Thanks to Kay O’Halloran for kindly giving me this interview and here’s the last part which also includes a bibliography.
3. I notice that you have a project examining PowerPoint in the classroom and in corporate settings which you are conducting for the Australian Research Council. Could you explain a little bit about the project?
The project ‘Towards a Social Theory of Semiotic Technology: Exploring PowerPoint’s Design and its Use Higher Education and Corporate Settings awarded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) (Discovery Grant No. DP09889939) is a collaborative project between Chief Investigator Professor Theo van Leeuwen (Dean for Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney), Dr Emilia Djonov (Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Technology, Sydney) and myself. The following description of the project is drawn from our research proposal.
PowerPoint has become the dominant technology for designing and delivering presentations, particularly in education and business settings where success often depends on skills in the use of the application. Powerpoint is the subject of much debate and it creates strong reactions, both positive and negative. It’s either praised for increasing presenters’ confidence and eloquence (e.g. Gold 2002) or it’s condemned for limiting users’ ability to present complex ideas through an over-simplification of information presented in bullet points, linear slide-by-slide formats and illegible graphics (e.g. Tufte 2003).
From the multimodal perspective, Powerpoint is a semiotic technology which has a range of options (i.e. grammar) from which presenters make selections with regards to the linguistic text, images, animations and sounds. There are default themes which the presenter may choose as well. These choices integrate in multimodal presentations which are recontextualised by the speaker during the presentation. Most studies of Powerpoint adopt a different approach, however, by either exploring lecturers’ and students’ perceptions of PowerPoint to support learning, or alternatively they are experimental studies which investigate the effects of PowerPoint versus transparency-supported lectures on learning.
Our project adopts a multimodal approach to (a) conceptualise the grammar of Powerpoint through the study of its systems of meaning; (b) analyse and compare the choices which are made in higher education and corporate settings; and (c) investigate how these choices are contextualised in presentations. In this way, we will explore how the design of PowerPoint supports or hinders the achievement of the various goals of the presenters. At the moment, there are no studies which investigate differences in the use of Powerpoint across educational and corporate settings, and furthermore, there is no evidence for arguments that PowerPoint cannot support the representation of knowledge in technical disciplines such as engineering (Tufte, 2003) or the rich narrative and interpretative skills required for social science disciplines (Adams, 2006), nor is there evidence that PowerPoint has introduced corporate rhetoric into educational practices (Turkle, 2004). In addition, the study will provide guidelines for evaluating and improving the design and use of PowerPoint and other similar presentation software.
Adams, C. (2006). PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38(4), 389 – 411.
Gold, R. (2002). Reading PowerPoint. In N. J. Allen (Ed.), Working with words and images: New steps in an old dance. (pp. 256-270). Westport, Connecticut: Ablex.
Tufte, E. R. (2003). The cognitive style of PowerPoint (2nd edition). Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press.
Turkle, S. (2004). The fellowship of the microchip: global technologies as evocative objects. In M. Suárez-Orozco & D.B. Qin-Hilliard (Eds.), Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millennium (pp. 97-113). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.