PowerPoint Supplemented LectureA lecture supported by a computer-driven and projected PowerPoint presentation of bullet points is the dominant form of instruction across most college and university classrooms.  Unquestionably, there are bright points of innovation–or regressive chalk and talk—approaches here and there, but by and large, a stroll through your building will reveal that teaching is largely dominated by bullet points that students diligently copy for memorization at a later date.

This is not to say that teaching with presentation software such as PowerPoint, hereafter abbreviated as PPT, is inherently a bad strategy to be avoided at all costs.  In fact, PPT is an excellent choice as a contemporary tool to help get information from professors to students.  I use PPT in one form or another in nearly every class I teach.  I would venture to say that if you were leading a teaching-methods seminar and didn’t help your attendees to better use PPT, you are probably doing them a disservice.

PPT is ubiquitous: So, ask a friend to help you get it right.

Critical Friends Can Help Improve Your PPT     After years of using PPT slides, bad habits naturally creep into our presentations. Unfortunately, these easily reparably problems are nearly impossible to see on our own.  Like the proverbial frog who never knows it is dying in a slowly heated pot to boiling, we often need a critical friend who can look at our PPT slides and give us feedback.  Here is a check-list that you can give to a trusted colleague to quickly help you improve your PPT slides.

?     Readability?  Sufficiently large font

?     Colors?  Highly contrasting background colors

?     Number of words? Avoid complete sentences with punctuation

?     Number of lines? No more than six bullets

?     Unnecessary animation?  Things that move are distracting

?     Complicated visuals?  Enlarge important sections one at a time
Slides should be a SUPPLEMENT to the lecture; lecturers should never, ever read the PPT slides to the audience.Busy PPT slides An overarching idea to remember is that most students think it is their job to completely copy, word-for-word, everything that is on your slides.  If students are busy transcribing, then they aren’t listening to the pearls of wisdom and insightful analysis that you are trying to share with them.  The best way to get students to listen to you is to give them only a few things to transcribe from your PPT.

In the end, what we most need is to get information efficiently to our students.  PPT, like its many siblings, provides an easy to use teaching tool to help accomplish this.  However, the PPT slide isn’t the teacher; you are the teacher.  PPT slides cannot on their own increase students’ motivation, unarguably demonstrate value and relevance of your course topics, or create a supportive learning environment where students can thrive.  Teaching is inherently a human endeavor, and no matter how good the presentation support materials or online smart learning system is, at its core, you the teacher is what is really needed to make the learning process really happen.

Tim Slater, University of Wyoming, Tim@CAPERteam.com

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