September 24th, 2009

PowerPoint Dos and Don'ts


The use of PowerPoint is widespread now in college classrooms. Compared with the old transparencies of overhead projector days, it gets all sorts of points for legibility and glitz. But a lot of the problems with the way faculty used overheads still prevail. So please take these gentle do and don’t reminders in the spirit they are given. PowerPoint slides can enhance learning, but that benefit doesn’t accrue automatically. And if the PowerPoints aren’t enhancing learning, they may be doing the opposite.

Do use PointPoint slides to

· structure content and to show how ideas are organized and relate to one another

· graphically represent concepts and ideas

· show graphs, charts, tables, and diagrams that are difficult to create on the board

· add visual interest to content

· facilitate (not replace) notetaking

· supplement and enhance lecture presentations

And don’t

· read them word for word without translating, paraphrasing, or otherwise elaborating on the content

· put too much information on one slide—some experts say no more than five bulleted points

· use too many slides in a single presentation—they can easily create a situation of information overload

· get carried away with too many bells and whistles—technology makes many things possible but too many gewgaws and students are attending to them rather than the content

What is less clear from research and practice is whether the PowerPoint slides should be made available to students online. If they are, students have the major content covered in a class session. If they aren’t in class, they don’t have to rely exclusively on notes from a classmate. That’s good—they get the main ideas and all the new terminology is spelled correctly. But some research indicates when the PowerPoints slides are available, students tend to skip class more. They also report that when preparing for exams, they use the PowerPoint slides more and the textbook less. There is also some indication that when students have the PowerPoint slides they tend to take fewer notes or no notes at all. They don’t elaborate or put ideas into their own words. Now maybe not having to get everything down means they are processing content and understanding it better. However, research has yet to verify what students are doing when they’re not taking notes.

This advice is culled from research reviewed and advice offered in an excellent article on using PowerPoint slides effectively.

Reference: Burke, L. A., James, K., and Ahmadi, M. (2009). Effectiveness of PowerPoint-based lectures across different business disciplines: An investigation and implications. Journal of Education for Business, 84 (3), 246-251.