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PowerPoint's not acting the way the instructions say it should

Teachers and trainers: Are your students complaining that PowerPoint's not working the same as the instructions?

You've chosen the very best instructional materials for your students. It comes from a reputable, reliable publisher. It's been written by acknowledged subject matter experts, fact-checked, tech-edited and reviewed before it was published.

So what's gone wrong when your students can't follow seemingly simple instructions, like "Start a new presentation based on the Frame theme"?

Don't assume the student has failed. Assume that MS has failed the student.

It used to be simpler

Not that long ago, before Microsoft released a new version of Office, book and courseware authors received pre-release copies of the software to write about. There'd always be a few changes between these early "beta" versions and the final released version, but tech editors caught these before the instructional materials, books and magazine articles went to press.

We can personally attest to this; several of the people who had a hand in writing this article have beta tested nearly every version of Office and have written books, magazine and web articles about them, including publications from Microsoft itself. If you're interested, we introduce ourselves below.

But now ...

With Office 2013, Microsoft has embraced the notion of rapid and continuous updates to Office.

In some respects, this is a very good thing. It means that they can release monthly updates that fix problems, if needed.

The downside: the updates don't get tested nearly as thoroughly as they used to be.

As a teacher, you need to be aware that the software your students are using now may not be the same as the software described in the instructional materials. There will be times when they simply won't be able to carry out an assignment because of changes that Microsoft has made to PowerPoint.

Here are a few of the things your students might encounter:

Disappearing Themes and Templates

In theory, Microsoft periodically adds new templates and themes and updates existing ones.

In practice, they sometimes remove themes and templates but don't replace them with updated copies.

Result: The themes and templates simply disappear from your students' computers.

Suggestion: If an assignment currently requires students to base a new presentation on a specific theme, change it to something that tests the same skill set but that doesn't depend on specific themes. For example, you could require students to base a new presentation on a theme other than the default blank theme and to indicate on the title slide which theme they've chosen.

Or stick with the stock themes that ship with PowerPoint. In 2013, those are: Facet, Integral, Ion, Ion Boardroom, Organic, Retrospect, Slice. So far, these don't seem to get removed.

Clip art, sounds, movies -- Gone!

Without warning the users, Microsoft has apparently decided to stop supplying clip art, videos and sounds. Instead of inserting clips supplied with the software, we're now redirected to a Bing search or in some cases, shown an empty, blank dialog box.

Result: Your students won't be able to carry out any assignments that rely on following instructions based on the originally released version of PowerPoint 2013 or prior.

Suggestion: Rather than using PowerPoint's Insert | Media | Video | Online Video or Insert | Media | Audio | Online Audio commands (which may no longer work at all) or Insert | Online Pictures, teach students to search the web for appropriate content.

Bonus Teaching Moment: This is a great opportunity to teach your students to be aware of and to respect intellectual property rights and restrictions.

In any case, it's a good idea to test the current state of the software yourself. After making sure that it's fully updated, create a new assignment based on the way the software's working at the moment. And understand that it may yet change again.

About the authors

I'm Steve Rindsberg. I've been a PowerPoint MVP since 1996 or so, and have maintained this PowerPoint FAQ ever since I shooed the pterodactyls off the site. I watch and learn from my betters, including:

Did this solve your problem? If so, please consider supporting the PPT FAQ with a small PayPal donation.
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PowerPoint's not acting the way the instructions say it should
Last update 20 April, 2015