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Volume 9, Number 3: November 27, 2002

Hi-Tech Presentations:
Are They Powerful or Pointless?

by Christy Carello
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Introduction

Does the use of PowerPoint improve the quality of student presentations and student learning? Microsoft PowerPoint is a user-friendly computer program designed to enhance the visual component of presentations. Most college students are familiar with Microsoft Word and find that the transition to using PowerPoint is fairly simple. Because many businesses and other organizations use PowerPoint or a similar computer-based image program for marketing and seminar presentations, students who are familiar with PowerPoint may have an advantage in the job market. However, a major concern with the use of PowerPoint is that both students and faculty may get hung up on the bells and whistles of the program (i.e. sound, animation, fancy backgrounds) and develop presentations that are flashy but lack content, original thought and analysis (McKenzie, 2000).

Previous studies have shown that students learn better when instructors use computer-based image programs like PowerPoint (Fifield and Peifer, 1994). In another study, Erwin Mantei (2000), a professor of geology and geochemistry, found that when he incorporated PowerPoint with sound effects into his lectures and provided class notes on the Internet grades improved significantly. In addition, he reported that students preferred PowerPoint lectures over the traditional methods. However, it is not entirely clear whether grades improved strictly because of the PowerPoint lecture style or because notes were available on the Internet.

Most of the studies on the use of computer-based imagery have evaluated student performance or attitudes in a lecture style course where the professor uses the program. In this study I evaluated the quality of student presentations using PowerPoint, and I assessed how these presentations affected learning by the student audience.

I designed this experiment because of an observation that I made in a Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy Class in 2001. I taught two sections of this class, and I required pairs of students in each section to give a presentation on a scientific paper that I chose from the current literature. The scientific papers presented were the same for each section. The difference between the sections was the media in which the students chose to use. By chance or because students were emulating the first presenters, I ended up with one section presenting using overheads and the other using PowerPoint. After all of the presentations were completed I gave an exam that covered the information from the presentations, and I observed that students who received the information from overhead presentations scored higher than students who received the information from PowerPoint. This observation led me to design a controlled study to determine: 1) if my observations were an anomaly, 2) whether the flashiness of the PowerPoint presentations distracted from learning, and 3) if the PowerPoint presentations lacked content.

Experimental Design

Students enrolled in Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the spring of 2002 were the subjects in a controlled study evaluating the effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations compared to that of overhead presentations. The class consisted of 28 students who were divided in half for two-hour laboratory sessions that met twice a week. A requirement for this class was to give two oral presentations in pairs on an assigned paper from the primary literature. One of the presentations required the use of overheads for visual aids and the other required the use of PowerPoint. Both lab groups were assigned the same papers to present and were given the same instructions for developing presentations.

For the first assignment one group was required to present the papers using overheads and the other group was required to use PowerPoint. For the second presentation the format was switched for the two groups. This alteration in the format for presentation naturally controlled for expected improvement in presentation performance. Two undergraduate teaching assistants and myself scored the presentations and the students were awarded a grade that was an average of the three scores. After each set of presentations was completed an identical exam was given to both sections on the content of the papers. I used correlation and regression analysis, and the Student T-test to evaluate presentation scores, exam scores and overall class grade.

Results

There was no difference in student presentation grades between overhead and PowerPoint presentations (t = 0.212; p = o.417; Figure 1). However students did show significant improvement in their presentation grade between the first and second presentation (t = 3.10; p = 0.002; Figure 1).


Figure 1. Overall class presentation performance comparing material presented using Overheads (OH) and PowerPoint (PPt). Also, comparing overall grade on the first presentation to the second, regardless of the format of the presentation.

Students showed no significant difference in their performance on exams based on papers presented using overheads and PowerPoint (t = 0.092; p = 0.464; Figure 2). In addition, there was no significant difference in overall exam performance between the first exam and the second exam on the material presented by the students, regardless of presentation medium (t = 0.046; p = 0.482; Figure 2).



Figure 2. Overall class exam performance comparing material presented using Overheads (OH) and PowerPoint (PPt). Also, a comparison of the overall scores on the first exam compared to the second, regardless of the format of the presentation.

In general, the only strong correlation relationship was between performance on presentation exams and overall class grade (0.57). Students who scored well on the exams also performed well in the class (Figure 3).

Figure 3. There is a positive relationship between exam scores and final class grade.


Conclusion

The quality of PowerPoint presentations was equal to the quality of overhead presentations when judged by both undergraduate student teaching assistants and faculty. Students' scores on presentations did not differ based on presentation styles. However, students did show significant improvement in giving a second presentation. Therefore, practicing the presentation is more important than the format for the visual aids.

Based on exam performance the student audience learned equally well under both media conditions. In fact the only variable correlated with exam performance was overall class grade. This was surprising because both exams combined were worth less than 5% of the overall class grade. Even the presentations, worth a total of 19% of the class grade, did not correlate with overall grade. Overall, good students performed well in all aspects of the class. Whereas, the average grade on the oral presentations was higher than the average grade for the course, suggesting that this was a relatively easy assignment compared to the other assignments and exams in the course.

Even though the PowerPoint presentations did not improve learning by the student audience and student presentation scores were equal using both PowerPoint and overheads, I feel that learning to develop PowerPoint presentations is a valuable skill. Students can now use PowerPoint for future presentations and in the job market. In addition, I found students to be more creative in developing their project, and they performed additional research on their topics on the Internet in order to find relevant images to use in their presentations. My students reported to me that they enjoyed preparing these presentations more than the overhead presentations. I firmly believe that students embrace learning more when they enjoy the process. In the future, I will encourage students to use PowerPoint for their presentations.

References

Fifield. S., and R. Peifer. 1994. "Enhancing Lecture Presentations in Introductory Biology with Computer-based Multimedia." Journal of College Science Teaching 23(4): 235-239.

Mantei, E. J. 2000. "Using Internet Class Notes and PowerPoint in the Physical Geology Lecture." Journal of College Science Teaching, March/April: 2-6.

McKenzie, J. 2000. "Beyond Edutainment and Technotainment." From Now on, The Educational Technology Journal, 10(1).

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