Using Slides in the Classroom
Picture a university classroom. Does the image of a professor speaking with the aid of a PowerPoint slide deck come to mind? Slides frequently serve as the foundation for lectures and lesson plans. They can either complement or confuse an instructor’s verbal message, so taking some time to think about the design and structure of your slide presentations can really pay off.
Your teaching style or classroom may dictate the ways and frequency with which you use slides. But, in most cases, it is best to focus on simple slide design. Less is usually more. Garr Reynolds provides numerous examples of “good” and “bad” slide design through a framework called Presentation Zen. The following principles may also be useful:
Adapted from Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence “How to Make the Most of PowerPoint in Lectures”
Berk (2012) describes ten evidence-based practices for slide use in the classroom. These points can provide a visual cohesion necessary to support a strong presentation.
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Adapted from Berk, 2012: “Top 10 Evidence-Based, Best Practices for PowerPoint in the Classroom
Effectiveness of PowerPoint
Various researchers have studied the efficacy of slide use in classrooms. Overall, PowerPoint and Google Slideshows can be beneficial to student learning, but material that is not pertinent to the presentation can be harmful to student learning (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003).
According to Smith, Gardner, and Ryan (2019), PowerPoint slides can improve learning, particularly for the lowest performing STEM students. The authors found that visual representations of physical and natural phenomena are beneficial for student learning in STEM disciplines. However, slides that include visuals with text are actually correlated with lower student performance on exams. This suggests that slideshows requiring students to engage visually with complex material may be better than slides that combine visual components and text.
As such, an intentional focus on quality images and diagrams may improve learning more than a simple diagram with text-heavy explanations. Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information illustrates 250 examples of statistical graphs, maps, and images that display data effectively. Overall, intentional slide design combined with quality lecturing can improve student learning in traditional classrooms.
Boston University provides faculty with Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides. Instructors may choose to use Apple’s Keynote software or other online tools such as Prezi to design slideshows. Additionally, faculty may find that Adobe Creative Cloud software can be utilized to improve visual design elements used in slides. Tools such as Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe InDesign can greatly enhance pictures and diagrams. Adobe Creative Cloud is available to many campus community members. Support for the Adobe suite can be found on the BU Digital Multimedia Common website.
- Stanford University Teaching Commons: Checklist for Effective Lecturing
- University of Waterloo Center for Teaching Excellence: Lecturing Effectively
- Garr Reynolds: Top Ten Slide Tips
- Northern Illinois University: Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center: Teaching with PowerPoint
- University of Washington: Department of English: Teaching with PowerPoint
- Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching: Making Better PowerPoint Presentations
- Bartsch, R. A., & Cobern, K. M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint Presentations in Lectures. Computers & Education, 41(1), 77-86.
- Berk, R. A. (2012). Top 10 Evidence-based Best Practices for PowerPoint in the Classroom. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 5(3), 1-7.
- Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic Lecturing: Research-based Strategies to Enhance Lecture Effectiveness. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
- Smith-Peavler, E., Gardner, G. E., & Otter, R. (2019). PowerPoint Use in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom: Perceptions and Impacts on Student Learning. Journal of College Science Teaching, 48(3), 74-83.
- Tufte, E. R. (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Vol. 2). Cheshire, CT: Graphics press.