Teaching

You’d Like PowerPoint If You Only Used It Right Teaching
Oddly enough, all these problems look just like nails to me. (© UW-Madison University Communications/ Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart)

You’d Like PowerPoint If You Only Used It Right

June 30, 2015 1268

Oddly enough, all these problems look just like nails to me. (© UW-Madison University Communications/ Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart)

Oddly enough, all these problems look just like nails to me.
(© UW-Madison University Communications/
Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart)

The Conversation logo

This article by Jared Cooney Horvath and Jason M. Lodge originally appeared at The Conversation, a Social Science Space partner site, under the title “It’s not PowerPoint’s fault, you’re just using it wrong”

Imagine seeing a young student attempt to twist in a screw using a hammer. I think we can all agree that angrily grabbing the hammer from the student and throwing it away would be a mistake. A more constructive response would to be to simply clarify the true purpose of a hammer.

Recent articles calling for blanket removal of PowerPoint from education make the same mistake as banning the hammer: they erroneously blame the tool for mistakes made by the user.

PowerPoint is a tool built for a very specific purpose: to display visual aids meant to complement verbally delivered content. Somewhere along the line, however, this purpose was forgotten and the tool was co-opted to achieve ends it was simply never meant to address.

So rather than outright abolishing PowerPoint, here’s a short refresher on how PowerPoint should be used.

PowerPoint faux pas

Using slides as speaker notes

Many people use PowerPoint as a substitute for speaker notes – filling each slide with text, which they then proceed to read aloud to the audience. The practice of using slides to guide the speaker rather than to aid the learner is not only tedious and redundant, but also has been shown to diminish audience engagement and learning.

Including too many words

A quick experiment: try to listen to the TV news or talk-back radio while you read this article. Don’t be surprised if you can’t pay attention to both at the same time – it turns out, silent reading requires the same brain regions as listening to someone speak aloud.

This means that when a PowerPoint presentation contains too many words, the audience must choose whether to read the slides or listen to the speaker. They cannot do both simultaneously. Even when slides contain the same words as those being spoken, comprehension and memory decrease when both are presented simultaneously.

Suddenly presenting dense graphs and/or tables

Graphs and tables compactly present data that, otherwise, might take many pages to outline and explain. As such, they take time and a great deal of mental effort to interpret. This means that if a complex graph or table suddenly appears on a PowerPoint slide, the audience must choose whether to decipher the figure or listen to the speaker: they can’t do both.

How to use PowerPoint

Include relevant images

It is not an accident that PowerPoint was developed as an image-presentation tool. Psychological and educational research has long demonstrated that including relevant images during an oral talk enhances audience engagement and improves learning.

Reveal graphs and/or tables

With PowerPoint, it is a trivial matter to segment graphs/tables into digestible bits and present each in a piecemeal format. For instance, a presenter can first display the empty axes of a graph, then overlay the internal grid, then build up each experimental condition.

In this way, the speaker can walk the audience through each component of a figure. In turn, this ensures the audience can listen to the speech as the complex visual image builds to completion.

Spatial predictability

Each time the mouse button is pressed to advance a presentation, the audience must devote attention to and decipher each new slide. This means they may tune out and no longer hear the speaker as they orient themselves to the newly presented material.

If each slide is spatially and visually organised in the same way (images, titles and/or references located in the same position on each slide, perhaps with an explicit box), audience members will covertly learn the layout, increasing audience attention and learning.

Putting it all together

There are very good reasons why the presentations delivered by the late Steve Jobs became so revered. Aside from his personal charisma and gravitas, Jobs and his team were masters of the use of visual aids for emphasis. Slides were used sparingly, had little to no extraneous detail, and were easy for the audience to process.

Slides are visual aids and should be designed with this purpose in mind. Notes, study aids and other supplementary material should be produced separately, using tools that have been designed for those purposes.

Don’t ban the hammer – simply use it for what it was meant for. The Conversation


Jared Cooney Horvath is a PhD student in neuroscience, psychology, and education at the University of Melbourne. Jason M. Lodge is a research fellow at the Science of Learning Research Centre & Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne.

View all posts by Jared Cooney Horvath and Jason M. Lodge

Related Articles

Responsible Management Education Week 2024: Sage Asks ‘What Does It Mean to You?’
Business and Management INK
June 19, 2024

Responsible Management Education Week 2024: Sage Asks ‘What Does It Mean to You?’

Read Now
Tejendra Pherali on Education and Conflict
Social Science Bites
February 1, 2024

Tejendra Pherali on Education and Conflict

Read Now
Gamification as an Effective Instructional Strategy
Business and Management INK
September 19, 2023

Gamification as an Effective Instructional Strategy

Read Now
Harnessing the Tide, Not Stemming It: AI, HE and Academic Publishing
Innovation
April 26, 2023

Harnessing the Tide, Not Stemming It: AI, HE and Academic Publishing

Read Now
Database Tracks Attempts To Ban Critical Race Theory

Database Tracks Attempts To Ban Critical Race Theory

Few topics in education have dominated the news over the past few years as much as efforts to ban critical race theory from the nation’s schools. The topic is so pervasive that researchers at the UCLA School of Law Critical Race Studies Program have created a new database to track attempts by local and state government to outlaw the teaching of the theory, which holds, among other things, that racism is not just expressed on an individual level, but rather is deeply embedded in the nation’s laws and policies. The Conversation asked Taifha Natalee Alexander, director and supervisor of the database, about the overarching purpose of the database and what it has shown thus far.

Read Now
John Hattie on the Factors That Influence Learning In Schools

John Hattie on the Factors That Influence Learning In Schools

In 2008, I published my book Visible Learning, which aimed to explain what works best to help student learning. At the time, others claimed it was the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors that improve learning.

Read Now
Some Opportunities for Future Business and Management Research: Employee Health and Well-Being

Some Opportunities for Future Business and Management Research: Employee Health and Well-Being

Research is needed to evaluate systematically how effective the training and recruiting of managers with high levels of social and interpersonal skills are in terms of positively enhancing bottom-line indicators

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments