Dear Otto: PowerPoint or Publisher?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Alex:

Hi! I know the difference between Power Point and Publisher. I focus on teaching Power Point, but maybe I should teach more of Publisher.  My question is should I stop teaching Power Point and only focus on Publisher?

Publisher and PowerPoint have two different focuses for student learning. Publisher teaches desktop publishing where PowerPoint focuses on presentations. Publisher enables students to provide evidence that they have thoroughly learned a topic (using text, images, graphic organizers) but doesn’t include the distractions (or enrichments) of sound, movement, audio. PowerPoint can include these to enhance a message, but risks obfuscating the true meaning by the multitude of media. This can distract from the authenticity of learning, enabling students to hide behind the bling, wow viewers with their artistry rather than their knowledge. You as teacher must decide which course is best for your purposes.

I get 2nd graders on Publisher with greeting cards, 3rd graders with a simple magazine, 4th graders with a trifold, and 5th graders with a newsletter. PowerPoint is a crowd please, one I teach only in 2nd and 3rd grade, at which point students know the basics and I turn the skill over to the class teacher with the knowledge they can expect students to create an effective slideshow.

A Publisher project is easily converted to pdf and added to class websites, emails, etc. PowerPoint loses much in a conversion. The only way it can retain its pizazz is through the original software. Yes, there are slideshow widgets (like Slideshare), but students lose the motion, sound, videos, maybe more with them.

PowerPoint can be replicated in Google Docs or Open Office, but I haven’t found a free Publisher version or widget that successfully accomplishes what it does. That’s a big negative because Publisher is an expensive program that most students don’t have access to at home. Portability and equity are major tenants to a good tech ed program, and is a big reason why I try every year to move away from Publisher. If your school is OK with that, I’d say add one Publisher project a year that ties into a classroom theme.

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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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