The Effective Use of PowerPoint to Facilitate Active Learning

Article excerpt

As you enter your class, you once again become aware of the dull, lifeless, bored expressions on the students' faces. It is not that you don't know your material, but getting students to stay focused on the lecture content is a challenge. Students yawn and blankly stare at your latest PowerPoint presentation, put their heads on the desk, and doodle in their notes while attempting to discretely steal a glance at their cell phone messages. To no avail, you have tried pep-talks, encouraged students to take notes and ask questions, and called on specific students to respond to questions. However, students do not seem to be interested in taking responsibility for their learning. You are at your wits end and are beginning to question your competence as a faculty member as well as the students' commitment to the educational process in their selected academic major. You decide to research effective teaching and discover that abundant information is available. You discover that your style of teaching is teacher centered and may not provide enough opportunities for student involvement. In fact, you find that statistics uniformly support active learning because it encourages creative thinking, resulting in better long-term retention of information.

Teacher-centered instruction is characterized by a number of factors that must be recognized and understood before changes can take place. Often, teachers fail to consider that the students' ability to focus on a lecture is limited and is only a one-way process in which the teacher disseminates material to students (Benjamin, 2002).This notion also negates the idea that students can actually learn from one another. The "sage on the stage" believes that if he or she teaches well (effectively delivers information), students will learn. Too often teachers fail to recognize that each student has a unique style of learning (Dunn & Dunn, 1978) and different strengths in one or more of Gardner's "multiple intelligences" (Armstrong, 1994; Gardner, 1983). If the teacher uses a teaching approach suited for only one style of learning, then a number of students will be mired in an ineffectual learning environment. It is imperative that the teacher construct an instructional process that lends itself to multiple learning styles in order to enable, rejuvenate, and refresh learning experiences. This article describes some of the methods one can use to develop a PowerPoint presentation that facilitates active learning experiences for diverse learners.

The Use of PowerPoint

Although PowerPoint is a tool that holds great potential for engaging students, in all likelihood it is grossly overused and misused in 21st-century teaching. Using PowerPoint for presentations took hold in the late 1990s. It was a novel approach to instruction--so novel that students were transfixed by such presentations. In very short order PowerPoint became the staple mode for delivering lectures. As it became more common in classrooms, students became increasingly disengaged in PowerPoint-augmented lectures. There are several issues contributing to audience disengagement. First, the instructor relies on PowerPoint solely as an outline with graphics and animations to hold student interest. Secondly, the concept of a classroom as a community of students is compromised when the instructor merely gives the students elaborated information from the PowerPoint screen. In addition, students take on a passive role as recipients of information (even young adults can manage to focus on a lecture for only 12-15 minutes; Russell, Hendricson, & Herbert, 1984).

Figure 1 is a slide taken from a PowerPoint lesson in a measurement and evaluation course. At face value, the slide merely outlines points that are elaborated in a lecture. Although the slide is somewhat colorful and attention grabbing, requiring students to look at the slides and listen, uninterrupted, for 50 minutes is tantamount to inviting them to take a nap during the lesson. …