The invention of Powerpoint caused a sigh of relief for presenters who previously had painstakingly prepared overhead slides for their talks. It also caused derision in some circles of adult education, generating the critical comment ‘Death by Powerpoint’ , which could indicate the death of the reputation of a speaker as a result of a poor, and often overcrowded or overlong powerpoints; or the death of the audience through boredom.
In the dissonance which occupies the fors and againsts of Powerpoint, it is easy to overlook that Powerpoint also serves a purpose beyond presentation skills.
At the Academic Writing Theory and Practice in an International context conference in Coventry in April 2012, I listened to Mike Smith and Mary Deane discuss the way Mary, as a tutor in the Coventry University Academic Writing Centre worked with Mike, a Neophyte writer and tutor in Sports Psychology, as a co-author, and used Powerpoint as a pre-writing tool for developing a journal article about using Powerpoint for writing scaffolding.
The authors suggest that because of its linearity, Powerpoint can be a used to help people to construct academic text in the pre-writing stage, by providing a visual aid to structuring an argument. It also has the added advantage of making it possible to move the text around with ease.
When they first met they used Powerpoint as a devise for collecting a range of information from various sources. Relevant content could be copied straight into Powerpoint and with the linear function on Powerpoint, material could be moved around as the overall structure of the paper unfolded. Not only did this help them to scaffold the journal article, but it allowed them to electronically correspond about the paper with an easily transferable document. Each author could add in slides related to their field of expertise as they worked together to explore both the scientific support from research in psychology of how the Powerpoint scaffolding frees-up working memory capacity (Mike), and different forms of writing support (Mary). As the number of slides grew they added in additional slides which were sub-headings in the developing article. The notes section of Powerpoint was used to convert points to full text, and then this text could be copied into a final version of the paper.
This let them develop the first working text, after which they used track changes to continue in the co-authoring.
Another possible academic writing use for Powerpoint is when a research student or author appears blocked in the traditional text development. A research supervisor can suggest that they begin work on their oral presentation and this, because of its visual cues, may unblock their related writing. Sometimes Powerpoint makes it evident that a dissertation is in need of a model, because the student finds that it is more effective to describe something pictorially than in words.