PowerPoint Remix Rant

I’m just back from some time off, and I’m feeling too lazy to finish reading the McGraw-Hill/Microsoft Open Learning announcement. Maybe someone could read it for me?

I can tell you where I stopped reading though. It was where I saw that the software was implemented as a “PowerPoint Plugin”.

Now, I think that the Office Mix Project is a step in the right direction in a lot of ways. It engages with people as creators. It creates a largely symmetric reading/authoring environment. It corrects the harmful trend of shipping “open” materials without a rich, fork-friendly environment to edit them in. (Here’s how you spot the person who has learned nothing in the past ten years about OER: they are shipping materials in PDF because it’s an “open” format).

The PowerPoint problem is that everything in that environment encourages you to create something impossible to reuse. Telling people to build for reuse in PowerPoint is like putting someone on a diet and then sending them to Chuck E. Cheese for lunch every day. Just look at this toolbar:


That toolbar is really a list of ways to make this content unusable by someone else. Bold stuff, position it in pixel-exact ways. Layer stuff on top of other stuff. Set your text alignment for each object individually. Choose a specific font and font-size that makes the layout work just right (let’s hope that font is on the next person’s computer!). Choose a text color to match the background of your slides, because all people wanting to reuse this slide will have the same color background as you. Mark it up, lay it out, draw shapes that don’t dynamically resize, shuffle the z-index of elements. Get the text-size perfect so that you can’t add or subtract a bullet point without the layout breaking.

Once you’re done making sure the only people who can reuse your document must use your PPT template, with your background, your custom font, and with roughly the same number of characters per slide, take it further! Make it even more unmixable by making sure that each slide is not understandable outside of the flow of it. Be sure to make the notes vague and minimal. In the end it doesn’t matter, because there is no way to link to individual slides anyway.

You get my point. Almost every tool on this interface is designed to “personalize” your slides. Create your brand. The idea is that this is a publication and you or your univesity’s stamp should be on it, indelibly.

Most things work like this, unfortunately, encouraging us to think of our resources in almost physical terms, as pieces of paper or slides for which there is only upside to precisely controlling their presentation. But that desire to control presentation is also a desire to control and limit context, and it makes our products as fragile and non-remixable as the paper and celluloid materials they attempt to emulate. We take fluid, re-usable data and objects, and then we freeze them into brittle data-poor layout, and then wonder why nothing ever gets reused.

So I love the idea of desktop-based OER tools, of symmetric editing and authoring. But there’s part of me that can’t help but feel that the “personal” in “personal publishing tools” has a more pernicious influence than we realize. It’s “personal” like a toothbrush, and toothbrushes do not get reused by others.

End of rant. Maybe I need a bit more sleep…

8 thoughts on “PowerPoint Remix Rant

  1. All that you say is true. But I can’t help but think that if there’s one thing harder to re-use than Powerpoint, it’d just have to be videos. So this has got to be better than that.

  2. Good rant, Mike. Love the fork-friendly expression for OER remixing. Also love the toothbrush analogy and agree w jinpa that video is even harder to remix than PPT (but of course still remixable, just not elegantly so if it’s highly branded). Now I have to get over my laziness re the Open Learning announcement
    #OER15 coming up… Let’s see what comes out of that…

  3. I am a bit of a pragmatist Mike, and whilst I am relieved to largely disconnect from PowerPoint since retiring from full time teaching, I do still use it as a tool to create diagrams as .png or .jpg Now that l have your blog in feedly, I have been stimulated by your recent posts to think about the tension between standardised infrastructures and reuse. We can aspire to ‘perfect’ infrastructures but often have to use ‘imperfect’ ones. Maybe the trick is to be as aware as possible of the implications of how we put our stuff Into imperfect infrastructures, whilst working towards (but never achieving) perfection, possibly elsewhere. I am in the process of re-inventing my online presence as a multi-me at Reclaim hosting using, initially, word press and flickr and eventually fed wiki and possibly with known. Yesterday, I became aware that in clicking settings options l was deciding (without really understanding) What data I stored about visitors. Now I will have to investigate, and my first decision is to include info in About of my intentionS. But you see, I know I will get it wrong and will try to correct. So what I am saying in this ridiculously long blog Comment is that I think a combination of pragmatic use of imperfect infrastructures and a critical questioning approach is a good combination for informing better AND different infrastructures. So thanks for the post.

  4. Reblogged this on Carpet Bomberz Inc. and commented:
    Re-use, the connotation springs eternal in many facets of our daily and professional lives. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle until it comes to a “learning object”. Then it is as Mike points out a difficult, fragile row to hoe. It’s easier to just start over from scratch rather than build off or stand on the shoulders of the “other person”, what created the learning object. Instead of re-use, maybe what should attempt to do, or maybe NOT do is reinvent. You may not be able to re-use, and if you chose to not re-use, at the very least don’t reinvent. That may be the best use of a learning object. And I think that’s a better use of people’s most valuable resources (1.Time 2.Attention). So hear, hear to Mike Caulfield, it’s absolutely true what he’s saying about the promise vs. reality of re-use for PowerPoint and a lot of other “publishing” or “document-oriented” tools.

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