is effect, etc.

This step was a nice formative assessment and repeated review. At this point, my students know the causes and effects because they had dealt with them in so many ways that make thinking visible. 

5. Make a Presentation

If you haven't checked out extensions by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, put it on your list. Drive Slides is the name of the one we used to make the slide presentation. It automatically makes a Google Slides document with each image in the Drive folder on a separate slide.

Before I learned about this extension, my students added images to Drive folders for a variety of reasons. The automatic slide presentation that the Drive image viewer makes was good enough. Drive Slides opens this learning routine up to so many more possibilities. Most importantly, it saves a lot of time.

6. Summarize

Students worked in groups to summarize the issue presented on the slide. They wrote in the presenter notes, and the slides were printed as a PDF with notes included (image below). In this way, Google Slides is an e-book creator, a flashcard maker, or anything that surfaces when you think beyond the slide presentation as a final product.

7. Reflect 

We use a routine set of questions for reflection. The goal with these questions is to practice metacognitive skills. Without this step, the lesson becomes less "sticky."
  1. What did you do?
  2. What challenges did you face, and did you overcome them?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. How can you use what you've learned beyond this class?