For better or for worse, a lot of us use PowerPoint these days. This can work very well in a traditional lecture environment. We can talk around the bullet points presented on the big screen and hopefully get some interaction going from the students. However, problems arise when we remove the presentation from the medium it was intended for and place it into Blackboard for download.

Of course, if the presentation is provided purely as a supplement (and not a replacement) to the actual lecture there shouldn’t be any issues. However, if we are wanting the presentation to stand on its own there are several reasons why this might fail. The main reason is more than likely to be because a PowerPoint presentation is more of a prop for your lecture. Its purpose is to give a backdrop to your topic and not serve as the lesson itself. Another reason is that PowerPoint presentations by themselves tend to be quite static and linear – there’s no interaction or engagement. Finally, presenting students with a big long list of presentations to download is not so exciting and might even be off-putting to some.

So what can we do to address this? With the help of two free applications (Audacity and iSpring Free) you can make your PowerPoint presentations spring to live! Well, maybe I’m exaggerating but you can at least make them look a bit nicer than a rather dull list of things to download.

Step One – Audacity

Using Audacity and a microphone, you can record yourself discussing the topics presented on the slides. If you’ve never done any recording it can be a bit daunting but stick with it and it’ll soon feel more natural. Audacity itself has a very straightforward interface – click on the big red button to record and away you go. Record each slide as a separate file rather than one long audio file for the entire presentation – this will make things a lot easier later on.

Once you’ve got your recordings done, insert each recording onto the relevant slide in PowerPoint. Click on the Insert tab in PowerPoint and click on the Sound icon. You can now browse for the sound files that you have previously created. You will be asked if you want the sound to start automatically or when clicked. If you select automatically, this works much better with iSpring.

Step Two – iSpring

Once iSpring has been installed on your computer, you will find that PowerPoint now has a new tab called iSpring Free. You can now use this iSpring tab to create a movie of your PowerPoint. Technically, you are creating a Flash Movie. The movie can be played by most computers these days. This in turn has the added value of students no longer having to have a copy of PowerPoint in order to see your thought provoking presentation. The movie that is created can be placed directly into your Blackboard module so students can play the movie straight away. Any sound that you have created will be embedded into the movie so students can listen to what you have to say. They don’t have to download anything onto their computer. You might want to consider giving students the option of having a downloadable version of either of the presentation or the movie – just to be on the safe side.

But wait – there’s more!

iSpring converts things like animations within PowerPoint giving what might be a slightly dry slideshow a bit of life. You can animate various parts of your PowerPoint and you can even insert video clips. All of these can give your PowerPoint presentation a bit more zing.

What’s that?  Even more?

iSpring also converts Hyperlinks. If you’ve never heard of a hyperlink before it is a way of creating links to different parts of your presentation. This then allows you to builds interaction into your PowerPoint presentation. You can pose questions or create menus to various parts of the presentation.  This can then take a rather static linear presentation and make it an interactive, non-linear movie that students can jump around at will.

Let’s look at the process involved. For this example, we’re going to explore how you could create a menu in your PowerPoint presentation. This could be very useful if the presentation length is long – especially for Distance Learning. Create your presentation, but include in each slide a menu or table of contents. Highlight and right-click on each menu item. From the list that appears select Hyperlink. Alternatively, highlight the menu item and from the Insert tab in PowerPoint you can select Hyperlink.

You’ll see something like the following:

On the left hand side, we can see that we can create links to various different areas. In this case, we want to link to a place in this document. Once this option is selected, we can now choose the relevant slide to go to. Once done, this changes the selected menu item from a simple piece of text into a clickable link that will allow students to jump to that area. Repeat this process for all menu items. You can then simply copy this menu into each and every slide to provide a simple yet effective navigation system.

And finally…

If we take this concept of hyperlinks a step further we can see that we can create simple questions into our PowerPoint presentation. Take a look at the following. This is how we would layout our PowerPoint presentation.By using hyperlinks, we can jump from Slide One (the Question) to either Slide Two (“Yes”) or Slide Three (“No”) depending on the student’s choice. On our first slide, we would have a text box containing the question. We would then have a text box containing the word Yes and a text box containing the word No. You can add hyperlinks to the text boxes which can then point to different slides in the presentation.

There are several drawbacks that need to be resolved. The first drawback occurs if in the above example they selected Yes. Due to the nature of PowerPoint they would be shown the No Feedback slide after they have finished reading the Yes Feedback slide (as Slide Three follows Slide Two in the presentation). To get around this problem, create a large box in Slide Two the size of the entire slide. Make this box a hyperlink, linking it to slide four. This has the effect of taking the student to Slide Four automatically after the student has finished reading the feedback for the “Yes” answer.

Here’s where we encountered our second drawback. When you draw a large box, it will probably be blue and cover everything which you don’t want. Unfortunately you cannot make the box have a No Fill option. However, if you change the gradient colour you can replicate the effect of the box being clear. With the blue box selected, click the Format option (under Drawing Tools). Then select Shape Fill. From the menu, select Gradient and then choose More Gradients. You should now see an option for Transparency – push this slide all the way to 100% and the blue will effectively disappear. This will then work as your means of moving from Slide Two to Slide Four.

The third drawback is if they don’t answer Yes or No but click elsewhere on Slide One. Again, due to the nature of PowerPoint they would then automatically be taken to the next slide – that is, Slide Two (or the “Yes” answer). To solve this problem, again create a large box in Slide One the size of the entire slide. Make this hyperlink to Slide One. Therefore, if they click anywhere other than Yes or No, they will be taken back to Slide One.

There’s one final drawback that you have to take care of. The large box that you’ve drawn in Slide One has to sit below the Yes or No answer otherwise students won’t be able to click on either Yes or No. You can do this by clicking on your large box with the right hand button. You will now be given an option to Send to Back – this will move the large box to the back of the slide, bringing the Yes and No answers to the front.

Despite these drawbacks you will hopefully find the process not too difficult. Once you have gone through the steps once you should see that it’s not that complicated and that the benefits are obvious when thinking about online learning and interaction/engagement. With a little bit of effort and not a lot of money you can make some very nice mini-lessons to sit inside your module. Ideally, this will get the students interested in the subject and even encourage them to engage with the University’s Virtual Learning Environment.

Have a go and please let us know your stories – good and bad! If you need any assistance with creating interactive PowerPoint presentations, the E-Learning Team will be only too happy to assist.

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6 thoughts on “Taking PowerPoint to the Next Level

  • December 8, 2010 at 11:00
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    Another application for this method might be to get a nice simple photo gallery into Blackboard. You could put your photos/pictures per slide and then have some simple navigation to go back and forward if required. Run it through ISpring and hey presto! a flash photo gallery!

  • November 24, 2010 at 10:03
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    I’ve been using ISpring on my work computer (Windows XP and Office 2007) for quite some now and it’s never ever crashed on me. I’ve been using it at home as well on a Chinese install of Windows XP and again, no problems…..

    Would be interesting to hear from other people about their success (or failure) with this product. I’ve had people from other schools singing its praises calling it, and here I quote, “Simplicity itself!”

  • November 23, 2010 at 11:15
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    I had a play around with VisualBee yesterday, at the point where it asks you to register just click cancel, it returns to the program and lets you carry on!

    However, the results were less than spectacular.

    Using iSpring at home might be the solution, I’ve got it on a Windows 7 machine with Office 2007 at home and it works fine.

    Thank you all for the comments, let us know how you get on!

  • November 23, 2010 at 10:49
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    Hi E@T et al

    Just discussed this with Graeme. Unfortunately VisualBee asks for credit card details before you can complete the enhancement process – and no sign that these transactions are particularly secure either.

    As for iSpring, we have discovered that this app crashes Office 2007 and Win 7. It might be better to use at home?

    Best Wishes

    Paul Dalkin

  • November 22, 2010 at 13:30
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    I tried to install this feature on my work pc but do not have administrator rights. Have just contacted the IT department to see if they can help.

    Another facility which looks really good is http://www.visualbee.com it is a way of enhancing the dreaded power points automatically! But again, you need to have privilages in order to install. Hopefully the IT guys can get me sorted, and I’ll be producing the most mind blowing power points ever created….

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