Alternatives to Powerpoint for EAP students


For most EAP teachers, presentations and PowerPoint are synonymous. Certainly for some students they are exactly the same thing.

But Microsoft and Office are no longer quite the ubiquitous tools that they once were, students carry around a range of different devices and many of them may not even have Powerpoint on any of them. And these days there are plenty of other options out there for students to consider. Here are just four….

Microsoft Sway

Ok, ironic that the first alternative I choose is a Microsoft one but this is from the newer, sleeker sexier Microsoft, not the lumbering version from the nineties. Sway can be accessed as a website, a standalone app on your computer or a mobile app for iPad.

And boy it’s pretty. Take a look below at the example (not mine by the way) and you can see the way that it can interact text, images and videos. I think the interesting thing about Sway – and some other apps such as Adobe Spark – is that they are often designed to be used both as a presentation tool and a standalone reading/watching experience.

There’s a bit of a learning curve with Sway, it has an unconventional layout when creating your slides and it takes a bit of time to learn how to organise elements on the page. The other thing I’m not that keen on is that it doesn’t have a full screen mode, so when you present from the web, the audience can see the browser bar and tabs. Hopefully this is something they’ll sort out in a future release.

I’ve only done one proper presentation with Sway and it worked reasonably well. It seems to be better suited to a smaller group presentation where you want more text on the screen or if you want your slides to be a reading experience afterwards, but perhaps not great for big room presentations.

Google Slides

Best way to think of Google Slides (at least to begin with) is as an online, stripped down version of PowerPoint. If you’re planning to do lots of fancy animations and transitions and want it to be visually impressive, then it’s definitely not for you. But if you just need to be able to put together a quick set of slides on any device, then it’s perfect.

But that’s not the real selling point of Slides. As part of Google’s office suite, you can tap into their incredible collaborative and sharing features, so you (or your students) can work simultaneously with other people on the same presentation at the same time or at different times and all the changes are immediately reflected on the slides. And this can be done on a computer or any mobile device pretty much from anywhere. From a teaching perspective this is wonderful as you can get students into groups and they can work on different parts of a collaborative presentation they are working on. And it’s also very easy to comment or chat to each other while working on it.

google slides

the commenting feature is one of the most powerful aspects of Google Slides

Google have also added some neat functions for when you’re actually presenting. They recently added the ability to create a special Q & A page for your presentation so your audience can post questions during it and you can address them as you go along or at the end. They’ve also integrated slides with their video chat service Hangouts, so you can present remotely to a small group or to a much larger audience if you use Hangouts on Air

google slides q and a

when you present from Google Slides you can now enable a Q and A session from the audience

Slides is a great tool if you don’t need anything too fancy and need to work together with other people on a presentation. Also worth remembering is that any Slides presentation can be easily downloaded as a PowerPoint, so you can brainstorm and draft in Slides and then move over to PowerPoint if you need any of its more powerful visual effects.

Haiku Deck

Available on the web and iOS, Haiku Deck helps you create simple but visually impressive slides. The focus is on the use of high quality images and minimal text – if you’ve seen any TED talks that will probably give you a decent idea of what it looks like, but I’ve embedded one below to give you a better idea. Again, not one of mine but fairly representative of what you can do with the tool.


7 Strategies to Write a Speech with Ease – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Within the website or app, you can easily search for the image you want and you can select from either free or paid pictures. Alternatively you can upload your own. Text layout is quite limited and they offer a few different ways of organising pictures and text on slides.

I’ve used this a couple of times to give presentations. I do like the fact that it encourages you to use very little text as it forces you to concentrate on what you are going to say. However, I did sometimes want more flexibility in terms of where the text was on the slide or to use animations to bring in information at particular moments.

Keynote

Apple’s answer to PowerPoint is often overlooked but it’s a very powerful presentation in the right hands. It’s got a couple of killer features that can create spectacular effects on your slides and really impress your audience.

If you have any Apple mobile device or computer then Keynote is completely free and even if you don’t, there is an online version you can use – though it is pretty limited and is similar to Google Slides in terms of what it can do.

I find the animations and transitions a little more varied and subtle in Keynote and the best one they have is something called Magic Move. With this you can create seamless transitions between slides by smoothly animating any objects that are the same between them. A bit difficult to explain so I’ve made a short video showing a couple of examples.

 

As you can see, this creates a thread between each slide and can give the audience the sense they they are essentially seeing one slide when in fact they are seeing many. It’s very powerful and not something that can be easily done in PowerPoint.

Other options

There are other options out there. Prezi is quite well known now and while the zooming interface isn’t to everyone’s taste, it can be a break from the linear movement of traditional slides. Powtoon lets you create animated, cartoony slides but I haven’t tried it out enough to say anything about it.

It’s definitely worth getting your students to experiment with different presentation tools. It can be a great way to break them out of certain patterns of behavior they may have got into with Powerpoint, things like slides full of bullet points or overused theme designs. Sometimes using a tool that is more limited or presents information in a different way can really make them think about how they can get their ideas across more succinctly.

 


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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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