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Effective PowerPoint Design

Every time you step into a classroom, you take on the role of teacher and guide to a roomful of students. You are tasked with designing experiences that result in student learning. Using PowerPoint can indeed enhance those learning experiences - if the design is purposeful.

The design of your PowerPoint focuses on two parts. The first is visual design. Visual design addresses the quality of the visual material used to assist students in understanding the educational nuggets we want them to retain. The second part is instructional design - the pedagogical considerations that provide students with the cues to process, activate, rehearse, and retain the learning objectives.

Effective PowerPoint: Tips and Considerations [ppt]

Visual Design Considerations

The keys to visual design are big and bright. We are programmed from the first time we put crayons to paper to think white background. This works well for mediums that are reflective, like a book or brochure. However, when using a projected medium like TV, video, or computer screen, the opposite is true. Use these tips to guide your use of visual design:

  • A darker background with contrasting text is easier on the eyes. Use darker blues, reds and black with yellow or white text to give some punch. Even bright yellow background with black text is easier on the eyes than white backgrounds.
     
  • Fonts like Arial and Helvetica (sans-serif fonts) read clearer than Times New Roman or Palatino (serif fonts). There are thousands of typefaces available today. Picking a font with a high readability factor has a direct effect on engagement and retention of knowledge.
     
  • Type should be at least 24-point size with titles of 30-48 point size. Limit the amount of information on each slide to two or three bullet points. A good test of readability is to print the slide with the most text on it. Place the printed slide on a wall and step away five feet. Is the slide still readable? That is about the same distance at which your front row of students can read. Can you read it at ten feet? That is about the same distance at which your last row of students can see your slides if they have normal eyesight.
     
  • Variations in lighting and projector bulbs can also impact readability of your PowerPoint. Test your presentation in the room with the equipment you will be using.
     
  • Use pictures that are big, contrasting, and clear. The brain loves pictures - use pictures that enhance meaning of content for the learner. Don’t clutter your slide with little pictures that can’t easily be seen, and don’t use visuals because they are cute.
     
  • Videos should be embedded in the slide and kept in the same file with the PowerPoint to keep the links active and working. If you use an outside resource such as YouTube or TeacherTube links, it’s a good idea to have a copy on your hard drive in case of link or network problems. Keep them small to save space and loading time.
     
  • Animations can support content and transition material, as well as give visual breaks to your viewers. Use animations sparingly and only when they support content.

Instructional Design Considerations

Do you use PowerPoint for lecture notes? The lecturer’s tendency is to use PowerPoint to outline the lecture, not the learning. Reading from the slides is often boring and, therefore, disengaging. Instead, use slides to strengthen key learning points through pictures, use of video, or just a few words.

Many of the visual design considerations have pedagogical implications as well. Good visual focus often results in higher student recall of information. Additional ideas for instructional design:

  • Provide your slides to students ahead of class. Giving students the slides ahead of time allows them to prepare questions, focus their pre-reading, and otherwise build relevance of the content to their current knowledge.
     
  • Many of today’s learners are highly visual. Seeing it is often more effective than hearing it alone. The adage, tell me something many times or show me once, is a great reminder that we should all take to heart in our classrooms.
     
  • Use templates within PowerPoint to organize content around your learning objectives, to mark transitions, or outline activities. Like items of content should be placed on the same template to communicate a relationship among the ideas. Change the template to indicate movement to a new learning objective or activity.
     
  • Use links in your PowerPoint that help expand student experiences.
     
  • Use sound to enhance a learning moment such as using John F Kennedy’s Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You speech. Sound effects, used sparingly, have as much value as bird calls and crickets chirping in an environmental lecture.
     
  • Use blank slides to provide reminders to stop and take or ask questions, or provide students time to synthesize what they are learning. Remember the ratio 8:2 - 8 minutes of content to 2 minutes of student engagement with the material through rehearsal such as talking, writing, or drawing.
     
  • PowerPoint can also be used as an assessment tool. Use a slide to conduct a poll, pose a question for student writing, or provide a picture that inspires student metaphors for their learning.

By taking care to design PowerPoints that are purposefully aligned with content and engage student thinking, you can significantly impact student retention and learning.

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