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Author Topic: Powerpoint sucks - what to use instead?  (Read 15154 times)
JavaJones
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« on: April 20, 2010, 07:45:02 PM »

I'm currently having to edit a bunch of Powerpoints for the school I work for because they were created by people who don't know how to make Powerpoints properly. I'm dealing with things like lack of master slide use, inconsistent font types and formatting, horrible color use, photos thrown around randomly on slides, and (not Powerpoint's fault) rampant copyright issues.

My question is twofold.

First, when it comes to making presentations, are there any better options that:
A: Can easily enforce or at least suggest good formatting practices (e.g. auto-align photos, auto-crop text boxes to their necessary size - and no larger, perhaps even automatically select complementary colors)
B: Ensure consistent styling across *multiple* presentations
C: Ideally allow single sourcing and central styling adjustment for all presentations, so for example I could change the border color for all photos using "PhotoStyle1A" and it would change all related presentations

Actually, come to think of it, it sounds like I'm describing HTML and CSS. But are there any good, easy authoring tools that create Powerpoint-like results, and accomplish the above as well?

Second, assuming that visual learning materials that structure an instructor-led class are a requirement, does anyone have any recommended alternatives to a Powerpoint or other slide-based presentation? Particularly something that will enhance engagement and retention for the audience, provide structure and ensure consistency in presentation across multiple sessions of the same class topic, and be easily re-used in other formats (e.g. handouts or workbooks, etc.).

Feel free to think creatively - really creatively if you want to - e.g. web-based Flash learning environment, or whatever. As long as it can be functionally used in the classroom for a lecture-style teaching model at the least. Direct relationship/links to other systems and information would be a nice side-effect, but simplicity is also key.

Oh great DC community, I beseech thee. Rescue me from Powerpoint hell!

- Oshyan
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2010, 03:14:34 AM »

I can't think of anything easier to learn for school kids (but then I haven't really looked).

Rather than bemoaning the lack of control surely this is golden opportunity to teach about the need for consistency and design methods (such as master slides) as well as the need to involve an audience.

Second, assuming that visual learning materials that structure an instructor-led class are a requirement, does anyone have any recommended alternatives to a Powerpoint or other slide-based presentation? Particularly something that will enhance engagement and retention for the audience, provide structure and ensure consistency in presentation across multiple sessions of the same class topic, and be easily re-used in other formats (e.g. handouts or workbooks, etc.).

The big problem is that most of these slide presentations are tediously dull and getting duller by the day. The only thing that will make this sort of thing exciting it a good speaker presenting them and getting the kids involved.

I think schools and teachers have a huge problem: as more and more technology is integrated into the teaching process (and in the UK forced upon teachers) it will get harder and harder to be distinctive in classroom presentation.

There are only so many power point shows anyone can watch in a day and I predict that within the next five to ten years either a lot of computer based presentation will go from the classroom or kids will be supplied with a cheap laptop and told to stay at home and be taught remotely - the you could have virtual classes of thousands with automated marking systems Wink

Either welcome back proper teaching (giving teachers real flexibility to be creative) or brave new world here we come.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2010, 03:42:43 AM »

Thanks for the reply Carol. Your first sentence confuses me a bit though. It seems to imply you thought I meant that kids were creating powerpoints? If so, that's definitely not the case. Actually, no kids are involved at all, as I work for an adult vocational education institute. Wink

As for your later comment about over emphasis of technology in education, I do somewhat agree. However in our particular case we are teaching a vocational curriculum and it's extremely important to maintain consistency across multiple campuses (and Distance Learning), even while allowing teachers enough room for their own lecture style and added knowledge. We're certifying people in health-advising positions (not medical degrees though), and so having a common standard of education is key.

Anyway, I think perhaps your answer might simply be that we need to train anyone doing Powerpoints on how to do them right. And that's probably true. It's just not something I relish being responsible for doing, let alone doing it myself. The sad thing is this stuff comes intuitively for me, but I'm not the one with the knowledge to write the actual curriculum materials. Wink

- Oshyan
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app103
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« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2010, 03:57:20 AM »

You know, I have never used Powerpoint, but a quick and easy way to do a slide show is to create a series of images in Paintshop Pro, Photoshop, or some other graphics application, name them beginning with numbers to keep the images in order, and stick them all in the same folder.

When you view that folder in Explorer, there is an option to view the folder as a slideshow. Stick it on pause and use the arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate through the slides.

They get autosized to fit the screen, black bordered if they don't fit quite right (wallpaper sized works best and won't be bordered).

The images can be used for a whole bunch of other things, including printing them or inserting them into other documents, if you want.

And if you need to fix or replace one slide, that's easy enough, and adding more is easy too. Need to change the order? Just rename the files.

And you don't need to install any extra software to show the slideshow. It's built into Windows.

As far as creating consistent looking slides, that can be done with a layered template in PSP or Photoshop, where you set the image size, the background color, a logo in the corner of the top layer, a text layer with the font, style, and color pre-selected, and an image layer to insert a graphic.

When it needs to be edited to make a new slide, you just change the text on the text layer and insert a new image on the graphic layer.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 04:06:55 AM by app103 » Logged

Carol Haynes
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2010, 04:56:14 AM »

Misunderstanding - the word school doesn't translate well into different countries (in the UK it means for children - adults go to colleges or universities)

If people are having problems using and being consistent in Powerpoint I somehow doubt that moving to PhotoShop (or PSP) will make that any easier!

Why not simply issue a style guide for PowerPoint (if you want people to use master slides try the help option in Powerpoint and lookup Master Slide - it gives a very good overview of what they are and how to create/use them - you can cut and paste from the help section to create a quick style guide with instructions). You could even give them a couple of powerpoint presentations to illustrate how much better a well styled presentation looks (even better run it in a staff meeting and grab their attention).

Give them a handful of master slides to base presentations on - they will probably appreciate that even more!
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mouser
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2010, 09:19:25 AM »

Quote
If people are having problems using and being consistent in Powerpoint I somehow doubt that moving to PhotoShop (or PSP) will make that any easier!

amen to that.

i understand JavaJones desire for consistency and it would be nice to hear if there is a solution to that, but i've found PowerPoint to be an excellent tool for presentations, and don't think you should even entertain the possibility of switching to a non-presentation-specific tool.

that's not to say that one of the powerpoint clones might not be better for your use, i can't speak to that.
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« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2010, 11:33:22 AM »

Whenever I do slides for presentations or talks I use Beamer. Perhaps not for the faint of heart but if you want consistency you cannot do better than separating content from structure through use of a mark-up language.
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« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2010, 11:51:15 AM »

This doesn't help you, Oshyan -- sorry -- but for the benefit of other readers:

Please don't create those awful corporate presentation that have the entire content of the presentation in outline bullets, shoveled into page after page of presentation. And please don't do a presentation that consists of paging through that slide deck reading the bullets. You're wasting your time and mine; better to invest it in writing real prose and sending me the email. Here's a great example of how corporate presentation-ism can ruin one of the world's greatest presentations: http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

Use your slide deck to highlight what you're talking about, and let your audience focus on you and what you're saying.

See http://www.presentationzen.com/
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JavaJones
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« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2010, 12:29:26 PM »

I wish I could better explain the complete environment, history, and challenge(s) here, hehe. I appreciate all the input, but I don't have any really new info yet.

I don't think a graphics app program workflow would be an improvement on what we're doing now. It does give *more*flexibility in design, which could be a good thing if expert designers were involved, but since the opposite is true, more flexibility is actually dangerous. Wink There are also missing features like a "presenter" view that shows note. And almost everything else mentioned in this workflow is actually easier in Powerpoint already, e.g. rearranging slides, etc. If I were looking for a super simple, low-budget solution, an image-based slideshow is certainly a viable option however.

I know how to use Master Slides, and there are some notable improvements in that for 2007 which are very welcome. However there are a lot of problems with the implementation, at least for our needs. First and foremost you can't (as far as I know) easily use the same master slide design in multiple presentations. Of course you can copy the master slides from one to another and build your presentation on them, but if you ever make a change in them, you have to go through each one and re-apply. A way to manage styles centrally would be very welcome.

The way that content area formatting and copy/paste is handled also seems to be problematic. For instance a lot of our content developers might initially create their base content in another app, or be using at least some info from it. When you copy/paste, often times the source formatting is maintained, Powerpoint doesn't necessarily enforce its master slide content formatting. Now in some cases this is obvious, like the text being a totally different color or something, but often times it will just be a subtle difference in font types (or at least subtle to a non-designer, many of whom can't easily tell the difference between Times New Roman and Arial at a glance).

Even assuming the master slide functionality worked well and enforced standards, there are further issues. For one thing, different slides need different layouts. So you create multiple child master slides. Except then people need to actually use them properly, and they seldom do. Defining the slide layouts in advance of the content authoring is problematic in itself, but even once that's in place people often find it too restrictive and, since the formatting tools are there at their disposal, they just start tweaking until they get what they want. Often it's not even an aesthetic thing so much as "I need the photo to go here instead of over there so I can fit all my content in". Now here is the point where you probably think "If there's a problem fitting the content on, they're probably not using Powerpoint right", and you'd probably be correct. But such is the environment I'm dealing with - it's seldom within the power of the IT department to enforce standards of content authorship (i.e. "Use Powerpoint the *right* way or don't use it at all"), much as I would like to.

Ultimately I'm sure it's clear by now that this is a human problem, but I'm looking for a technological solution since I can't easily change all the humans in the equation. Wink You may say training will address these issues, but I've tried that, and it's only a partial solution. People often just forget to use the right layout, or don't reference the style guide for particular design choices, whether willfully or simply by accident.

I think the reality, as I alluded to above, is that the more options you give people, the worse it often is. I'm envisioning kind of my ideal system right now, and it looks to me like a super stripped down HTML editor, with 1, maybe 2 font choices, 6 (maximum) text size options, 1 "box" item (for adding boxes), an "add photo" function that automatically ads a copyright attribution when enabled, and has limited position options within the content frame (and text areas will be automatically adjusted based on where you place the photo), maybe 5 pre-chosen color options, no overlapping allowed, etc. *Maybe* they'd have the option of choosing a few template layout options, but ideally the main content area would just be adjusted between a few very simple designs based on what elements were added by the content author and where they were placed, i.e. the photo option above. All the styling would be driven by a CSS file, so I could easily change it across all presentations instantly. It would be super limiting, but it would enforce a clean design, and if these people didn't know there was an option to have more freedom, they wouldn't really miss it.

Now there are plenty of WYSWIYG HTML editors out there, but none that are that customizable as far as I know, nor do they necessarily fulfill all the above requirements. Does anyone have an idea of what else might even come close to this?

Eoin, Beamer looks cool, but way overcomplicated for this. Wink

Thanks for all the input thus far. As I suspected it's looking so far like there is nothing that can really improve on Powerpoint (though I'm curious about alternatives like Keynote - anyone have any experience?). I'm also curious if anyone has any experience with or advice on what might be used to help guide a class *instead* of a traditional Powerpoint-type presentation.

I think for now the best thing I can do is just continue working on education and best possible enforcement of appropriate standards and styles, using master slides and style guides. It's just a lot of work to do this, and we don't have a Powerpoint expert on staff besides myself (I wouldn't really call myself an expert), so there's no one with the right combination of design and technical knowledge to do it "right". The one person we had - my girlfriend as an intern - quickly got fed up with the haphazard lack of adherence to standards here and decided not to work on these projects. tongue

- Oshyan
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« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2010, 02:11:08 PM »

I'd be surprised if you can find something that addresses your first point.

Far better to give your teachers the skills to create strong, engaging designs without losing Powerpoint's flexibility.

I'd suggest Death By Powerpoint for a good presentation specific introduction, and Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book for general design skills.

For the second point, have a look at Adobe Captivate or Articulate - Flash based elearning authoring tools.

Though why your teachers think their students will learn by watching an instructor run through a slideshow, no matter what authoring package they used, is beyond me. It's not the 1950s any more Wink

If you want a quick and dirty solution, then just remove the formatting. Completely. 18 point Times Roman black on white background might be the dullest design ever, but at least the design won't distract from the content.

Please, I don't want to know how bad the content is Wink
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JavaJones
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« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2010, 02:53:47 PM »

Thanks Katy. I'd love to give the writers (not all of whom are the teachers) the skills they need, but these are people with limited time who are focused on either writing content, or teaching it (or both). They simply don't have the time (or energy, probably) to read through dedicated Powerpoint books and learn how to do it right (much as I agree with the necessity and value of it!). Even if they had the time, I'm not in a position to enforce them doing so. That being said I will recommend those books to the content authors for the future.

I'm familiar with Captivate (expensive!) and Articulate (also expensive, but we bought it anyway cheesy). We'll be using Articulate, but it's really just a Powerpoint converter for the most part. It makes nice Flash format presentation conversions with integrated audio, which will be a nice upgrade for our future programs, but it doesn't help much with the problems I'm trying to tackle.

As for why we're using Powerpoints, first I don't want to give the impression that we're just doing "by the numbers" presentations, simply reading the Powerpoints. Far from it. If anything some of the teachers stray too far from that. The thing is I think there's a knee-jerk tendency whenever anyone talks about Powerpoint to blame the usage of it at all rather than try to fix the problem. It's not fair to assume we're using Powerpoint in the wrong way, or that using it is unnecessary in our context. One very good reason for its use, which I described above (and asked for alternative solutions to), is the need to maintain consistency in basic information instruction across sites. As a vocational school it's very important for us to have standards and consistency, and to teach reproducible competencies across multiple locations and formats. So *something* that teachers can reference to avoid going off in "fun-riffing-lecture-land" is important. Riffing and fun are also important and there's room for that, but the basis of the lesson should always be pretty much the same, hence "anchoring" our presentations with Powerpoint.

Finally, as for removing the formatting, I would be happy with that, but there is significant disagreement from the content authors, who may have legitimate points. For example there is the argument that adding pictures makes the presentation more visually engaging and helps with information retention, whereas a boring, white background, everything-the-same formatting would quickly bore and numb people, and hurt their ability to absorb the key points. It's certainly arguable just how the presentation should be impacting the education process in-class, but I find it hard to dispute their core arguments, at least without data to back it up. They also feel that more well designed Powerpoints are more professional and give a better impression to the student. So it's hard to get away from formatting at all, otherwise I would - lord knows it would make it easier!

Thanks,

P.S. I think the content is pretty good, honestly. Certainly better than the formatting. Wink

Oshyan
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« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2010, 04:21:45 PM »


Second, assuming that visual learning materials that structure an instructor-led class are a requirement, does anyone have any recommended alternatives to a Powerpoint or other slide-based presentation? Particularly something that will enhance engagement and retention for the audience, provide structure and ensure consistency in presentation across multiple sessions of the same class topic, and be easily re-used in other formats (e.g. handouts or workbooks, etc.).


One solution that could be worth looking at is Vue http://vue.tufts.edu/index.cfm 
Here is a snippet from their web page
"The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The VUE project is focused on creating flexible tools for managing and integrating digital resources in support of teaching, learning and research. VUE provides a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information."

One of the presentation benefits, is the ability to set up more than one pathway through a collection of slides so that you are not constrained to one particular linear sequence.

If nothing else, the price is right.

It might not be what you are looking for, but maybe it will be of help to someone.

David
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JavaJones
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« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2010, 04:58:26 PM »

Thanks for the link David. It looks very interesting. One of our staff members went to Tufts as well, so she might have comment on its use. I'll take a closer look ASAP.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2010, 04:24:34 PM »

http://www.apple.com/iwork/keynote/ for Mac only


Beside 'everybody' saying Keynote is FAR better than Powerpoint, Apple also gave it this:

Quote
Compatibility and sharing


Approved for all audiences.

Keynote gives you a variety of ways to bring your show to the people. You can use it to import presentations created in Microsoft PowerPoint and to create presentations that can easily be saved as PowerPoint files. You can also export your presentation as a QuickTime movie or a PDF, HTML, or image file, or even directly to YouTube. Keynote does the format conversion for you.


Share your work on the web.

When you need to share your presentation, but aren’t sure whether your colleagues use a Mac or PC, iWork or Microsoft Office, publish it to iWork.com Public Beta. Reviewers receive an email with a unique URL where they can view your presentation’s slides, post comments, and download a version ideal for them in Keynote, PowerPoint, or PDF format.

Unfortunately Keynote seems only to be available as part of the Mac office pack, iWork, starting at $79.

« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 04:26:12 PM by Curt » Logged
Carol Haynes
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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2010, 05:18:40 PM »

To be fair Powerpoint can output to a web site too (its crap but you can do it) and there is an addon that will allow you to generate DVD Video.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #15 on: April 23, 2010, 09:40:55 PM »

Hmm, well, nothing is seeming like a particularly compelling alternative unfortunately (especially since we're a PC shop - I wouldn't relish trying to convert everyone to Mac just for Keynote cheesy).

Oh well. Thanks for all the input folks! smiley

- Oshyan
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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2010, 12:53:42 AM »

JavaJones, consider using ProShow.
http://www.photodex.com/

It's an amazing slideshow making tool.  I happened across it by accident several years ago, and was blown away by it.  It's relatively easy to use.  Not super easy, but pretty easy.  The great thing is that the slideshows will end up coming out looking fantastic.  And you can export it in a variety of ways, i don't remember them all.  I always liked the stanalone exe files.

The point is, it's easy to use, you get professional looking results with the least amount of effort.  And there's a lot of power under the hood if you care to explore.

And you know what I've seen?  The program gives such great results that I've noticed that it makes people WANT to use it more. Give it a shot.

If you want a small example, I've provided a link below of a slideshow I made for two of my coworkers.  I make fun of them pretty good, and it was hilarious.  I had a couple of people in tears with this one.  This is all ProShow, it makes it so easy and fun to use:
http://aram.dcmembers.com...ads/misc/hooters-pola.exe
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #17 on: April 24, 2010, 05:38:43 AM »

Photodex is great for producing slideshows and video output (inc. DVD) but can you use it interactively or non-linearly?
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« Reply #18 on: April 24, 2010, 01:07:59 PM »

Photodex is great for producing slideshows and video output (inc. DVD) but can you use it interactively or non-linearly?
No, I don't think you can.  If you buy the more expensive version (Presenter) you can pause it in the middle of the slideshow.  But you can't skip around like in powerpoint.

Another option I've used often that works well, especially when trying to throw together a quick presentation is a PDF.  I make a pdf, save it so that it opens up in fullscreen mode, and flip through the pages as if they were slides.  I use bluebeam to mark them up if necessary.  In emergency situations, this works the fastest for me.  Good bang for your buck also, as far as quality vs. effort.
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Carol Haynes
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« Reply #19 on: April 24, 2010, 03:57:11 PM »

I have Photodex presenter but I wouldn't see it as an easy replacement for Powerpoint.

PDF is an interesting idea - but it still doesn't really solve the issues of the original post.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #20 on: April 24, 2010, 07:07:56 PM »

ProShow is interesting, but the problem is I don't need to have *more* flexibility, I need less. Wink Nor would it probably be very welcome to have to learn a totally new UI, heh. While I *am* looking for an alternative, which potentially implies a different interface, ProShow is really a fairly different approach, which would be more jarring than I would like.

What I basically need is to define a fairly rigid format and make people stick to it when designing. Powerpoint has some ability to do this, but in practice it doesn't work nearly as well as I'd like.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #21 on: April 24, 2010, 08:33:27 PM »

Yeah, I understand.  I can't think of anything to do what you're asking.  it's a good idea.  It would be nice to be able to quickly whip out a nice presentation based on some preset styling.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #22 on: April 24, 2010, 09:05:47 PM »

I'm thinking it might be fairly easily do-able with a customized HTML editor like Komposer or one of the other open source options:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w...omparison_of_HTML_editors
Then just put it in a Javascript-driven page transition fader. Run all the styling off a central CSS file. Hmm...

- Oshyan
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« Reply #23 on: April 26, 2010, 04:07:33 AM »

You could take a look at Prezi. I don't have any real experience of it; it is just sitting on my "Cool looking things to take a proper look at" list smiley
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« Reply #24 on: April 26, 2010, 04:51:17 AM »

You could take a look at Prezi.

- the "Math is not linear"-prezi is fantastic. Not as much for the Prezi itself but because of the subject which Alison Blank is really good at explaining.
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