Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Increased Student Learning and Attendance in Resources Geology through the Combination of Sentence-Headline Slides and Active Learning Measures

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Increased Student Learning and Attendance in Resources Geology through the Combination of Sentence-Headline Slides and Active Learning Measures

Article excerpt


This study assessed how combining active learning measures with teaching slides that relied on sentence headlines affected test scores and attendance in a large resources geology course. For all six sections of the course, the following remained the same: instructor, classroom, semester time slot, and number of teaching slides. For two sections, though, we transformed the existing teaching slides that followed the traditional design of a phrase headline supported by a bulleted list (and often an image) to a sentence-headline design supported by visual evidence. In this new design, the sentence headline stated the main assertion of the slide. To increase active participation, we posted these sentence-headline slides as fill-in-the-blank notes, as opposed to complete slides as posted for the other sections. To increase attendance in these two sections, we administered a graded activity in each class period. These two sections had statistically significant increases (p < 0.001) in both class attendance and test scores on identical questions.


In many science classes, instructors project teaching slides during class and post those slides online as a set of notes for the students to download. Although this teaching strategy is not appropriate for every classroom situation, several studies have shown that using projected slides, as opposed to traditional teaching methods, in certain classroom situations leads to statistical increases in test scores. For instance, Mantei (2000) found such increases from using a combination of computer projected slides and internet notes, as opposed to the traditional board lecture, in a large physical geology course. In addition, Lowry (1999) found similar increases from using computer projected slides, as opposed to overhead transparencies, in a large environmental science course.

Our paper focuses on the design and integration of teaching slides for those situations in which projected slides are appropriate for communicating the course content. Because Microsoft PowerPoint dominates 95% of the market share of slide-making software (Parker, 2001), PowerPoint's defaults greatly affect the design of such teaching slides. These defaults often lead instructors to create slides with a short headline, typically a phrase, that is supported by a list of bulleted points. Recent studies have found that a sentence-headline slide design, as opposed to the default design of PowerPoint, produces statistically significant increases in audience comprehension and recall of information (Alley et al., 2005), especially when the assertion to be recalled lies in the sentence headline (Alley et al., 2006).

This sentence-headline design, which is documented by Alley and Neeley (2005) and in the first Google listing for the topic presentation slides (Alley, 2004), features a succinct sentence headline that states the main assertion of the slide. That headline is then supported by visual evidence, rather than bulleted lists, in the body of the slide. To make efficient the transfer and retention of information, the design has specific typography and layout guidelines (Alley and Neeley, 2005). Although not yet recognized as a standard for classroom instruction, this sentence-headline design is becoming more prevalent in the presentation or geoscience research. For instance, in her Geological Society of America Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecture series, Barbara Bekins (2005) adopted this design and found it to be successful. Figure 1 shows a transformation of a slide from the traditional design to this sentence-headline design.

Our paper assesses the effect of using a combination of active learning measures and this design of sentence-headline slides in a large introductory geologic resources course for non-majors. Our paper considers the effect of this combination not only on test scores, but also on class attendance.


Using a sentence headline rather than a phrase headline on a teaching slide provides three advantages in the teaching and learning of the material (Alley and Neeley, 2005). …

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