Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Presenting in unfamiliar rooms

A number of tutors at my university encounter problems when they attempt to use Powerpoint in unfamilair teaching rooms. To help with this, I've written a short FAQ to help deal with some of the more common problems.
I'd be grateful for any feedback.

Different models of using PowerPoint

People use PowerPoint in various ways. Some models of use derive from business, some from the conference environment and others from teachers. This article looks at exemplars from all three.

Reynolds 'billboard-style' model

  • Slides are designed in the style of a billboard, i.e. graphics with a strong visual impact and only a small amount of text. Example.
  • The aim is to enhance what the speaker is saying.
  • Images can play an important role in supporting learning – or in generating an emotional response.

Reynolds, G (2008) Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, New Riders Press

Atkinson's narrative model

  • This model is based on the idea that speakers should use the power of narrative in their presentations.
  • Atkinson suggests that an effective presentation should be organised on the lines of the classic three act story structure.
  • Act1: Identify the setting, the protagonist (usually the audience), the imbalance, the balance, the solution.
  • Act 2: The action is developed culminating in a crisis.
  • Act 3: The crisis is resolved.
  • Slides are designed with text and graphics tightly linked but less emphasis is placed on creating billboard-style screens.

Atkinson, C (2005) Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire, Microsoft Press

Norman's audio-visual model

  • Donald Norman defends the use of PowerPoint. He maintains that it is an excellent tool and one can’t blame the tool if it’s used badly.
  • He proposes a model of use - akin to the way audio-visual aids were traditionally used. He assumes the audience will take notes.
  • A presentation – or talk – should use three resources:
  1. Speaker’s notes on paper or cards. These contain brief points to guide the speaker.
  2. Visuals which are displayed using PowerPoint.
  3. A handout for the audience which contains references and suggestions to follow up the ideas discussed.

Norman, D (2004) In Defense of PowerPoint, (Accessed 22.4.09)

Alley's assertion-evidence model

  • This model uses a sentence-assertion at the top of the slide.
  • Below it comes evidence to support the assertion – but in visual form.
  • Alley makes three key assumptions for using this structure:
  1. Slides are an appropriate visual aid for presentations.
  2. The success of a presentation hangs on the audience being able to understand the content of the slides.
  3. The primary purpose of the slides is to help the audience understand the content rather than to provide talking points for the speaker.

Alley, M (2003) The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, NY: Springer-Verlag

Active learning model

An assumption of this model is that a PowerPoint presentation can induce passivity in students. This model is designed to keep students actively involved in their learning. For this reason, ‘active learning’ slides are inserted at key moments in the lecture. The aim is to encourage students to think actively about the lecture content – either individually or through discussion in pairs or small groups. A wide range of practical activity slides are demonstrated.

The model gives importance to the design of PowerPoint handouts. These might contain questions for students to answer before the start of the lecture to help them prepare – or blank slides where students are expected to take notes during the lecture.

Centre for Teaching & Learning (2008) Active learning with PowerPoint, Univ. of Minnesota (Accessed 22.4.09)

Teacher immediacy model

Two assumptions underpin this model, i.e. that PowerPoint can:

  1. reduce ‘teacher immediacy’ and thereby harm the quality of teaching.
  2. sometimes sideline other – often more appropriate – teaching tools.

This model is similar to Norman’s ‘audio visual’ model. It uses a minimal number of slides – and only where it is judged to be necessary for learning. When not needed, the presentation is blanked out on the screen. This causes students to turn from the screen towards the teacher and helps maintain teacher immediacy.

PowerPoint is not given paramount position; other digital tools are used as needed, e.g. the interactive whiteboard is called up and used when writing is required; a browser is used to display web pages; video and audio are played through Media Player and so on.

The model creates ‘space’ for the teacher to engage more easily with students and vice-versa. The ‘tyranny’ of the PowerPoint screen presence can inhibit some students from asking questions in a lecture.

Lodge, J (2008) Keeping PowerPoint in its (rightful) place, (Accessed 22.4.09)

Slides & notes model

  • This model includes a written commentary on each slide. It uses the Notes section in PowerPoint to type up the commentary.
  • Such a model can be useful when a presentation will be uploaded to the web for students to view (rather like this presentation).
  • It can also be useful when several tutors are teaching the same module. The Notes can contain background information needed by the teaching team. Especially practical for visiting lecturers who have to play catch-up when they come into college.

Selecting an appropriate model

Note that the models which derive from a business or conferences origin make use of a receptive theory of education. The speaker talks and the audience receives the information . No interaction between the two is planned for; except perhaps at the end, when some questions may be posed for the speaker to answer.

Those models which derive from an educational origin are more sensitive to the needs for audience interaction and provide scope for a wider range of pedagogies. This is not to argue that only educationally-inspired models should be considered for use in lectures. There is much that tutors can learn form other models – especially in relation to slide design and presentation structure.