Why can’t we be friends? PowerPoint and active learning

by | 15 May, 2018 | 0 comments

The classic PowerPoint presentation - bullet point-riddled slides clicked through almost as if to distract you from actually listening to a lecture - is the hallmark of a style of teaching that treats students as passive receivers of information. There’s an argument for ditching that slideshow altogether. But Powerpoint is a pretty essential tool for keeping a session on track. So do you need to throw the slidedeck out with the monologue?

Here are some ideas for rehabilitating Powerpoint as part of a class built around active learning.

Note: I’m using the term PowerPoint here (rather unfairly, sorry Microsoft) as shorthand for any presentation tool. These tips apply equally to Keynote or Google Slides.

Avoid PowerPoint Karaoke

Use your slidedeck as an illustration, not as a substitute for a teleprompter. An image that appears just at the right time to reinforce a point, to be the punchline of a joke, or to introduce a new topic, can have a big impact. Instead of bullet points, try using one picture and telling a story around it. If you feel like you need the text to follow for your own peace of mind, include this in the speaker notes instead of on the slides themselves.

 

The art of the pause

Put your lecture on hold and get students to interact and discuss points with their neighbour or group. Leave your question for discussion or provocation up on the slide. Vandberbilt University’s guide to active learning recommends pausing ‘for two minutes every 12 to 18 minutes, encouraging students to discuss and rework notes in pairs.’ The guide cites evidence that this actually increases learning compared to ‘passive’ lectures.

 

Try a mini lecture or lectorial

Keep your PowerPoint talks to short bursts within a class, and intersperse them with different active learning activities. For instance, get students discussing a key provocation from your mini-talk and reporting back. Use the slide deck as an illustration of your mini lecture, rather than the centrepiece (what you’ve got to say is the centrepiece).

 

Signpost

PowerPoint slides can be a great way of showing your audience the structure of your session, and giving them an idea (or signpost) of where you’re up to, so they don’t get lost or switch off. You could also pop in a slide to remind students of the learning outcomes for that day.

 

Make it interactive

Use your slide deck to ask poll questions, create a student-generated word cloud or list of FAQs. Try a quick Kahoot or a Zeetings. Put the focus on students collaborating, with your PowerPoint as the backdrop. For PowerPoint users, there’s a free add-on feature called Live Slides that allows you to embed and demo a live website from a slide.

 

Mix it up

Following the same pattern every time lulls students into the sense that they don’t need to pay attention. Even the TED Talk formula (lampooned in the video below) gets tired after a while. 

 


‘Everybody knows that a presentation seems more legitimate than it actually is if there are slides.’

 

It’s also okay for your Powerpoint to show a bit of personality – although maybe read this before you start peppering your slides with memes.


More tips

Follow Amanda Sampol’s 12 tips for a better slide deck, and come chat to the team in the UTS LX.lab.

Recommended reading

Avoiding death by Powerpoint, Using Powerpoint by Danny Liu

It’s not Powerpoint’s fault you’re just using it wrong.

 

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