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Lecturing and Powerpoint

Students periodically raise concerns about over-reliance on Powerpoint (ppt) or prepared projector slides to deliver lectures. Lectures using the blackboard/visualiser/tablet tend to be better paced and allow students to take good notes. While prepared slides can be helpful for showing complicated images, experience shows that delivering whole lectures this way is often problematic. The principal difficulties seem to be:

  • Staff can put too much material into their lectures. If a visualiser/blackboard session fills 2-3 sides of A4 in students' notes, a ppt-style presentation with more than 10 slides is almost certainly covering far too much. Students feel that they can't be expected to learn the content of so many slides and, consequently, they do not know what they are actually being asked to learn.
  • A slide show with commentary is not a good way to communicate with students. Staff can talk through their slides too quickly for students to be able to write notes on the commentary. If the lights are dimmed, and the slides are whizzing past, the temptation to nod off can be irresistible.
  • Staff concentrating on the preparation of beautiful slides can pay less attention to preparing what they are going to say. As a result, students may end up taking little away from the lecture.
  • When giving the same module in subsequent years, staff can skimp on preparation time and simply read out the previous year's script. Again this can make material in the module hard for students to engage with.

Obviously ppt-style lectures can work, but students' experience suggests that, more often than not, they do not. Staff using, or planning to use, prepared slides, should pay particular attention to avoiding the pitfalls listed above. If in doubt, they should avoid this approach altogether (or only use prepared slides for difficult/complicated images) and use the visualiser/blackboard/tablet to explain the important ideas.

Whiteboards can also be problematic particularly in large rooms. Pens deteriorate during lectures. This may not be as apparent to the lecturer as it is to students. Whiteboards are less compatible with lecture capture, and are thought to disadvantage students with dyslexia.