Avoiding “Death by PowerPoint”

Recently, the CIT offered “Death by PowerPoint”, one of our regular workshops that look at using technology in your teaching.  We offer ideas for improving student learning and engagement or managing your courses.

PowerPoint (and other presentation tools) are ubiquitous in the classroom and both students and faculty have a kind of “love/hate” relationship with them.  While you can present material concisely, integrate images or other media and easily distribute presentation material to students for reference, the software can make lectures inflexible or take away from the interactivity of an engaging classroom session.

Our workshop focused on five principles of effective multimedia for learning, based on Dr. Richard Mayer’s research.

Mayer found that students learn better when materials are organized to highlight essential ideas.   On a slide, you might use the heading of the slide to state the main point or produce a series of slides that take students through a clear, outlined process.

People learn better from words and pictures than from words alone.  Use images or diagrams to convey information.

People learn better from graphics with spoken text rather than from graphics and on-screen text.  Text on the screen is actually distracting.  Text-heavy information should be spoken and/or presented in handouts for later reference and reinforcement of your ideas.

Too much information is often a problem with presentations.  Students learn better when information is presented smaller segments.  Each point on should have it’s own slide.

Students learn best when extraneous material is excluded.  It may be tempting to spice up a presentation with “bells and whistles”, but these actually detract from learning. Only include materials that support the message.

We also discussed ways to make lectures more interactive and engaging.  Students stay more alert and focused if you take a break after every few slides and engage students.  Small group activities can be quick and offer feedback on student learning.  For example, students can be broken into pairs to discuss a brief question and then report, students can  “shout out” ideas that you would write on the board or type on a blank PowerPoint slide.  Or, in larger class settings, you might use a Personal Response System or “clickers” to have students vote or answer questions about the material.

Finally, we discussed good visual design.  Keep presentations simple works best – background images and different colors take the focus away from your content.  And, take a break.  Project a blank screen during the presentation to bring the student’s focus back to you for important points or for discussion.

If you’d like links to more information and some short tips on keyboard shortcuts for PowerPoint from the workshop, click here for a PDF.

posted by Andrea Novicki and Randy A. Riddle