Considering how to put Slide:ology’s principles into practice

Today’s class was on using PowerPoint (or other presentation software) more effectively as teachers. The students’ preparation was reading Nancy Duarte’s “Slide:ology: The art and science of creating great presentations” and identifying 5 to 10 tips and strategies that they could use in creating slides for their own teaching.

We started class with an activity. I told them they were going to have to “take a stand” and become a human Likert Scale. We walked into the college’s courtyard, and I asked them to place themselves on a continuum:

“Based on your experience as an undergraduate student, how often is PowerPoint used in classes you’ve had?” [This is a graduate course. Most of the class are doctoral students.]

One student stood alone, as she was returning to grad school after more than 10 years in the work force. She has seen little PowerPoint as a student. Another student was at the other end, saying that almost every undergraduate class she had — almost every class of every course — used PowerPoint. The rest of the students were clustered toward the lots-of-PowerPoint end of our human Likert Scale.

“Based on your experience as a student, how effectively is PowerPoint used in classes?”

No one took the stand that, overall, PowerPoint had been used very well. One student did take a stand that most of the PowerPoint she’d experienced was used poorly. Most students were clustered in the middle. The use of PowerPoint had been … so-so.

I then put them into small groups.

If PowerPoint (or another presentation package) is used so often in higher education teaching, how could we help teachers use this technology more effectively?

Each group was to develop suggestions, based on their reading of Slide:ology, for a workshop for teachers on using PowerPoint more effectively.

Here were some of their proposals for workshop objectives:

  • Think about PowerPoint from the students’ perspective. That included thinking about how much of every day could mean watching PowerPoint presentations. How could those presentations become more interesting? For example, embedding an appropriate YouTube video clip.
  • Recognize that some faculty may not go beyond the templates and bulleted lists because they don’t know the options that presentation packages provide. So the workshop could include an overview to the software.
  • Present the fundamentals that Slide:ology discusses, from limiting the amount of text to thinking more visually about what one is teaching.
  • Remind teachers that other strategies can be used in addition to or besides PowerPoint.

Their proposed workshops included activities, such as including a discussion of design principles and showing some before-and-after slides to illustrate how improvements could be made. One group suggested that faculty would work in small groups to create a slideshow during the workshop. Another group suggested that each faculty member would create or improve a slide.

We all agreed that such a workshop would need to consider the teachers as an audience:

Some will have been using PowerPoint in what they thought was an appropriate manner and would be turned off to the workshop if their approach to PowerPoint was critiqued in an critical manner. So just as we as teachers need to be able to constructively comment on our students’ efforts, such a workshop must take that approach, too.

Faculty members’ experience with presentation software will vary greatly so a one-size-fits-all workshop won’t be the best approach. Someone who has been embedding YouTube videos in slides will consider a workshop on the fundamentals to be a waste of time. Someone who is just learning the very basics will be overwhelmed if the workshop is too advanced.

We also agreed that the book’s discussion about the time involved in developing an effective slide presentation was different for a business setting than in higher education. A faculty member can have the goals for creating slides that have impact, clarity and effectiveness just as a business professional. However, the faculty member may be teaching several classes every week and may be creating numerous slide presentations during a 15-week course. And at a research-focused university, like the University of Florida, teaching is important for faculty success, but so are other factors, such as research and obtaining grants.


  1. Your human Likert scale was a great idea. Moreover, thanks for helping students understand how to utilize PowerPoint effectively. It’s the visuals that matter.

    Apple uses presentation software (its Keynote brand, but the concepts apply to Brand X’s PowerPoint) perfectly during its presentations led by Steve Jobs. Lots of pictures, graphics and charts. Little text.


  2. You mentioned an issue that we discussed. People often use the term “PowerPoint” for any slide presentation when, in fact, the slide presentation may have been made in another software program, such as Apple’s Keynote. I told of the fact error made in an article that discussed Al Gore’s use of PowerPoint in his movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore, who was a member of the Apple board of directors, used Keynote for that presentation and even was seen in the movie using a Mac laptop.


  3. While faculty at my institution certainly could learn a lot from Slide:ology, I honestly can’t imagine more than a few of them feeling they have the time to learn all the features of the software required to produce the beautiful slides featured in the book.

    Instead, I simply advise them to use slides only to show visuals or spell out difficult words, and never to use a font size smaller than 30 point. I also remind them that they’re going to have students in their classes who have learning or physical disabilities that they don’t disclose to the instructor, so they need to remember that when they’re deciding whether or not to use slides. Finally, I recommend Edward Tufte’s brief Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

    The human Likert scale is a good idea, one I’ve used myself in smaller classes. They don’t work as well in high-enrollment classes (here we’re up to 900 students in a class–criminal!) One professor here with a large class helps her students imagine a continuum across the front of the lecture hall, then asks them to call out their individual positions on it as she walks across the room.

    Thanks for this post!


    1. You offer good advice for your colleagues. Those tips of limiting the number of slides and increasing the point size of slides would solve many of the problems with slide use. I agree that creating those multi-layered visuals described in Slide:ology would take a great deal of time and, at at place like the University of Florida, wouldn’t be seen as a wise use of time by colleagues or administrators if that takes time away from research efforts. I appreciate your feedback.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: