PowerPoint Induced Sleep


Still another research report raises questions about the overuse of PowerPoint.  U.S. Air Force Academy cadets studying Engineering Mechanics “disliked the use of [PowerPoint] for very concrete reasons and improvement in overall learning and comprehension was statistically insignificant.”  This result reinforces the experience of one of my Wake Forest colleagues.  He taught two similar sections of the same finance course.  When Section A was taught with PowerPoint up to the first exam (and Section B was not), Section B had significantly higher scores on the first exam.  Between the first and second exams  Section B was taught with PowerPoint.  Section A did better on the second exam.   


This matches my own experience.  Presentations at professional conferences that involve fast talking presenters racing through multiple, complex slides leave me either asleep or cold.   Many times I have been put to “Death by PowerPoint.”


            Why am I surprised?  Turn down the lights.  Look at the screen and ignore me.  Present more detail than I can process.   Prove that you have mastered this new technology.   Yes, this leaves me wishing that my professor would return to her yellowed notes and warm, personal style!


            In fact, PowerPoint and similar presentation programs pack great value IF USED CORRECTLY.   I hope Syllabus readers will add to this emerging list of “things I wish other users of PowerPoint would do.”


  1. Keep the lights on. Use a powerful projector.
  2. Use no more than 3 slides per minute.
  3. Ban all font lower than 24.
  4. Always use light backgrounds and dark type.
  5. Avoid turning one’s back to the class.
  6. Minimize the reading-out-loud of each slide.
  7. Decide in advance whether the slides are for simplication vs elaboration
  8. Use PowerPoint for preview and review, not presentation.
  9. Build some slides that can be reused.  Concentrate the perishable info on a few revisable slides.
  10. Distribute printed copies of the slides
  11. Tell ‘em what’s coming, what is, and what’s been said
  12. Don’t be embarassed by content-filled slides (without big-time multimedia)


In my own teaching I  provide a 3-minute preview of the upcoming class.  This is a copy of the slides I will be using plus an audio commentary.   Often my students arrive with printed copies of these slides.    During class I face my students and view my computer screen, not the projected image behind me.  The slides are used more to signal where I am in my lecture than to convey information.   They are an outline and an elaboration, not the essence of my lecture.


What’s worked for you?   How can we extend this list?  Drop me a line at brown@wfu.edu so I can write a follow up column.   Even if you are an uncritical advocate of PowerPoint, I’d like to hear from you.