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The Usefulness of Computer-Based Presentations in a Teacher Directed Classroom

For ease of discussion, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations will be used to represent Computer-based presentations in general and the advantages and capabilities attributed to that specific software can usually be generalized to other presentation software.

In the usual classroom situation, the teacher orchestrates the presentation of course content (some combination of concepts, facts, and processes) to learners who are expected to comprehend and retain that content to some predetermined degree.  The means of presenting the content elements varies with subject matter, the nature of the desired outcome (e.g. fact retention, technique application, etc.), and the professional judgment of the teacher.  Typically, the teacher works from notes, either mental or written, detailing what that teacher intends to do during that class period. 

The teacher’s notes are the result of his pre-class efforts to program the combination of content, activities, and instructional techniques that will result in the greatest intended learning.

The notes provide a “to-do” list so that classroom elements are not inadvertently left out.  Some of these elements are content oriented and will usually be specifically presented to the students -- written on the chalkboard, some will be parameters of an intended activity (e.g. “add two complex numbers” or “add 2+j6 and 4+j3”) which may or may not be specifically presented, and some will be reminders for the teacher’s use only.  PowerPoint presentations specifically provide for this function including separation of “teacher’s-use-only” reminders from those available to the class members.

In most classes the sequence of content elements is an essential factor.  They are usually presented to the students as they are needed as a means of focusing student attention on the matter at hand.  This can be done by writing on the chalkboard but difficulties of this method in deflecting the teacher’s attention from the class is well known and has been a main reason for the widespread adoption of overhead projection transparencies.  Unfortunately, the gymnastics required to cover part of the transparency with a paper and slide it down to reveal points one-by-one have diverted teacher attention away from the class almost as thoroughly as turning at least sideways (not to mention turning fully away from the class) to write on the board.

This focus technique for controlling student attention is even more directly addressable in PowerPoint since, in addition to hiding what is to come, the visual pull of preceding points can be sharply diminished by automatically changing color to something only slightly different from the slide background thus leaving the current point as the highly visible one.  The preceding points are still visible for the students whose note taking has fallen behind.

On a personal note, I have used both self-prepared and publisher-prepared transparencies in several different courses taught over many years at RCC and found, almost without exception, the spontaneous interaction I was used to having with my students disappeared.  I have used PowerPoint in similar situations with no such loss of interaction.  I attribute this to the simplicity of presentation control in the classroom—all the mechanics of transitions and animations have been taken care of before class and my attention can stay on the students.

The subordination of ideas on the chalkboard is normally indicated by level of indention.  In PowerPoint this indention is still used but subordination can be emphasized by change of color, by smaller type size, by different type font or style, by different “bullet” character, or any combination of these.  Subordinate points can be introduced either simultaneously with the superior point or subsequently as a separate point.

Color itself has turned out to be an important element and the degree of control available is gratifying.  In one recent instructional session it was useful to take a slide from the instructions given a year before and then simply have the colors change to highlight those concepts we were going to explore compliance with.

By duplicating the first slide and removing all slide transition and animation effects from the second slide, they appear to be a single slide with an instant change to the new colors.

PowerPoint permits the display of graphic information (photos, drawings, diagrams, etc.) but, contrary to normal slide projection, the graphic can be reduced in size to permit simultaneous display of explanatory text.  The explanatory text is easily positioned with the graphic and such things as arrows and colored circles are easily applied to highlight features within the graphic.  These text and pointing elements are under the author's control as to how and when they will appear.  For example, the name and arrow for each feature can be made to appear only when the teacher is ready to discuss that feature or the arrow could appear and the name only appear after the class has had their chance at identifying that particular feature.

Background graphics are also under the control of the author/teacher.  Not only can a specific graphic be selected but the slide can be "layered".  Text can be read through the controllable transparency of a diagram appearing in the foreground, or it may appear in the foreground on top of a background diagram, or a diagram/text may be moved on top of another graphic to hide it thereby providing a sequence of views or to focus attention, etc.

The creation of handouts for the students is certainly facilitated with the choice of three slides per page which includes lines adjacent to each slide for student use in adding their own notes being particularly useful.

All in all, computer presentation software such as PowerPoint has many features which can assist the teacher in the classroom in the effort to effectively convey concepts and facts, specify parameters of activities, and provide enriching illustrations.  There are so many features, in fact, that an article like this cannot conclude with out a word of warning:  It is unfortunately easy to employ such a variety of features that the focus of student attention is pulled to the mechanics of the presentation rather than to the subject matter content.  Continually varying the entry animation of text and the use of multiple contrasting text colors are just a couple of roads leading to reduced effectiveness.

Dean Chambers, Professor Emeritus, RCC.


Nevertheless the relatively small effort needed to learn the mechanics of preparing PowerPoint presentations is well worth the usefulness this powerful tool provides.

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