Weekly Teaching Note
Sep 14 2011
To Post or Not to Post: What Are the Consequences of Posting PowerPoint Slides for Student Learning?

What evidence exists about the impact of giving students a handout of the power point slides before or during class? Do instructors who proved the slides as handouts free students from the multi-tasking associated with copying information from the slides and allow them to concentrate on listening to the presentation and class discussion? Or does having a copy of the slides encourage students to skip class, allow them to surf the web during class, or otherwise disengage?

The study:
Marsh and Sink (2010) examined the content of notes students took during classes in two different conditions—when they had an advance copy of the presentation slides or when they only had blank paper for taking notes. Marsh and Sink also examined student performance on several types of course exams(multiple choice questions, short answer questions, free recall essays).

The findings:
Although students took more notes when they did not have copies of the presentation slides, the notes they took consisted primarily of verbatim copies of the content of the slides presented during class. Both groups recorded additional information from the lecture and discussion that had not been included on the slides, but both groups of students recorded this additional information at equal rates.

What were the consequences for learning? Students who received a copy of the slides as handouts before attending the lecture performed better than students who took notes and received the slide handouts later when both groups were tested with short-answer questions. The groups performed equivalently on other types of questions. Thus, student’s claims that having a copy of the slides in advance helps them focus on the meaning of the lecture by reducing the time they spend recording specific slide content appears to be supported by evidence.

The recommendation:
If you decide to post slides in advance, consider posting a bare-bones variant of the slides you plan to use in class, or even a simple outline of the main points plus a list of terminology. This handout will support note-taking without providing all the detail that might be included on class slides. This strategy creates an incentive to attend class, provides a structure for organizing the notes, and forces students to attend to details included in the class slides and your presentation as they add these details to the notes on their handouts.

  • Marsh, E. J., & Sink, H. E. (2010). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 691-706. doi: 10.1002/acp.1579

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida
Pensacola, FL
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