The Best Use of PowerPoint

I’ve sat through them, and I’ve created them; my love/hate relationship with Powerpoint can be traced by simply accessing my copious PowerPoint files from the last 15 years.

When I first started teaching, PowerPoint was all the rage to present information and teach concepts; but today, both students and teachers dread them, and myself and my students are no exception. However, last semester, when I took the class, Youtube for Educators, I was truly enlightened by the article Five Ways to Reduce PowerPoint Overload, (Atkinson and Mayer, 2004) as to why most PowerPoints are ineffective, and it changed my approach to creating and using PowerPoint in the classroom.

To begin with, research shows that learners have limitations when it comes to perception.  According to Atkinson and Mayer (2004), the mind processes information in two channels: visually and verbally. This concept means that learners have separate processing for visual material and verbal material. In the article, Five Ways to Reduce PowerPoint Overload, Atkinson and Mayer (2004) assert, “The constraints on our processing capacity force us to make decisions about which pieces of information to pay attention to.”  Therefore, presenters have to evaluate their PowerPoints and make sure that their slides have both words and graphics that compliment rather than bog down or distract the learner.

In addition to having separate channels, learners can only pay attention to a few pieces of information at a time.  As a result, when the learner is presented with information, his or her  mind organizes and integrates the material that is important.  Thus, Atkinson and Mayer (2012) explain that “the presentation has to promote active cognitive processing by guiding the processes of selecting, organizing, and integrating information.”  In other words, presenters must know their audience and anticipate their cognitive process and then design the presentation accordingly.

Any tool can be rendered ineffective and useless if it is used incorrectly.  Instead of  getting rid of this tool, educators need to change their approach and understand how their students learn. PowerPoint has a place in the classroom, but its usage must be properly planned, designed  and implemented.   The following are five guidelines to consider when creating a PowerPoint:

1.  Write a clear headline that explains the main idea of the slide.

2. Break up the content in digestible bites.

3.  Reduce visual load by limiting text and narrating content.

4.  Use visuals with words instead of words or visuals alone.

5.  Remove every element that does not support the main idea.

References

Atkinson and Mayer, C. A. R. E. (2004). Five ways to reduce PowerPoint overload, . 1(1).

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One thought on “The Best Use of PowerPoint

  1. I agree that presentations can be useful if they are done right. I know that when I started teaching I wanted to use PowerPoint presentations for everything, but it got to be too much for me. I think I was trying to make them to intricate that they were not good. I know that students learn at different rates and in different ways. I like how you used the two thoughts of visual and verbal learners. I know in math I’m always explaining by examples (visual) and by writing out the steps (verbal). This helps me to create a positive experience for everyone, so that I know I teach to both sides. I like your comment stating instead of getting rid of the tool educators should change their approach and I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t fully grasped the positive effect that PowerPoint’s can have, but I do plan on trying to revamp my presentations to include appropriate PowerPoint’s. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and the article you included. Great Job!

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