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PowerPoint in the Lecture: Pros, Cons and Tips

Numerous articles have been written about the pros and cons of using PowerPoint in the classroom. Some see it as an invaluable, easy-to-learn, information delivery tool and others claim that it's commonly misused as a "crutch," that it oversimplifies complex ideas and creates sleep-inducing experiences for students.

For better or worse, PowerPoint has become a lecturing standard. Below, we offer some tips for keeping your lectures interesting and share some links to resources and commentary about PowerPoint.

Practice and Pedagogy

Consider these tips:

Think outside the bullet point. Consider different approaches to using Powerpoint, e.g., the assertion-evidence model, the pecha-kucha style, or the point/counterpoint effect.

Keep slides text-light. Slides that are packed with text are hard to read, especially when trying to listen to a speaker. Try paring down your text on the screen and, instead, use handouts for dense amounts of information and allow your narrative to deliver definition and context.

Don’t read your slides out loud. People are unable to effectively listen and read at the same time, particularly when new terms and concepts are being introduced. If a slide has text on it, allow sufficient quiet time for it to be read. Then, talk about it, but don't read it.

Don’t aim for comprehensiveness. This may seem paradoxical to effective teaching, but consider exercising communicative discipline with both your slides and spoken lecture. If you try to shoehorn in exhaustive amounts of information, not only might you overload your students, but you'll bury the basics that you most want them to understand.

Present images without text. Some research has shown that pictures and diagrams are best understood either in isolation or with spoken information only. ("Cognitive Load theory" by John Sweller)

Consider avoiding transitions and builds (animations). Some people like to use these techniques to "jazz up" a presentation, but remember that there are many for whom these effects are a visual distraction that impedes their ability to stay focused on the message.

Create legible slides. Use big enough fonts in contrasting colors. View this PDF file for guidelines for font sizes from thinkoutsidetheslide.com.

Blacken the screen when it's not relevant. There may be times in your lecture that you want more focus on listening (or you need to stray from what's on the slide). To temporarily blacken the screen, press the "b" key. To bring it back, press "b" again. This keeps the presentation fresh and the slides relevant to what you're saying.

Know your lecture sans PowerPoint. In other words, try not to rely on PowerPoint as your lecture blueprint. If you are prepared to give the lecture without it, you'll be more relaxed, less tempted to read from slides, and your lecture will flow better.

Resources and Tutorials

"PowerPoint could lead us to believe that information is all there is. According to Clifford Nass, [Professor of Communication at Stanford], PowerPoint empowers the provider of simple content... ...but it risks squeezing out the provider of process—that is to say, the rhetorician, the storyteller, the poet, the person whose thoughts cannot be arranged in the shape of an AutoContent slide."

"Absolute Powerpoint" by Ian Parker, The New Yorker - May 28, 2001