We love to claim we cannot stand PowerPoint. But can we afford to live without slideshows?
Is there a better tool that is not a simpler, easier, less… powerful solution? And why should you worry if there is not?
(And yes, there are several that can be easier and better. But more powerful? That remains to be seen.)
The following guide will give you a quick tour around your slideshow creation options, how you can best take advantage of them on your courses, and some best practices for educators.
Slideshows, Galleries, Slide decks, Presentations: Does it matter?
It seems at odds with the times to consider your options to add a PowerPoint presentation to your course. But why? As a slideshow veteran, I see the tool as a tragic Shakesperan hero, brought down solely by the lethal hand of inexperience.
We will use “Slideshows” to refer to the multi-page file format that allows you to add multimedia to pages. Terms like “Presentation” or “Slide deck” (sometimes “Pitch Deck”) point to the purpose of a Slideshow, which is why we can stick with it. A “Gallery” is also an example, one of the most basic, which a slideshow can fulfill.
Of course, some tools help you display series of images, i.e. a gallery. Often they give you a basic interface and some animation and transition options. If that is all the functionality you need, you may not need this guide. You can also “hack” a gallery tool and convert your slideshows into sets of images to display them. But on the face of current LMS functionality, the practice is hard to defend.
The point stands: When it comes to Slideshows, you have countless options. Perhaps too many.
Slideshows don’t kill people
In unwitting hands, a slideshow can give tremendous power, untethered from basic design skills. In other words, PowePoint is too good and too easy to use. It is by no means perfect, and plenty of newer solutions have dazzled me in the past few years. (I am biased in favor or Prezi and H5P.) Many understand that, despite the flak, slideshows are an organizational staple. And what better poster child for this than SlideShare. The now Microsoft-owned “professional content hosting platform” enjoyed sharp growth rates fast with little marketing.
So if you think it’s time to ditch slides, think again. You don’t have to stick with PowePoint, especially in our “golden age” of engaging open source tools. I will go on the record defending PowerPoint’s might. Many succesful tools today take advantage of a slimmer experience, but very few offer something PowerPoint cannot.
Reviewing the top authoring tools in 2019
However, the field is vast and many Open Source solutions are worth looking into. Let’s take a quick look.
What more needs to be said about the tool synonymous with Slides, and other bad things too. From online browsers to apps for every mobile platforms, PPTs are more omnipresent than ever.
Despite the obvious and not-so obvious problems, the one limitation of PowerPoint is clear: Licensing. The yearly Microsoft Office license can be prohibitive, or at least money better spent elsewhere. (Learning design basics for teachers, for example.
LibreOffice Impress and OpenOffice Presentation (FOSS): Vegan bacon?
If you are used to the look and feel of the PowerPoint interface but have chosen to stave off proprietary software (good for you!), its open source
knock-offs alternatives can give you a somewhat similar flavor at no cost.
All things equal, LibreOffice has a light advantage due to its dynamic pace of development, apparently due to a larger community. They are both multi-platform are easier on computational resources than PowerPoint.
The most radical shift away from the linear slides concept, and the one closest to having a cult following. Which can be seen as a testament of its relatively steep learning curve. Not because it is complicated, in fact it can be considered as severly lacking in features compared to PowerPoint, but because it requires a special mindset that can take advantage of the non-linearity, the chunking and the scoping to build authentic and groundbreaking narratives. And even if you find a vision worth capturing by a Prezi, your audience might not take kindly to a relatively radical shift.
But for those who “get it,” we’re happy Prezi is still chugging along, with new features and formats. It might continue to influence the mainstream with new, out-of-left-field features. Just don’t expect Prezi to reach the mainstream any time soon.
Now onto the exciting new Open Source landscape, and its interactivity darling for a couple of years now. Despite the plethora of choices, the H5P Course Presentation is the most popular content type. The H5P Interactive Video has also amassed and interesting level of popularity, but guess what: You can embed Interactive Video, and many of the other types on the Course Presentation, including the broad variety of quiz options.
Google Slides (Free and Premium)
As in most of Google’s services, its main advantage is to be already available. Google versions of office suite apps usually have reduced functionality, usually lagging behind desktop counterparts; but have an upperhand in instant cloud saving, multi-platform access and collaboration. And Google slides is no exception. Make sure your internet connection is faultless, and you are good to go.
Cloud-based, flavor-of-the-month PowerPoint killer: Piktochart, Canva, Slides.com (Freemium)
Paste for iOS is the latest, but not the last one, in an endless string of slideshow disruptors in this meteor shower looking space. A couple of them are probably deserving of a deeper look into them, time permitting. I have found Canva to be a useful go-to solution for quick graphics work.
I’ve you’ve tried one, you’ve likely tried them most. Free version, drag and drop based mobile or web app with royalty-free images, sharing and collaboration, and plenty of templates. For a fee you can actually get copies of your files for your own repository, and keep them private.
Code-based alternatives: Reveal.js, LaTeX Beamer, GitPitch, etc
- LaTeX Beamer does deserve some special note. It’s a presentation package of the popular document editing language, so well favored in academic and scientific settings. Its ability to display complex equations and even visualization is on a league of its own.
- Reveal.js and Deck.js are touted as code-based PowerPoint replacements. Varying in syntax and features, Reveal.js has the added plus of being the basis for Slides.com (Freemium). Which means you can edit your slideshows both visually and by the code. Another advantage is the ability to style them using CSS.
Using slides in your LMS: Best practices
When it comes to deploying Slideshow content into your online teaching, there are a few roads to take, and some word of advice worth listening.
- When it comes to portability or allowing your students to take their work home, your safest bet is to offer a downloadable PDF version.
- However, at this point of our LMS technology, downloadable content makes less business and educational sense: Use or consumption cannot be tracked, video is incompatible, let alone more interactive experiences; and the evolution of mobile LMS and offline capabilities makes PDFs less of a priority.
- Speaking of video on slideshows, it is often a good idea, as long as the slideshow can offer context and reference, and the video focuses on dynamic illustration, storytelling and teaching that is generally not better made available on text or static images.
- Embedding slideshows on your LMS pages or contents is often straightforward. Take advantage of slideshows on main site and course pages to offer a warmer welcome than a plain list of course topics. Make a habit to bind slides to course activities to keep learning active and foster momentum.
Instructional slideshow design recommendations
- Keep it simple, clear, fun. One idea per screen is the way to go. The “Death by Powerpoint” presentation offers some good starting advice.
- Simplicity also work wonders visually: Use 2 contrasting, yet complementary fonts, and 2 or 3 colors, not compromising legibility.
- Don’t keep your social interactions exclusively on Twitter. Likewise, don’t ask too much from slideshows. Don’t expect them to handle complex ideas or illustrate complex processes successfully.
- But don’t make it a goal to get rid of slideshows in your teaching, or PowerPoint for that matter. The structure and format of a slideshow can be a lot more understandable than a text, especially if it is poorly structured. Don’t keep a tool away because other people don’t know how to use it.
This Moodle Practice related post is made possible by: eThink Education, a Certified Moodle Partner that provides a fully-managed Moodle experience including implementation, integration, cloud-hosting, and management services. To learn more about eThink, click here.