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PowerPoint and the Future of Education
By Ellen Finkelstein   Printer Friendly Version

Technology & Education
Technology, specifically the computer and the Internet, has opened up new possibilities for education. Now universities and companies can teach students anywhere and at any time. If you are a teacher or trainer, you cannot pass up this new avenue for teaching. If you are a student, you now have many more options than you once did.

Growth of Web-Based Education: A Vision of Possibilities
Let's explore the new possibilities that the computer and the Internet bring to education. Presentation of educational material can be:

  • Live, in class
  • Live, via the Internet (synchronous), usually at a distance
  • Saved, recorded or posted via the Internet (asynchronous), locally or at a distance

To further define these new terms, synchronous education is live. The teacher and the students are present at the same time, but they are in different locations. The Internet creates the connection between the teacher and the students. Students have the opportunity to ask questions in real time, either orally or via a chat window.

Asynchronous education is not live; rather, the lesson is saved and made available at a later time, often at the student's convenience. Students usually access the lesson via the Internet, although low-tech solutions such as videotapes are also available.

The figure shown here compares traditional, synchronous, and asynchronous education modes in terms of the volume of students they can reach, the subjective experience (for the student) and the cost (both to attend and to deliver). As you can see, both asynchronous and synchronous education offer greatly expanded reach compared to traditional education.

Technology in Class
Let's not overlook the use of technology in the old-fashioned classroom. For example, faculty and students can easily create presentations in PowerPoint. Faculty can display presentations on a computer monitor, TV, or screen. Students can receive printed copies of the presentation as take-home materials.

For small classes, you can display a presentation on your computer monitor. However, laptop monitors are small and not always clear in all kinds of light and from all angles.

Another option is to connect a laptop computer to a TV monitor. The TV needs S-Video input capability. You need a Computer-to-TV "Scan Converter," available as a box or a PCMCIA Card (for laptops). The computer and the TV are connected via an S-Video cable. This works fine for a medium-sized class and many classrooms are already set up with TV's.

An LCD projector offers higher resolution but is more expensive. Of course, projection on a screen is best for larger groups. When no TV is available, this is the only solution for large groups. LCD projectors are easy to use. The newer models are powerful (measured in lumens) yet light.

Synchronous Education via Internet/Intranet
Synchronous education involves a real-time, faculty-led online learning event where all students are logged on at the same time. This type of education is sometimes called a virtual classroom. It is ideal when all students are in similar time zones. As a result, it doesn't work well across the other side of the world unless teachers are willing to lead classes in the middle of the night!

There are a number of ways to create a synchronous session. In one method, faculty use PowerPoint to create presentations for students. Then, teleconferencing or Internet meeting software is used to deliver the presentation. The audio portion is streamed along with the presentation or delivered via a conference phone call, depending on the available bandwidth and the capabilities of the software.

A number of Web-based companies offer meeting software for a fee. Some even offer free meetings for a small number of people. A few of them are:

www.evoke.com (which recently purchased Contigo, another Internet meeting provider)

Services vary among these providers. Some let you buy and incorporate the software on your own Web site -- for users that expect to be using the software often. (It isn't cheap.) Most let you pay for Internet sessions by the individual session, with prices depending on the number of participants. You can usually arrange for questions, a chat room, and "voting" for live feedback and discussion. In many cases, your session can be archived (recorded) for later asynchronous use.

Possible Structure of a Live Class & Course
You can design a synchronous course however you wish. A one-time conference will be structured differently from a semester-long course. However, you should think about creating a structure that approximates the way a live class runs. For example, you could have the following modules:

  • Instructor presentation
  • Question and answer period (via audio or chat window)
  • Exercise
  • Discussion

For longer-term courses, you may want to create a Web-based newsgroup/discussion feature, allowing students to post threaded questions over the period of the course. Faculty can answer questions as they arise.

Asynchronous Education via Internet/Intranet
Asynchronous education creates a time-delayed learning experience. Self-paced courses are asynchronous. This type of program is ideal when students are widely dispersed or not available all at one time. There are many options for creating asynchronous learning experiences:

  • Posting a PowerPoint presentation on the Web for viewing any time
  • E-mailing presentations to students (who can use the free PowerPoint viewer)
  • Creating courses using web-based training software for sophisticated educational features and testing options
  • Mailing videotapes to students

In addition to any of the above options, faculty can add feedback and discussion via a Web-based discussion group. Faculty can also use a Web page to post supporting material and links. Students can submit homework and papers via e-mail. Finally, if desired, student work can be posted for other students to see.

PowerPoint presentations offer a good balance in terms of cost and ease of use. By contrast, web-based training software can be complex and expensive and videotapes require expensive equipment and involve the expense of mailing and tracking the videotapes.

Local Asynchronous Training
In addition to the typical uses for asynchronous training, you can create ongoing training or support, such as a computer help desk for students. This could be called local asynchronous training. For this purpose, you can use PowerPoint presentations for step-by-step training in conjunction with HTML/text based material.

Don't forget to post educational material permanently to your Web site, including PowerPoint presentations. Think how many times you have ended up on a university's web site as the result of a search. The more permanent material you have on your site, the more people will come.

PowerPoint in Education: The Possibilities are Limitless
In conclusion, PowerPoint offers many opportunities in the field of education. You can easily create in-class presentations that are lively and informative, you can teach live courses via the Internet, and you can design courses that students can take from any location, whenever convenient to them. PowerPoint's ease of use and flexibility, from the point of view of both the teacher and the student, make it a valuable option when you need to present course material in any educational setting.

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