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Using PowerPoint Presentations in Teaching

You may have many years of classroom experience, as a student and a teacher, which guides your teaching. However, you are less likely to have had similarly rich experiences with instructional technologies, as these tools have become available only more recently. Additionally, we are only beginning to understand the capabilities and possibilities that emerging technologies have for teaching and learning.

There are many tutorials, books and other resources for using presentation technologies, like PowerPoint. However, most deal only with the mechanics of creating slides and presentations and the general principles of good design from a graphic design and business perspective. There is very little about effectively teaching with PowerPoint.

Most people seem to simply convert their lecture notes and transparencies into PowerPoint slides. Though the research indicates that this may be slightly more effective in terms of student achievement, this approach does not exploit the possibilities this technology has for education.

A number of educational models could be applied to the design of a PowerPoint presentation for teaching and its integration into a classroom situation. Applying an explicit model provides a framework on which to base the design and a checklist of issues that the presentation should cover. We use Robert Gagne's Events of Instruction here as an example.

Gagne's Events of Instruction

  1. Gaining Attention
  2. Informing Learner of the Objective
  3. Stimulating Recall of Prior Learning
  4. Presenting the Stimulus
  5. Providing Learning Guidance
  6. Eliciting Performance
  7. Providing Feedback
  8. Assessing Performance
  9. Enhancing Retention and Transfer

Gagne identified nine events of instruction corresponding to these learning processes. Although providing for each of these events will enhance learning, an instructor does not have to provide for each one. Students sometimes will supply these events themselves, especially more mature and successful students. Also, each event does not have to be supported by a presentation slide.

In the workshop, we examined each of these events of instruction and viewed example slides that support that event.

1. Gaining Attention

When students arrive at class, their attention is directed toward many other things. One student might be thinking about an assignment from a previous class. Another student might be struggling with a personal problem. Some students might be discussing weekend plans. The purpose of this instructional event is to gain student attention and arouse interest.

One way to do this is with an abrupt stimulus change, such as gesturing, speaking loudly, or providing an interesting visual.

A title slide, sometimes called a splash screen, can be used to gain attention.

Depending on the audience, photographs, pictures, and sound can be combined to gain attention and interest as well as set a mood or tone for a lesson. However, overuse of multimedia can be counterproductive as students may anticipate your next dazzling effect rather than participate in the class. In most design, restraint is important-less is more.

2. Informing the Learner of the Objective

The next event of instruction is Informing the Learner of the Objective. This event focuses on the expectancy control processes in the Information Processing model.

Making the lesson objectives or unit goals explicit influences selective perception. Your students will have a better understanding of what they should attend to. It also may improve performance and feedback processes since students will be able to better access their learning achievement as instruction proceeds. Additionally, this event may affect their choice of storage and retrieval schemes. For example, I study differently for a course that includes objective-type exams than for a course that requires a long paper or project.

3. Stimulating Recall of Prior Learning

Often, understanding new information requires an understanding or application of existing knowledge or skills, sometimes called prerequisites. Before presenting new information, Stimulating Recall of Prior Learning makes that knowledge more accessible in working memory.

4. Presenting the Stimulus

This is where many lessons begin. However, Gagne's work indicates that instruction will be more effective if we first gain attention and interest, inform the learner of objectives, and recall prior learning.

Although we may believe everything we say or do in class is important, this instructional event helps students focus on important ideas, ignore unnecessary details, and avoid distractions.

5. Providing Learning Guidance

This event of instruction supports the internal process usually called semantic encoding. In familiar language, the instructional technique may be described as follows: Make the stimulus as meaningful as possible,

Throughout a lesson, you can suggest meaningful organizations of the material, such as presenting examples, relating new information to existing knowledge, providing images, and offering mnemonics. However, this can be provided near the end of your lesson, after the new material has been presented, as well.

6. Eliciting Performance

Here, the learner is required to practice the new skill or behaviour, providing an opportunity for learners to confirm their correct understanding. Students can be asked to respond by offering several examples. The repetition further increases the likelihood of retention.

7. Providing Feedback

The previously described instructional events focus on the acquisition of new knowledge.In the second part of this model, the learner uses and demonstrates these newly learned capabilities. Also, the instructor provides feedback about the correctness of this performance.

A shortcoming of some lessons is that no opportunity exists for learner performance and feedback. This is often reserved for homework or exams when no one will be immediately available to assist with problems and questions. However, including a few minutes of in-class practice, tied to the lesson objectives, can help both the instructor and student identify and correct misunderstandings.

8. Assessing Performance

At this point, the students have demonstrated that learning has occurred. However, a single performance does not ensure that the new capability has been reliably stored. Additional practice and performance are needed. This additional practice is often homework and culminates with a graded test or project.

No examples slides for this instructional event are including in the presentation as the previous slides on performance and feedback also illustrate this event and presentation slides may not be the best mechanism for supporting this event.

9. Enhancing Retention and Transfer

Once we are reasonably sure that the new capabilities are reliably stored, we can increase the likelihood that these capabilities will be retained over a long time period. Providing practice and spaced reviews is one way to enhance retention.

Additionally, transfer of knowledge and skills to new problems and situations is a goal of most instruction. Because of classroom time constraints, we often are not able to examine new ideas in a variety of contexts. Consequently, students may not recognize these ideas in new situations. Providing practice variety may enhance the transfer of learning be increasing retrieval cues.