Using Powerpoint-type Presentations in Class

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The rise in the ubiquity of use of Powerpoint-type (and I use the phrase Powerpoint-type since Powerpoint is but one–although the most popular–type of software used for electronic lecture presentations; I use the Beamer package add-on for the type-setting software LaTeX) presentations has led to a spirited debate in the field of academia. Some argue that the presentations are self-defeating and do not advance any sane pedagogical objective, while others swear by the benefits.

I see both advantages and disadvantages to their use but believe that ultimately, like with most tools, there is no inherent value in the tool itself, but that the value of the tool (for better or worse) comes in its application. Thus, I think that Powerpoint-type lectures can be used to enhance the educational experience and one’s pedagogical objectives. The issue, then, revolves around determining just what the best use of Powerpoint is.

Thankfully, there has been some research on the subject. From the blog “Thinking about College Teaching“, here is a snippet from a post explaining the best use of Powerpoint in classs:

I found a research study that compared student learning for four ways of combining PowerPoint presentations with distribution to students. (I no longer have a citation for that study.) One group of students did not receive any handouts, a second group received complete handouts prior to discussion, a third group received complete handouts after discussion, and a fourth group received skeletal handouts prior to the discussion and complete handouts after the discussion. Learning was greatest in the last group, and that was the model I followed…

…I went through that file and deleted most content except for slide headings. I made that file available to students on the Blackboard site for my course prior to class, and those who wanted it could download it and bring a printed copy to class. After I completed the class discussion, I made the [complete] file available. The most enterprising students brought the outline version to class, took notes on it, and later compared their notes to my complete version. In any case, I did not spend the school’s money to duplicate materials that only some students wanted. Students were satsified with that arrangement when I explained that they would learn the most that way.

This is what I will do for the remainder of the semester. When I am using Powerpoints, which will be about every second or third session, I’ll post the Powerpoint lecture outlines on Blackboard, the post the complete version there after I have completed the lecture. If it takes more than one session to finish a lecture, the completed version will be posted after the lecture has been completed in full.

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