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Pedagogy Meets PowerPoint: A Research Review of the Effects of Computer-Generated Slides in the Classroom

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The present essay offers a comprehensive review of the effects of computer-generated slides in the classroom, beginning with an overview of the ongoing debate over whether. To date, much of this debate has been testimonial in nature; in an effort to move beyond testimonials, this essay will attempt to ground the pedagogical debate over PowerPoint in various learning theories. Extant research on such slides is examined in four subcategories: (1) student reactions; (2) learning outcomes; (3) learning styles; and (4) slide variation effects. This essay closes with a discussion of how various research findings help inform (but by no means settle) the debate over PowerPoint and pedagogy.
Pedagogy Meets PowerPoint:
A Research Review of the Effects of
Computer-Generated Slides in the
Classroom
David G. Levasseur & J. Kanan Sawyer
The present essay offers a comprehensive review of the effects of computer-generated
slides in the classroom, beginning with an overview of the ongoing debate over whether.
To date, much of this debate has been testimonial in nature; in an effort to move beyond
testimonials, this essay will attempt to ground the pedagogical debate over PowerPoint in
various learning theories. Extant research on such slides is examined in four
subcategories: (1) student reactions; (2) learning outcomes; (3) learning styles; and
(4) slide variation effects. This essay closes with a discussion of how various research
findings help inform (but by no means settle) the debate over PowerPoint and pedagogy.
Today, watching a business presentation without accompanying PowerPoint slides is
like watching a film without sound. Presentation software has become a pervasive
communicative medium. In fact, Microsoft estimates that 1.25 million PowerPoint
presentations take place every hour (Mahin, 2004), and one survey study found that
such presentation software is used to create 97% of visual aids in today’s
organizations (McCannon & Morse, 1999). As Boston Globe Technology Editor
D. C. Denison (2000) observes, PowerPoint today is ‘‘nearly unavoidable. Over the
last 10 years, it has slowly, inexorably worked its way to the center of the business
world’ ( 7). Along with this exploding growth, computer-generated slides have
produced a growing body of criticism, which Downing and Garmon (2001) describe
as the ‘PowerPoint backlash (p. 220). Perhaps the most prominent critic in this
‘backlash movement is Yale graphic design professor Edward Tufte. In his routinely
David G. Levasseur (Ph.D., 1994) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies
at West Chester University. J. Kanan Sawyer (Ph.D., 2004) is Assistant Professor in the Department of
Communication Studies at West Chester University. Correspondence to: David G. Levasseur, Communi-
cation Studies Department, 520 Main Hall, West Chester University, West Chester, PA 19383, USA. Email:
dlevasseur@wcupa.edu.
ISSN 1535-8593 (online) # 2006 National Communication Association
DOI: 10.1080/15358590600763383
The Review of Communication
Vol. 6, No. 12, January April 2006, pp. 101 123
cited monograph The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (2003), Tufte compares Power-
Point to a drug that is ‘making us stupid, degrading the quality and credibility of our
communication and ‘turning us into bores’ (p. 24). Reflecting Tufte’s views, critics
have referred to the increasing use of PowerPoint as an ‘‘insidious trend’’ (Bly, 2001,
1), warned that ‘friends don’t let friends use PowerPoint’ (Stewart, 2001, p. 210),
asked if PowerPoint is ‘counterproductive to business success’ (Lovelace, 2001, p.
74), and requested that PowerPoint be allowed to die in peace’’ (Simons, 2002, p. 6).
Apparently heeding such criticism, one Fortune 500 company has gone so far as to
ban the use of PowerPoint in its presentations (Nunberg, 1999).
Higher education has certainly not been immune from the growing influence of
presentation software. Such software is now one of ‘‘the most prevalent types of
technology being used in the classroom (Atkins-Sayre, Hopkins, Mohundro, &
Sayre, 1998, p. 3). The experience at our university aptly illustrates this trend. Five
years ago, none of our department’s classrooms were equipped to show multimedia
slides. At present, all of our classrooms have been upgraded with such technology,
and faculty are actively encouraged to incorporate slides into their lectures. Our
institution is certainly not alone in this trend. A large number of educators in the
United States use PowerPoint in their classrooms (Gates, 2002), and college students
have come to expect the use of computer-generated slides in their courses (Rickman
& Grudzinski, 2000).
Just as the business community has begun to reexamine the use of computer-
generated slides in professional presentations, it seems appropriate for academics to
assess the effects of such slides in the classroom. Fortunately, as computer-generated
slides have grown in popularity as a teaching tool, they have also sparked an
abundance of studies exploring their pedagogical consequences. To date, no attempt
has been made to assemble and assess this growing body of research. Downing and
Garmon (2001) have produced a brief review of ‘‘prior research on the effectiveness of
presentation slides’ (p. 221). However, this review only incorporates four studies and
fails to examine the larger body of relevant research.
A more encompassing research review is of particular importance to the
communication discipline. In higher education, our discipline is largely responsible
for training public speakers. At present, such training often involves instruction on
the use of computer-generated slides. In fact, the subject of incorporating PowerPoint
into the public speaking classroom recently generated a very active and divided
discussion amongst communication scholars over CRTnet (for a review of this
discussion see LeBlanc, 2001). This largely polarized discussion suggests that this
communicative medium can produce varied results. A similar debate on the problems
and promise of PowerPoint recently appeared in two special editions of the journal
Business Communication Quarterly (Worley & Dyrud, 2004a, 2004b). We suggest that
this ongoing scholarly debate over PowerPoint’s pedagogical power should make
better use of the expansive research on computer-generated slides in the classroom.
This body of research represents the best extant work on the effects of such slides. It
also represents the focus of the present research review.
102 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
The present essay offers a comprehensive review of the effects of computer-
generated slides in the classroom. When using the term computer-generated slides,
we are specifically referring to instructors projecting slides via computers and
presentation software to assist with lecture and/or discussion. In the education
technology research tradition, using computers in this fashion is commonly referred
to as computer-assisted teaching’ (Bryant & Hunton, 2000, p. 131). Of course, this
begs the question: what pedagogically distinguishes computer-generated slides from
other forms of lecture aids?
Salomon (1994), in his seminal work on media and cognition, argues that each
technological medium entails some particular, even unique, attributes that matter or
can be made to matter in learning’ (p. 2). Thus, education research should seek to
‘identify those classes of unique attributes’ as well as uncover ‘the ways in which
they can contribute to learning’’ (p. 2). To Salomon, these essential attributes reside in
medias ‘symbols systems.’’ Symbol systems encompass symbolic variables such as
‘structure, color, concreteness, pace, difficulty’ etc. (p. 14). Salomon also observes
that a meaningful media attribute should make some discernible difference in
‘information processing’ (p. 62). Hence, any attempt to discern the pedagogical
significance of computer-generated slides must center on how such slides symboli-
cally convey instructional messages and on how such symbols alter information
processing.
Does PowerPoint meaningfully alter the way material is presented to and processed
by students? In comparison to more traditional lecture aids such as a chalkboard or
an overhead projector, computer-generated slides possess multiple attributes
designed to produce more sensory stimulation. In relation to the visual sense, such
slides allow instructors to move from static to dynamic visuals; slides can incorporate
motion through features such as transition effects, builds, and animation. Computer-
generated slides transmitted through data projectors also convey richer (higher
resolution) graphics than other lecture aids. In addition, these slides allow instructors
to enhance lectures with both auditory and visual stimuli. Slide shows can
incorporate sounds through transition sound effects, imported music files, etc. If
the various attributes of computer-generated slides lead to instructional messages
with greater appeal to the human senses, then such slides should also alter the way
students process instructional messages. These processing differences are explored
more fully in the next section of this essay.
Of course, all of the various attributes of computer-generated slides associated with
sensory stimulation will not be present in every classroom PowerPoint presentation.
Salomon (1994) observes that ‘the factors of a medium that can contribute to
learning’ are not ‘always present whenever the medium is employed’ (p. 6). The
research to date on the pedagogical effects of computer-generated slides has often
failed to make this distinction. In some studies, as we will illustrate as we move
through this essay, researchers have exploited the fundamental attributes of this
medium. In other studies, instructional messages conveyed by computer-generated
slides could just as easily appear on overhead transparencies. Still other studies have
failed to specify the exact nature of the slides used in the research. In an effort to
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 103
delineate thoroughly the present state of research on this topic, this review has
included all studies on the use of computer-generated slides in the classroom
irrespective of slide design (although slide design is discussed extensively throughout
this essay). However, the comprehensive nature of this review is not intended to go
beyond the purview of computer-generated slides. Therefore, this review only
includes studies isolating the effects of computer-generated slides as an accompani-
ment to class lecture, and it does not encompass the more expansive topic of
‘multimedia’’ learning because multimedia can refer to host of educational
technologies.
1
To help ground the research findings reported in this review, this essay begins with
an overview of the ongoing debate over computer-generated slides in the classroom.
Much of this debate has been testimonial in nature; instructors using computer-
generated slides report on what they like and dislike about this technology. In an
effort to move beyond testimonials, this essay will attempt to ground the pedagogical
debate over PowerPoint in various learning theories. This review will then move on to
examine the extant research on such slides in four subcategories: (1) student
reactions; (2) learning outcomes; (3) learning styles; and (4) slide variation effects.
This essay will close with a discussion of how various research findings help inform
(but by no means settle) the debate over PowerPoint and pedagogy.
The Pedagogical Debate Over Computer-Generated Slides
If the fundamental attributes of computer-generated slides increase the sensory
stimulation of instructional messages, how might this increased stimulation either
improve or inhibit information processing? Ironically, the theoretical concepts of
arousal and dual coding can explain how such slides have the potential to both help
and hinder the processing of educational messages. Below, these theoretical ideas are
used to make the case for and against the use of such slides in the classroom.
Arousal is one of the key constructs in the study of human emotion and
motivation. In this expansive body of literature, researchers have connected
heightened arousal with media attributes such as motion (Detenber & Simons,
1998), color (Farley & Grant, 1976), vivid images (Biocca, 2002), and music
(Seidman, 1981). In fact, media messages containing high levels of sensory
stimulation are generally associated with high levels of audience arousal (Grabe,
2000). From this research, one could surmise that computer-generated slides, which
stimulate the visual and auditory senses, should augment students’ arousal levels.
How would such arousal affect information processing? Research indicates that
arousal influences how individuals encode and store messages. Specifically, indivi-
duals pay more attention to arousing messages, and they also recall such messages
better (Grabe, 2000).
Moreover, arousal theory (Weiner, 1990, 1992) posits a positive link between
arousal and learning. In more specific terms, emotionally arousing instructional
materials enhance learning motivation and subsequent learning outcomes. Thus, the
literature on arousal could support the claim that adding PowerPoint to the
104 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
classroom should lead to a more interested and motivated class. Instructors working
with this technology have seemingly witnessed such effects. For example, professors
incorporating PowerPoint into their classes have observed that this medium seems to
enliven the classroom environment’ (Davis, 1998, p. 9) and make course work
exciting and interesting to students’ (Goggin, Finkenberg, & Morrow, 1997, p. 281).
Weiner’s (1990, 1992) arousal theory is not the only foundation for the use of
presentation software in the classroom.
Paivio’s dual coding theory (1990) can also be used to make the case for the
pedagogical benefits of computer-generated slides. Dual coding suggests that human
information processing involves two independent, yet interconnected, systems: a
verbal system and a visual system (for a basic review of dual coding theory see Paivio,
1971, 1990). Processing in both systems (combining verbal and visual information)
yields better results. A large body of research stemming from dual coding theory has
found that individuals learn more effectively through a combination of verbal and
visual information (Mayer, 2001). Since computer-generated slides allow instructors
readily to combine compelling visuals (on the slides) with verbal lecture, such slides
should augment students’ abilities to process instructional information effectively
(Butler & Mautz, 1996).
Dual coding theory also suggests that individuals exhibit preferences for verbal or
visual systems (Paivio, 1971). Put somewhat differently, some students exhibit a
visualizer learning preference while others possess a verbalizer learning preference
(Plass, Chun, Mayer, & Leutner, 1998). Pedagogical research has devoted significant
attention to the topic of learning styles. In general, this research suggests that students
bring different learning preferences into the classroom and that students learn more
from pedagogical approaches suited to their preferences (Dunn, 2000). Classroom
instruction should therefore appeal to diverse learning styles (Claxton & Murell,
1987). Following this dictum, effective educational messages should be well suited to
both visual and verbal learning preferences. Computer-generated slides, as Butler and
Mautz (1996) observe, combine verbal (oral lecture and slide text) with visual
elements (slide images). Therefore, when compared to traditional verbal lecture,
instruction incorporating computer-generated slides should better appeal to the
broad array of student learning preferences. As Dils (2000) succinctly puts it,
‘PowerPoint presentations can effectively reach verbal, kinesthetic, and visual
learning styles’ (p. 102).
While pedagogical theory can be used to construct a strong argument in support of
PowerPoint in the classroom, such theory can also be used to construct a compelling
case for keeping this medium out of the classroom. Constructing this alternative
argument necessitates a return to the arousal construct. Limited capacity models of
information processing, most notably Lang’s (2000), explain why arousing messages
can impede information processing. Adding computer-generated slides to lecture
places additional information processing demands upon the audience. In fact,
arousing material makes particularly high demands on information processing
resources; research indicates that ‘messages that have arousing content require more
cognitive capacity to process than messages that are relatively calm (Lang, Potter, &
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 105
Bolls, 1999, p. 149). Thus, an antagonistic relationship exists between humans’ finite
processing capacity and arousing messages that rapidly consume this capacity. In this
antagonistic relationship, arousing content can overload information processing
resources. An audience experiencing such overload is unable to effectively encode,
store, or retrieve messages (Lang, 2000). Alluding to this particular problem, one
instructor who has worked extensively with computer-generated slides observed that
such slides often contain a ‘barrage of varied information in different modes’ and
‘run the risk of overwhelming our information processing capacities’ (Lowe, 1992,
p. 38).
More importantly, if computer-generated slides in the classroom overtax students’
information processing resources, then there is a good chance that students will
process less significant instructional content at the expense of more significant
instructional content. Cognitive psychologists have not only found that humans
process visual and verbal messages differently (as outlined in dual coding theory
above), they have also uncovered key differences in how humans process visual and
auditory messages. Put simply, humans are able to process visual information more
readily than auditory information (Basil, 1994). Consequently, when great demands
are made upon an audience’s information processing resources, audience members
are still quite adept at processing visual material. However, their ability to process
auditory messages suffers significantly (Lang et al., 1999). This difference in audio
and visual processing reveals a potential problem with computer-generated slides in
the classroom. When an instructor adds interesting visual elements to a lecture
through computer-generated slides, the slides may make great demands on students’
processing resources. In this case, the stimulating visuals are likely to be processed
more effectively than the less stimulating, but often far more essential, lecture content
presented in verbal/spoken form. This may explain why an audience member
suffering through a PowerPoint presentation complained, ‘I couldnt concentrate on
what the speaker was saying’ because ‘‘the pyrotechnics of the presentation kept
getting in the way’ (Lovelace, 2001, 5). Making a similar point, one lecturer
remarked, ‘[I]f ever the medium obscured the message it is with the fumbling
attempts to use this technology [PowerPoint]’ (Osborne, 2000, p. 44).
Since the arousing content on computer-generated slides shifts audience attention
from the lecturer to the stimulating material projected on the screen, one could also
argue that this technology lowers the quality of studentteacher interactions. The
communication discipline has devoted significant attention to the pedagogical
benefits of teacher immediacy. As Witt and Wheeless (2001) observe, ‘‘Collective
research has found teacher immediacy, both verbal and nonverbal, to be an effective
instructional strategy that enhances cognitive and affective learning’ (p. 327).
Nonverbal immediacy behaviors are nonlinguistic acts that reduce the ‘‘physical and
psychological distance between teacher and students’ (Witt & Wheeless, 2001,
p. 327). Nonverbal immediacy cues include eye gaze, smiling, nodding, relaxed body
posture, and forward body lean (Andersen, 1979). If computer-generated slides create
a classroom environment in which student attention is primarily focused on slides
rather than on the teacher, then this environment would largely conceal a teacher’s
106 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
nonverbal immediacy behaviors. This may be why Pauw (2002) argues that using
PowerPoint slides in the classroom creates a ‘disembodied learning environment that
constrains interpersonal engagement’ (p. 40). In short, computer-generated slides
may impede close connections between teacher and students and therefore also
reduce learning outcomes.
Computer-generated slides in the classroom have certainly sparked a very active
debate on the merits of this communicative medium. This debate has also produced a
great deal of empirical research attempting to sort out these competing claims. The
next four sections of this essay divide this research into categories based upon key
independent and dependent variables examined in this research tradition.
Student Reactions to Computer-Generated Slides
Perhaps the most extensive body of research on computer-generated slides in the
classroom centers on student reactions to such slides. Most of these studies have
utilized some variation of a two-group post-test experimental design. Essentially, one
group receives instruction using computer-generated slides while the other group
does not. Students in both conditions complete a post-test eliciting their reactions to
the classroom instruction. Such studies include Atkins-Sayre et al. (1998), Bushong
(1998), Butler and Mautz (1996), Daniels (1999), DeBord, Aruguete, and Muhlig
(2004), Jensen and Sandlin (1992), Luna and McKenzie (1997), Mantei (2000), Perry
and Perry (1998), Susskind (2005), Weinraub (1998), and Wilmoth and Wybraniec
(1998). Other studies have employed a simple ex post facto design (one treatment
group with post-test). In these studies instructors simply incorporated computer-
generated slides into their instructional approach and then asked students to react to
the use of these slides. Such studies include Anderson (1996), Blokzijl and Naeff
(2004), Davis (1998), Frey and Birnbaum (2002), Harknett and Cobane (1997),
McAdams and Duclos (1999), McConnell (1996), Nowaczyk, Santos, and Patron
(1998), Parks (1999), Pippert and Moore (1999), Sammons (1995), Seaman (1998),
Smith and Woody (2000), and Szabo and Hastings (2000, study I).
Virtually all of these studies have shown that students respond quite positively to
the use of computer-generated slides in the classroom. In a sampling of these
findings: Atkins-Sayre et al. (1998) found that 71% of the public speaking course
students involved in the study reported a desire to see computer-generated slides used
in other courses; Daniels (1999) remarked that students’ reaction to computer-
generated slides was overwhelmingly positive. ... [O]ver three-quarters of the
students preferred the slides to the chalkboard’ (p. 53); Davis (1998) reported that
76% of subjects strongly agreed with a statement indicating that they enjoyed the
instructor’s use of computer-generated slides; Luna and McKenzie (1997) indicated
that 73% of the students involved in their study felt computer-generated slides
represented a ‘positive addition to the course’’ (Qualitative Results section, 3); and
Sammons (1995) discovered in a study of 500 students across several disciplines that
89% of respondents answered ‘‘yes when asked if their institution should continue
‘to promote the use of computer-aided presentations’’ (Student Results section, 5).
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 107
All of these studies examined student populations in the United States. However,
students’ preference for computer-generated slides extends beyond U.S. borders.
Evidence indicates that Dutch students prefer PowerPoint just as much as their
American counterparts (Blokzijl & Naeff, 2004).
Computer-generated slides have also fared well in comparison to other forms of
classroom media. Students report preferring computer-generated slides to the
chalkboard (Beets & Lobingier, 2001; Daniels, 1999; Frey & Birnbaum, 2002; Perry
& Perry, 1998) and to the use of overheads (Blokzijl & Naeff, 2004; Butler & Mautz,
1996; Perry & Perry, 1998; Smith & Woody, 2000; Weinraub, 1998).
2
In their survey
research, Perry and Perry (1998) asked students to indicate their preferences for
various classroom presentation methods (computer-generated slides, overheads,
chalkboard and straight lecture), and 97% of respondents selected computer-
generated slides as their top preference.
On a more specific level, studies have attempted to ascertain why students respond
so favorably to computer-generated slides. Students have indicated that such slides
help improve the organization of the course and their notes (Anderson, 1996; Frey &
Birnbaum, 2002; Pippert & Moore, 1999; Sammons, 1995; Susskind, 2005; Szabo &
Hastings, 2000, study I; Wilmoth & Wybraniec, 1998). Students have also reported
that they learn course material more effectively from computer-generated slides
(Atkins-Sayre et al., 1998; Bartsch & Cobern, 2003, study I; Bushong, 1998; Butler &
Mautz, 1996; Mantei, 2000; McConnell, 1996; Nowaczyk et al., 1998; Perry & Perry,
1998; Pippert & Moore, 1999; Sammons, 1995; Susskind, 2005; Szabo & Hastings,
2000, study I; Wilmoth & Wybraniec, 1998). In addition, survey results suggest that
students simply find classes with computer-generated slides more interesting and
entertaining (Butler & Mautz, 1996; Frey & Birnbaum, 2002; Mantei, 2000;
McConnell, 1996; Nowaczyk et al., 1998; Perry & Perry, 1998; Pippert & Moore,
1999; Sammons, 1995; Susskind, 2005; Szabo & Hastings, 2000, study I; Wilmoth &
Wybraniec, 1998).
Has extent research elicited any negative student reactions to the instructional use
of computer-generated slides? On the negative side, Nowaczyk et al. (1998) found
that students subjected to high levels of computer-generated slides gave low course
ratings on a classroom interaction scale; that is, ‘‘[S]tudents indicated some
dissatisfaction with the classroom interactions in their final evaluation (Results
section, 5). This same theme was expressed by graduate teaching assistants in focus
groups (Pippert & Moore, 1999). These teaching assistants voiced their concern that
the frequent use of PowerPoint lowered the quality of teacherstudent interactions.
In an interesting but somewhat isolated result (Parks, 1999), students reported that
the instructional use of computer-generated slides made it ‘far easier to sleep’ in
class (PowerPoint section, 4).
Critics of computer-generated slides contend that using such technology may
adversely affect teacherstudent relationships. Existing studies yield conflicting data
on this issue. Results in several studies suggest that using computer-generated slides
actually improves students’ perceptions of their instructor. For instance, Atkins-Sayre
et al. (1998) found that instructors gained credibility with increased use of computer-
108 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
generated slides. Results in another study comparing student reactions to traditional
visuals versus computer-generated slides showed that students in the slide condition
displayed more positive attitudes toward the speaker [teacher]’ (Butler & Mautz,
1996, p. 275). Weinraub (1998) similarly found that the biggest difference between
groups receiving computer-generated slide instruction and those receiving instruc-
tion via transparencies was that students in the former condition showed an
‘improved attitude about the instructor’s ability to teach’ (p. 91). Further confirming
PowerPoint’s positive impact on instructor credibility, students in one study
indicated that their professor did a better job’ when class ‘lectures included
PowerPoint’ (Susskind, 2005, p. 209), and students in another study (Wilmoth &
Wybraniec, 1998) expressed a greater willingness to take additional courses from
instructors who use computer-generated slides.
In contrast to these positive credibility effects associated with computer-generated
slides, Pippert and Moore (1999) concluded that this technology distanced
professors. In their study, the lowest rated element on student evaluations of
instructors using computer-generated slides centered on the ‘professor’s interest in
the students, including availability for questions and consultation (p. 101). In
qualitative responses recorded on student surveys, Sammons (1995) similarly
observed that students frequently expressed concerns about the classes becoming
depersonalized’ with the use of computer-generated slides (General Comments
section, 8).
Computer-Generated Slides and Learning Outcomes
Certainly, how students react to computer-generated slides in the classroom is an
important question. To many, a more important question centers on whether or not
such technology actually improves student learning outcomes. Some would argue
that computer-generated slides have no impact on student learning. Such individuals
contend that students’ performance on class exams and assignments generally does
not improve when class material is presented via computer-generated slides. Others
believe that this technology greatly enhances the learning process. Studies to date lend
some support to each of these opposing perspectives. In an effort to explain these
somewhat mixed findings, this section breaks this research tradition on computer-
generated slides and learning outcomes into various research designs.
Several studies have examined how computer-generated slides affect learning
outcomes by employing a two-group post-test experimental design looking at the
effects of a specific lecture. In studies such as these, one group receives the lecture
material with the aid of computer-generated slides. The other group, serving as a
control condition, receives no slide-based instruction. In some cases, the control
group is not exposed to any visual media (Bushong, 1998). In other studies, this
secondary group receives lecture material with the assistance of an overhead projector
(Ahmed, 1998; Butler & Mautz, 1996; Ricer, Filak, & Short, 2005; Weinraub, 1998). In
these experimental design studies, the dependent variable is generally measured as
student performance on a quiz, test, or assignment connected to the lecture. Four out
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 109
of the five studies employing this design (Ahmed, 1998; Bushong, 1998; Butler &
Mautz, 1996; Ricer et al., 2005) found no improvement in student performance in the
computer-generated slide treatment groups.
3
The Weinraub (1998) study stands out
as the exception. This particular study involved four sections of a corporate finance
class. Two sections, during the Fall 1996 term, received a 100-minute lecture with the
aid of overhead transparencies. In the following Winter term, two sections of this
course received the same lecture with the aid of computer-generated slides. The
transparency treatment group was given handouts of the lecture notes while students
in the computer-generated slide group received printed copies of the slides. The study
identified student performance on 12 exam problems pertaining to this specific
lecture as the dependent variable. On this particular set of problems, students in the
computer-generated slide treatment group scored 8.3% higher than their counter-
parts who received instruction with overheads.
Other studies examining the pedagogical effects of computer-generated slides have
incorporated a research design that eliminates some of the confounds resulting from
using separate university classes as treatment groups. In this counterbalanced research
design, each group is exposed to all treatments at different times. Illustrating this
approach, Beets and Lobingier (2001) studied three sections of an accounting
principles course. In each section, one third of the class used the chalkboard as a
lecture aid, one third utilized an overhead projector, and the remaining third made
use of computer-generated slides. Which section of the course made use of which
visual medium was varied by class. To assess learning effects, researchers measured
student performance on tests associated with each third of the course. The study
found no significant differences in student performance across the three visual media
conditions. Using a similar experimental approach, Szabo and Hastings (2000, study
III), Bartsch and Cobern (2003, study I), and Susskind (2005) uncovered no
significant differences in learning outcomes when comparing overheads against
computer-generated slides.
Another study by Szabo and Hastings (2000, study II) used an alternative research
design to examine student performance in a research methods course. In this
particular class, the instructor taught for one week with an overhead projector and
chalkboard. The following week, the instructor lectured with computer-generated
slides and gave students printed copies of these slides (handed out at the beginning of
class). At the end of each week, students received a multiple-choice test derived from
that week’s lecture material. This study did uncover significant differences in test
performance across treatment groups. Specifically, students’ average percentage grade
for the overhead/chalkboard condition (49%) was much lower than the average grade
resulting from computer-generated slides (75%). It is worth noting, however, that
this research design stands out as an anomaly in this research tradition, and with
good reason; this particular design, which found large, positive learning effects from
computer-generated slides, suffers from an obvious internal validity problem: each
condition involved unique course material. As a consequence of this validity problem,
there is no way to tell if the differences in classroom content or classroom technology
produced the differences in students’ performance.
110 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
In the most commonly employed approach to studying how computer-generated
slides affect learning outcomes, researchers have contrasted students’ performance
across an entire course taught with or without such slides. For example, Rankin and
Hoaas (2001) taught two sections of an introduction to economics course during
successive semesters. During one semester, course instruction involved no computer-
generated slides. The following semester, the instructor used computer-generated
slides extensively. Such studies have generally measured learning effects based upon
student performance on course exams and assignments. Most research employing this
methodology has found that adding computer-generated slides to a class results in no
significant differences in learning outcomes (Daniels, 1999; DeBord et al., 2004;
Rankin & Hoaas, 2001; Smith & Woody, 2000; Szabo & Hastings, 2000, study I).
Other studies taking a similar approach have reached contrary conclusions (Jensen &
Sandlin, 1992; Lowry, 1999; Mantei, 2000; Wilmoth & Wybraniec, 1998).
In the first of these studies to arrive at a contrary conclusion (Jensen & Sandlin,
1992), researchers examined PowerPoint’s effect on a fairly small sample (n
/34) of
accounting students. Results showed that students who received instruction with
computer-generated slides somewhat dramatically outperformed those receiving no
such slide-based instruction (mean final exam scores of 229 and 159 respectively).
Lowry (1999) examined student performance over three years in an environmental
science course. During the 1994/95 term, all course visuals came in the form of
overhead transparencies. During the 1995/96 term, the instructor utilized PowerPoint
for all course visuals. Mean student examination scores jumped from 43.5 (with
overheads) to 51.8 (with PowerPoint). The Mantei (2000) study focused on several
years of a geology lecture class (with an approximate size of 75 students). From 1994
to 1996, students taking this course received instruction without computer-generated
slides. In 1997 and 1998, such slides were added to the course. Student mean exam
scores improved from 70.3% in 1994 to 76.0% in 1998. Wilmoth and Wybraniec’s
(1998) experiment examined teaching in a social statistics course. Three sections of
the course (19951996) used no computer-generated slides. Three additional sections
of the course (19961997) involved instruction with such slides. Students’ final
grades improved from 80.52% (non-slide classes) to 84.08% (classes with slides).
In its totality, what does the research on the learning effects from computer-
generated slides tell us? The majority of extant studies have found no significant
change in learning outcomes when instructors augment their lectures with computer-
generated slides. In contrast to this overall trend, two studies have associated large
learning increases with such slides (Jensen & Sandlin, 1992; Szabo & Hastings, 2000,
study II). However, both of these studies suffer from serious shortcomings. Jensen
and Sandlins (1992) findings were based on an extremely small sample, and the
Szabo and Hastings study (2000, study II) had questionable internal validity. What of
the other studies without such deficiencies that found moderate learning improve-
ments with computer-generated slides (Lowry, 1999; Mantei, 2000; Weinraub, 1998;
Wilmoth & Wybraniec, 1998)? All of these studies, with one exception (Lowry, 1999),
contain a notable similarity; students in computer-generated slide treatment groups
either received (handouts) or could print out (via the web) copies of the classroom
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 111
slides.
4
What of the studies finding no learning improvements with computer-
generated slides? None of these studies gave students access, either in or out of class,
to copies of lecture slides.
Consequently, the learning effects uncovered in this research tradition may not be
the result of using computer-generated slides in the classroom; instead, these effects
may simply stem from students having copies of a thorough and organized set of class
notes. Or, these learning effects may result from the combination of computer-
generated slides coupled with student access to copies of these slides. Some
instructors working with this technology have argued that PowerPoint does not
work well in the classroom unless students can obtain copies of the PowerPoint slides.
Without such access, students engage in a frenzied note-taking effort to transfer
everything from the screen to their notes. As one instructor complained, students
‘wind up missing too much of the lecture because they are so busy writing’’ (Navarro,
1998, p. 109). Similarly, Parks (1999) reported positive results from handing out
printed copies of lecture slides: ‘[S]tudents could then concentrate on taking notes
on my lecture (writing the notes in the space next to the printed slide) rather than
hurriedly writing down what was on the slide’ (PowerPoint section, 2). Echoing
this instructor’s sentiments, students seem to love having access to copies of
classroom PowerPoint slides. In one classroom study (Frey & Birnbaum, 2002) in
which students could access copies of course PowerPoint slides on the Web (students
were instructed to bring printed copies of course slides with them to class), students
offered high praise for their instructor’s decision to provide them with online access
to class slides. In this particular study, 80% of the students agreed that the copies of
course slides helped them to take notes during lectures and 91% indicated that these
copies assisted them in studying course material. Students clearly see benefits from
having copies of classroom slides, and existing research seems to confirm these
benefits. That is, PowerPoint seems to enhance learning when students can print out
copies of course slides.
Of course, some instructors are fearful that providing students with classroom
slides will adversely affect student attendance. One such instructor reported that his
students liked receiving printed copies of PowerPoint slides because they no longer
felt compelled to come to class (reported in Carrell & Menzel, 2001). Studies focusing
on the educational impact of computer-generated slides have not found any adverse
attendance effects resulting from such slides (Beets & Lobingier, 2001; Daniels, 1999;
McConnell, 1996). In fact, Daniels (1999) found that adding computer-generated
slides to her course actually improved student attendance. It is important to note,
however, that students involved in these particular classroom experiments did not
have access to printed course slides. In one study in which students could access
copies of course slides (Frey & Birnbaum, 2002), students’ survey responses indicated
that PowerPoint’s presence in the course would in no way alter their attendance
behavior. Of course, self-reported predictions of attendance behavior may not serve
as the best measure of actual attendance practices. Therefore, the exact nature of the
relationship between giving students copies of course slides and students’ classroom
attendance remains unknown, an unanswered question for future research.
112 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
Learning Styles and Computer-Generated Slides
Pedagogical research has recently devoted considerable attention to student learning
styles (Dunn, 2000). In this area of scholarship, some research has endeavored to
explore the connection between such styles and the educational use of computer-
generated slides. In particular, two studies (Butler & Mautz, 1996; Smith & Woody,
2000) focused on student preferences for visual or verbal learning. In Butler and
Mautz’s research, student preferences for verbal or imagery representation were
measured by the Individual Differences Questionnaire (from Paivio & Harshman,
1983). Study results showed that the majority (46 out of 60) of subjects (accounting
majors) preferred imagery representation. This study also reported significant
interaction effects between students’ preferred methods of representation (imagery
vs. verbal), classroom media treatment (computer-generated slides vs. overheads),
and learning outcomes. Specifically, subjects who received their preferred method of
representation performed better on a post-test than those who did not. Moreover,
results showed, ‘[S]ubjects who strongly prefer verbal representation are better at
adapting to a multi-media format than are subjects who strongly prefer imagery and
have to adapt to the traditional presentation (p. 271). In the Smith and Woody
(2000) experiment, participant learning preferences were measured with the
Assessment of Visual Versus Verbal Orientation Instrument (constructed by Childers,
Houston, & Heckler, 1985). This study again uncovered significant interaction effects
between media (computer-generated slides vs. overheads), learning style (visual vs.
verbal), and learning outcomes. In particular, exam scores ‘in the standard class
[using overheads] were higher among low-visual students (M
/73.9) than among
high visual students (M
/62.4)’ (p. 222). A similar trend was noted in the
multimedia class; high visual students performed better (M
/75.6) than low visual
learners (M
/68.6). This difference, however, only approached significance (p/.25).
Some scholars have examined how other learning preferences might interact with
computer-generated slides. For example, Beets and Lobingier (2001) used a
questionnaire to assess student preferences for different forms of classroom media
(chalkboard, overheads, or computer-generated slides). The majority of students
(54%) indicated a preference for computer-generated slides. Study results also
showed that, ‘‘[S]tudents who experienced their preferred technique had higher exam
scores than their classmates who were not exposed to their preferred method’ (p.
234). In one example of this trend, when the class made use of computer-generated
slides, students who indicated a preference for this teaching technology achieved a
mean exam score of 76.1. Their mean exam score dropped to 69.08 when their
instructor only made use of the chalkboard.
In yet another approach to learning styles in this research area, Daniels (1999)
explored the relationship between students’ Myers-Briggs learning styles and the
learning outcomes associated with using computer-generated slides in the classroom.
Results revealed that students having a ‘sensing-judging style’ (students who prefer
structure in the classroom) did much better when exposed to computer-generated
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 113
slides than their classmates with a ‘sensing-perceiving’ preference (students who
prefer to learn from hands-on experience).
In summary, exploring the relationship between computer-generated slides and
student learning preferences is a somewhat nascent area of research*comprising at
present only four studies. While such a limited research base can only yield tentative
conclusions, there is some consistency across results. In particular, Butler and Mautz
(1996), Beets and Lobingier (2001), and Smith and Woody (2000) all found that
students performed better in classes catering to their learning preferences. That is,
students indicating a preference for visual learning or for the use of computer-
generated slides were more successful in classes which incorporated such slides. These
results are consistent with the general conclusion emerging from learning style
research that students are more successful with pedagogical approaches suited to their
learning preferences (Dunn, 2000). Also, it is interesting to note that two studies
(Butler & Mautz, 1996; Smith & Woody, 2000) found that students with visual
learning preferences in traditional classes (without computer-generated slides) are at
a greater disadvantage than students with verbal learning preferences enrolled in
courses featuring computer-generated slides.
Computer-Generated Slide Variation Studies
Messages across mediums can be constructed in a variety of ways. Programs used to
construct computer-generated slides allow instructors to use text, visuals, sound,
animation, etc. As with any communicative channel, how instructors choose to use
the medium can determine the effectiveness of their instructional messages.
Unfortunately, very little research to date has examined the effects of various forms
of computer-generated slides in the classroom. Only six studies (Bartsch & Cobern,
2003, studies I & II; Blokzijl & Naeff, 2004; Earnest, 2003; Pippert & Moore, 1999;
Szabo & Hastings, 2000, study I) have investigated such qualities.
Bartsch and Cobern (2003, study I) compared ‘Basic PowerPoint presentations
with text only information against ‘Expanded PowerPoint’ slide shows with pictures,
sound, and moving text. This particular experiment generated somewhat intriguing
results; students actually performed more poorly on outcome measures (quizzes) in
the Expanded PowerPoint condition (mean quiz scores dropped from 8.41 to 7.49).
Pursuing a similar line of research, Pippert and Moore (1999) compared the
effectiveness of static and dynamic slide presentations. A static presentation involves
no-motion slides containing text and graphics, whereas a dynamic presentation
incorporates motion into the slide design (shifting colors, audio enhancements, video
clips, etc.). Study results showed no significant difference in student test scores
resulting from the two slide conditions. Both studies failed to uncover any significant
differences in students’ affective responses to the alternative slide forms.
Looking at the specific impact of image relevance in slide design, Bartsch and
Cobern (2003, study II) conducted an experiment grounded in a PowerPoint
presentation with 30 ‘‘fact-based slides’’ (p. 83). Within this presentation, one third of
the slides presented facts in text only form, another third contained facts in text form
114 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
along with a related image, and the remaining third displayed facts in a text message
accompanied by an unrelated image. A recollection test served as the dependent
measure. Results showed no statistically significant difference between student
recollection in the text only and text plus related image conditions. However, student
test scores dropped for slides containing text displayed with an unrelated image
(means scored dropped from 2.0 [text only] to 1.33 [text
/unrelated image]).
Earnest (2003) specifically set out to determine how slide design was perceived by
students in a classroom setting. Students were shown variations of a PowerPoint
presentation on a single subject. While holding the verbal content constant, Earnest’s
studies varied elements of slide design including font and background contrast,
animation, and font size. His studies did not examine pictures, clip art, or slide
templates. Earnest’s research findings generated two key conclusions: first, ‘[S]pea-
kers should avoid using the white/medium blue color combination on their slides,
and second, ‘[S]peakers, when given an option to select a high contrast color
combination or a medium color contrast combination, can expect their audiences to
be more satisfied with the high contrast combination (p. 77).
Like Earnest, Szabo and Hastings (2000, study I) examined student reactions to
different aspects of computer-generated slides. In their research, students received an
extended classroom module using PowerPoint. Subjects then responded to a
questionnaire attempting ‘to identify those aspects of PowerPoint slides that are
most appreciated by the students’ (p. 178). In their questionnaire responses, students
showed the most appreciation for the following five aspects of computer-generated
slides: (1) ‘‘variation of the fonts’’; (2) the use of illustrations; (3) a preference for
light backgrounds; (4) the use of colors; and (5) ‘the line-by-line projection of the
lecture concepts’ (p. 181). Similarly, Blokzijl and Naeff (2004) asked Dutch students
about their preferences for certain design elements in PowerPoint slides. In this study,
quantitative survey results revealed that students generally disliked sound effects and
animations (moving images on the slides). In their qualitative responses, students
expressed a general preference for slides with: (1) large fonts; (2) a consistent design;
(3) a ‘solid and quiet background’’; (4) ‘no busy colors’’; and (5) color combinations
with significant contrast (p. 76).
At present, it is difficult to draw any general conclusions across the limited number
of studies exploring slide variation. Keeping this limitation in mind, one provocative
trend does emerge in this inchoate research area. Three studies (Bartsch & Cobern,
2003, studies I & II; Pippert & Moore, 1999) have contrasted simple slide designs
against more elaborate slides. All three of these studies found that adding more
elements to computer-generated slides did not result in more learning. In fact, results
in two studies (Bartsch & Cobern, studies I & II) revealed that more elaborate slide
constructions can actually result in less learning.
Discussion
Do computer-generated slides enhance audience learning? This question has
generated a very active debate in the education and business communities. Learning
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 115
and cognitive theories actually lend support to both sides in this dispute. The
empirical studies reviewed in this essay provide an additional layer of insight into this
debate. This closing section will link this research to relevant theory in order to
provide a deeper understanding of the effects of computer-generated slides.
As outlined at the outset of this essay, computer-generated slides should allow
lecturers to produce more arousing (stimulating to the senses) instructional
messages. Inferentially, existing studies lend support to the argument that such
slides produce a more stimulating classroom experience. Student evaluations
consistently suggest that students find classes with computer-generated slides more
enjoyable, more interesting, and more exciting. However, students’ enjoyment of this
technological classroom innovation may be time dependent. Clark (1983) has
observed that newer forms of media often benefit from a ‘novelty effect’ in the
classroom (p. 448). That is, students may enjoy a new medium simply because of its
newness. Clark points out that the positive effects from any new classroom
technology tend to diminish over time as students become more familiar with the
medium. Computer-generated slides have only recently become a pervasive presence
in the classroom. Future research should explore if student reactions remain positive
with increasing exposure to this technology.
The fact that students find computer-generated slides stimulating does not
necessarily indicate that such stimulation leads to improved learning. After all,
arousal is a double-edged pedagogical instrument. Arousal leads to heightened
attention (which should improve information processing), but it can also overwhelm
limited cognitive capacity (which should impair information processing). Student
self-report data support the former educational outcome. In study after study,
students report learning more in classes with computer-generated slides. Of course,
self-report data are always suspect because subjects may offer inaccurate responses,
and student self-report data on technology-based learning outcomes are particularly
suspect. In his literature review on learning from media, Clark (1983) has pointed out
that students have a tendency to choose those media carrying methods that
inadvertently result in less learning for them (p. 455).
Studies actually assessing learning outcomes derived from computer-generated
slides offer qualified support for Clark’s admonition. These studies do not suggest
that students prefer a technological medium (computer-generated slides) that results
in less learning; however, they do suggest that students prefer a medium that does not
generally produce more learning. Put simply, the majority of studies comparing
computer-generated slide-based instruction against other instructional methods have
failed to find significant differences in learning outcomes. Once again, the arousal
construct may help explain such results. Lectures accompanied by computer-
generated slides seem to involve more arousing (enjoyable/interesting) instructional
messages, but these arousing messages do not lead to more learning. Since arousal
can both help and hinder information processing, computer-generated slides may
produce messages that are both more interesting and more difficult to process. These
contradictory cognitive pressures may explain why such slides generally fail to
improve learning outcomes.
116 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
However, studies do point to one notable exception to this trend. Computer-
generated slides appear to enhance learning when students have access to copies of
classroom slides. One could certainly make the case that when students come to class
with printed copies of lecture slides, they have additional time to cognitively process
lecture material in that they can spend less time writing and more time listening.
Greater processing time may help students overcome the excessive cognitive load
demands made by arousing PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately, research to date
has not isolated the exact learning effects of printed slides.
Overall, the results of learning outcome studies are quite discouraging given the
high level of investment in this communication technology. Instructors utilizing
computer-generated slides in the classroom consistently report that producing such
slides consumes a considerable amount of their time. Pippert and Moore (1999), who
kept a journal on their classroom experience with PowerPoint, recorded that creating
a slide show for a single lecture would often take two to three hours. The results of
computer-generated slide learning outcome studies are also quite discouraging
because such slides should be able to augment student learning. Research on
information processing, particularly work on dual-coding theory (for a review see
Paivio, 1990) and on the cognitive theory of multimedia learning (for a review see
Mayer, 2001), strongly suggests that instructional messages with visual and verbal
components (such as class lecture coupled with visual computer-generated slides)
should be far more effective than messages without any visual element (such as class
lecture without such slides).
Perhaps extant research on computer-generated slides has generally failed to
uncover such positive learning effects because researchers have actually explored the
misuse of this technology. Such a possibility is consistent with Leidner and
Jarvenpaas (1993) observation that often the potential benefits of computer-based
learning are lost because educators fail to use the technology effectively. In studies
uncovering no discernible learning benefits from computer-generated slides, it is
difficult to tell exactly how educators utilized this technology because the research has
generally failed to specify the exact nature of the slides. In the few studies offering
some discussion of slide design, one experiment (Bushong, 1998) incorporated purely
verbal slides (slides with only bulleted text), while another (Susskind, 2005) primarily
utilized verbal slides. Such slides fail to exploit the fundamental attributes of this
media technology (the ability to enhance sensory stimulation). By constructing all-
text slides, instructors may actually under-utilize this communicative medium. Three
studies (Ahmed, 1998; Bartsch & Cobern, 2003, study I; Butler & Mautz, 1996)
specifically incorporated computer-generated slides containing visual images. How-
ever, these studies fail to discuss the exact nature of these images, and images can
possess differing levels of pedagogical worth. For instance, highly arousing images
with little educational relevance (e.g., superfluous clip art) may merely increase
cognitive load while imparting few cognitive benefits. Such an observation is
supported by Garner and colleagues’ work on seductive details (Garner, Brown,
Sanders, & Menke, 1992), which warns that adding stimulating but irrelevant
material to instructional messages hampers the effectiveness of such messages.
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 117
Similarly, Mayer’s (2001) studies on multimedia learning, particularly work on the
coherence effect, suggest that irrelevant images added to multimedia lessons actually
impair student learning. Perhaps instructors attempting to realize fully the sensory
potential of computer-generated slides have actually overused this communicative
medium.
Computer-generated slides adhering to certain design principles might consistently
enhance learning. Unfortunately, existing research offers little guidance on the design
process. To date, very few studies have attempted to ascertain the learning effects
from various forms of computer-generated slides. While public speaking texts in the
communication discipline are filled with prescriptive advice for effective slide
construction (e.g., use a consistent slide template), such advice is generally based
on practitioner intuition rather than empirical research. Clearly, future scholarship
needs to uncover design principles that would allow educators to generate discernable
learning improvements from this teaching technology.
Learning style theory also has a place in the debate over PowerPoint in the
classroom. According to this literature, instructors should appeal to diverse learning
styles. Lectures enhanced with computer-generated slides should aptly appeal to both
visual and verbal learners. The scant research in this area does indicate that
computer-generated slides enhance learning outcomes for visual learners. Certainly,
additional research needs to examine the interaction effects between computer-
generated slides and learning styles. The visual/verbal learning distinction may
become increasingly important in the future. Jamieson (1988), among others, has
argued that technology today is leading to a more visually-oriented culture. If
students follow this trend, then computer-generated slides, which seem to benefit
visual learners, may become increasingly beneficial in the classroom. Moreover,
visual/verbal learning preferences have been found to play a significant role in
students’ selection of academic majors (Harshman & Paivio, 1987). At present, we do
not know if communication majors favor visual or verbal learning. Answering this
question would help the field assess the likely benefits of using computer-generated
slides in communication classrooms.
Finally, the literature on teacher immediacy can also play a useful role in the
pedagogical debate over computer-generated slides. This literature would seem to
argue against such technology because it creates a depersonalized classroom
environment. The actual empirical findings on this issue are somewhat mixed. In
some studies, students have complained that instruction with computer-generated
slides is less interactive and less student-focused. Other studies have found instructors
actually enhancing their credibility by adding slides to their classes. What is clear
from student evaluations is that such slides, on balance, seem to create a positive
learning experience. In other words, whatever negative affect is produced by
computer-generated slides, through factors such as lower immediacy, appears to be
outweighed by the positive affect they create.
Communication professors not only incorporate computer-generated slides into
their classrooms, they also instruct students on the proper use of such slides.
Today, public speaking courses often include units on PowerPoint presentations.
118 D. G. Levasseur & J. K. Sawyer
Does the pedagogical research on computer-generated slides offer any insights for
such PowerPoint training? A wealth of data suggests that such slides have become
an integral part of presentations both inside and outside the university. Such data
support some educators’ (e.g., LeBlanc, 2001; Patten, 2001) contention that
PowerPoint instruction should become a mandatory part of the public speaking
classroom because it has become a mandatory accompaniment to presentations in
the working world. Hopefully, such instruction involves more than simple
software training; it should also convey the limitations of this technology. In
relation to instructional/informative messages, extant studies suggest that
computer-generated slides offer little advantage over other types of presentation
aids. That is, computer-generated slides generally produce no significant
differences in learning outcomes when compared to more traditional forms of
visual aids such as simple chalkboards or overhead projectors. Consequently,
public speaking students need to understand that presentation slides may not
always be worth the effort.
Ideally, our students will not simply fall into step with a working world that
devotes huge blocks of time to the creation of presentation slideshows. In one recent
survey of professionals, 58% of respondents reported that it takes over three hours to
create a slideshow for a half-hour talk (Hill, 2005). In addition, the majority of
respondents indicated that they create about 30 such slideshows on an annual basis. Is
all of this time devoted to computer-generated slides worth the effort? Perhaps.
Research, after all, does show positive learning effects from computer-generated slides
when audience members can access copies of a speaker’s slides. Moreover, various
information processing theories have found pedagogical power in messages
combining verbal and visual elements. Such positive learning effects may arise
infrequently from computer-generated slide studies because this medium is fairly
difficult to use effectively and fairly easy to use ineffectively. Hence, public speaking
students need to learn that making computer-generated slides worth the effort
involves carefully designing slides with greater information processing benefits than
costs.
Research into the pedagogical effects of computer-generated slides also reveals an
important audience analysis lesson for pubic speaking students. In study after study,
students appear quite partial to computer-generated slides. They also report learning
more from such slides. Learning outcome studies squarely challenge this belief, and
they also challenge the notion that the audience always knows best. In our electronic
age, media attempt to cater to every audience want and desire. In this servile media
environment, it is easy for speakers to fall prey to a similar audience analysis process.
Speakers, however, need to remember that audiences may want certain forms of
media that do little to help convey the speaker’s message. When analyzing an
audience, speakers should not simply focus on the audiences desire for computer-
generated slides; rather, they should focus on whether or not such slides allow the
audience to more effectively process the speaker’s message.
Effects of Computer-Generated Slides 119
Notes
[1] Studies examining the pedagogical effects of ‘‘multimedia’ have incorporated a variety of
educational technologies. Some studies using the term ‘multimedia have simply looked at
the effects of computer-generated slides. These studies, since they isolate the effects of such
slides, are included in the present review.
[2] The Butler and Mautz (1996) study actually contrasted standard black and white (text only)
computer-generated slides with multimedia slides (computer-generated slides containing
text, graphics, color, and motion). In the study, the researchers classified the former slides as
‘traditional’ visual aids since these visuals merely replicated overhead transparencies.
[3] The Ahmed study results contain no test of statistical significance. However, the reported
data clearly reveal that computer-generated slides did not improve student learning
outcomes; students in the overhead condition outperformed their counterparts in the
computer-generated slide condition on most of the test questions serving as the dependent
variable.
[4] The Lowry (1999) study may serve as the exception due to a unique feature in this particular
experiment. This study not only involved adding PowerPoint to course lectures, it also added
PowerPoint as a non-lecture problem-solving tool; in non-lecture settings, students attended
timed PowerPoint presentations demonstrating step-by-step solutions to course problems.
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