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An Interview with David Marcovitz

In this interview, David discusses VBA, education and PowerPoint.

David Marcovitz is Associate Professor in the Education Department and Director of Graduate Programs in Educational Technology at Loyola College. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Technology from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where he studied support for technology in elementary schools. He has taught computer applications and computer programming at the high school level, and he has worked as a technology specialist in a high school. Prior to coming to Loyola College, he taught in the educational technology program at Florida Atlantic University.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and how you got involved with PowerPoint.

David: I am an associate professor of education at Loyola College in Maryland. I run a masters program in educational technology that is geared to creating technology leaders in schools. Graduates of my program explore ways to use technology in their own classrooms and ways to help other teachers use technology more effectively.

I teach eight different courses about technology in education, including a course titled Multimedia Design in the Classroom. When I first started teaching this course, I used HyperStudio, which was a very popular multimedia authoring system for children. Over the years, HyperStudio has become less popular in schools, and PowerPoint has become more popular. When multimedia features (such as hyperlinks) were added to PowerPoint in PowerPoint 97, PowerPoint gained the ability to do many of the things that other systems, like HyperStudio, can do.

Geetesh: What makes PowerPoint so suitable and powerful for educators?

David: Two things make PowerPoint suitable for educators: ubiquity and ease of use. First, schools often don't have enough money to buy lots of expensive software, but almost every school has PowerPoint, so they don't have to buy additional software to do things that PowerPoint can already do. Second, PowerPoint is fairly easy to use. Anyone can learn to use the basic features in very little time. Although using VBA isn't easy, it can be built on top of the easy-to-use basic features to build powerful interactive learning environments for students.

Geetesh: Tell us about your book, Powerful PowerPoint for Educators.

David: I went to a conference several years ago, and two professors were showing the great multimedia features of PowerPoint. I thought they were using VBA, and I planned my multimedia course around that technology. When I contacted them, it turned out they weren't, so for that first course, I began to write handouts to help the students do simple things with VBA in PowerPoint. As the students had questions, I looked for answers and wrote more handouts. When the handouts reached 70 pages, I knew it was time to expand the handouts into a book.

While there are many other books about using VBA in Office, none is specific to PowerPoint. Of those that discuss VBA in PowerPoint, none has details about how to use VBA in Slide Show View. I want my students to use PowerPoint to create learning environments for their students so all the VBA has to work as students press buttons and type responses in Slide Show View. That is, my students don't necessarily give presentations, they create environments for their students to use while sitting down in front of the computer.

I geared this book to people who are not programmers. Instead, I aim to make my readers scripters. While a programmer wants to know all the details of a language, a scripter wants to be able to write and modify a few scripts. The book is full of scripts that are useful in an educational setting and can be easily copied and modified by the reader. And because VBA is part of PowerPoint, readers can use all the standard features of PowerPoint that they already know. Then they can build interactivity on top of that by using small or large amounts of VBA that they write themselves or copy from the book.

Geetesh: What would your advice be for users who want to explore VBA within PowerPoint?

David: Explore the examples at my book's companion web site, and see if these are the kinds of things you might want to do. If they are, you might want to check out the book to learn how to modify the examples for your own purposes.

Geetesh: What is the easiest way to learn PowerPoint VBA?

David: If you are a programmer, you might benefit from one of the many general Office VBA books or you might start with my book and use other books and the VBA help file to expand your knowledge. If you are not a programmer, start small. Think of something simple that you might want to do interactively with PowerPoint (such as greeting a user by name), and use the examples in the book to add that functionality to a presentation. Then expand your VBA knowledge slowly, keeping in mind that most of the things you want to do, you already can do without VBA; you just need VBA to add some of the interactive features.

Geetesh: What tops your wishlist of features for the next version of PowerPoint?

David: My biggest wish would be to have a way for the PowerPoint Viewer to run PowerPoint files with VBA. Currently, if you create a PowerPoint show that uses VBA, it only can be run with the full version of PowerPoint. It's not a big problem in the schools because almost all schools have PowerPoint, but people in the corporate world use PowerPoint to create computer-based training (CBT) all the time. They can use the techniques in my book to enhance their CBT with VBA, but they can only send it to clients with PowerPoint. Aside from that, I would like more control over the different features of Kiosk mode.

Geetesh: Any trivia, tips or favorite technique that you would like to share?

David: Rely on the experts. You can find a lot of information in the PPT FAQ, which has a nice section on using VBA in PowerPoint, and here in Indezine.

After trying to figure out how to do something yourself, and looking in those resources, check out the PowerPoint General newsgroup, which has many helpful people (including some VBA experts) who will answer your questions.