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I'm working on improving the contents of a university level introductionary course.

Has there been done any research on the impact of lecture slide quality on student learning?

My assumption is that slides that are well structured, follow a theme, spread content over slides in a thought through manner, etc. will give the students better learning. I feel like this is a safe assumption but I've learned not to trust assumption, can this be backed up or contradicted by research results?

The question at hand is whether or not refactoring old lectures is worthwile, as they stand they are sort of hap-hazard and glued together of slides from various lecturers.

  • I would imagine it depends on how important the lecture slides are. If they are the primary source from which students revise, then by all means, improve them as much as you can. But if the slides are just used as an aid in lectures, and students don't typically use them outside of the lectures, then perhaps there are better ways to spend your time than working on the slides. – 101010111100 Jul 15 '16 at 8:36
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    Have you considered avoiding slides entirely? Please? – JeffE Jul 17 '16 at 9:34
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If you're refactoring the course, consider moving away from a mostly lecture-based approach towards more active learning. There is a lot of evidence out there to support the effectiveness of active learning techniques (if used correctly). To paraphrase What Is the Impact of PowerPoint Lectures on Learning? A Brief Review of Research: "PowerPoint or slightly better PowerPoint?" is a less important question than "How can I adapt my lecture course for active learning?"

Having said that, there is some evidence that slide design based on principles from multimedia learning research can have a positive effect on student learning, compared to slides that violate those principles.

For example, in engineering:

[We] compared learning outcomes in 110 engineering students who viewed a technical presentation in which the slides either integrated or violated six multimedia learning principles. The presentation slides that adhered to the six multimedia principles followed the assertion-evidence approach, while the presentation slides that violated the six multimedia principles followed commonly practiced defaults of PowerPoint. Essay responses from the 110 engineering students revealed superior comprehension and fewer misconceptions for the assertion–evidence group as well as lower perceived cognitive load. In addition, stronger recall occurred in this assertion–evidence group at delayed post-test. These findings support the use of the assertion– evidence structure for presentations in engineering education

Source: Garner, Joanna, and Michael Alley. "How the Design of Presentation Slides Affects Audience Comprehension: A Case for the Assertion–Evidence Approach." International Journal of Engineering Education 29.6 (2013): 1564-1579. (PDF)

Here's another example, from medicine:

Methods: A pre-test/post-test control group design was used, in which the traditional-learning group received a lecture on shock using traditionally designed slides and the modified-design group received the same lecture using slides modified in accord with Mayer’s principles of multimedia design. Participants included Year 3 medical students at a private, midwestern medical school progressing through their surgery clerkship during the academic year 2009–2010. The medical school divides students into four groups; each group attends the surgery clerkship during one of the four quarters of the academic year. Students in the second and third quarters served as the modified-design group (n = 91) and students in the fourth-quarter clerkship served as the traditional-design group (n = 39).

Results: Both student cohorts had similar levels of pre-lecture knowledge. Both groups showed significant improvements in retention (p < 0.0001), transfer (p < 0.05) and total scores (p < 0.0001) between the pre- and post-tests. Repeated-measures anova analysis showed statistically significant greater improvements in retention (F = 10.2, p = 0.0016) and total scores (F = 7.13, p = 0.0081) for those students instructed using principles of multimedia design compared with those instructed using the traditional design.

Source: Issa, Nabil, et al. "Applying multimedia design principles enhances learning in medical education." Medical education 45.8 (2011): 818-826. (PDF)

and there were also long-term effects:

Results:  Findings showed that the modified condition group significantly outscored the traditional condition group on delayed tests of transfer given 1 week (d = 0.83) and 4 weeks (d = 1.17) after instruction, and on delayed tests of retention given 1 week (d = 0.83) and 4 weeks (d = 0.79) after instruction. The modified condition group also significantly outperformed the traditional condition group on immediate tests of retention (d = 1.49) and transfer (d = 0.76).

Source: Issa, Nabil, et al. "Teaching for understanding in medical classrooms using multimedia design principles." Medical education 47.4 (2013): 388-396.

A third example:

To measure the effect of a multimedia design principle adherent PowerPoint presentation on test item performance, student satisfaction, student confidence in potential exam performance, and classroom dynamics.Two versions of an identical lecture were presented in different formats over subsequent years (2011, 2012, and 2013). One with traditional PowerPoint slides and the other redesigned to comply with multimedia design principles. Student scores on identical exam items were compared and a voluntary student survey was used to evaluate the activity.Students performed statistically better on identical exam items, were very satisfied (mean = 7.4 of 10) with the redesigned PowerPoint format, confident in their potential exam performance, and a majority (66%) wanted to see pictures and narration more often.Students may retain information better when presented in a multimedia design adherent format. Student reaction was positive and indicates that students may prefer this method to traditional PowerPoint slides.

Source: Pate, Adam, and Savannah Posey. "Effects of applying multimedia design principles in PowerPoint lecture redesign." Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning 2.8 (2016): 235-239.

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RE: assumption vs. research results: It would be quite a challenge to accurately measure how much a largely cosmetic change in a course might affect student learning. Personally, I've always thought that the quality of the slides sends a message to the audience: low-quality slides can have an adverse affect on student morale, motivation, and attention spans, while well-designed slides could have a positive impact by keeping students more engaged and perhaps even improving long-term retention.

Proving my assumption quantitatively as opposed to anecdotally, however, would be a challenge. I suppose I could teach two sections: one with a set of "cohesive" slides and the other with a set of "haphazard" slides, and compare student performance. Even if I conducted that experiment, it's often difficult to get reliable data that way. (Any difference in scores could be due to other factors, such as what time of day each section was taught, or the raw talent of the students in each section.)

About my remarks on the "quality" of my slides, there are several practices I often employ regularly; for example:

  • Replace bullets with pictorial cues
  • Add occasional humorous cultural references in strategic places
  • Add discussion questions intended to launch an in-class discussion
  • Pepper the lecture with active learning activities

Based on student remarks (via in-class comments and end-of-course surveys), I get the feeling that my efforts are appreciated, and it's worth the time I invest. Last year, one student put his hand up in the middle of a lecture last year, and asked me, "How much time do you spend on your slides?" He told me outright that he appreciated the effort. Another student in that same section was engaged to an intern who was working for me on a committee. She told me, "My fiancé says he really enjoys your class; it's more interesting than most."

As with many things in learning, though, it's all about tradeoffs. While I feel my slides help facilitate a more lively and interactive presentation, I've also been told that my slides are great during lectures, but not such a good resource for studying. Moreover, I'm an adjunct professor, so it's not like I'm committing time that would be better spent on research.

RE: The question at hand is whether or not refactoring old lectures is worthwhile, as they stand they are sort of hap-hazard and glued together of slides from various lecturers: I think it would be worthwhile, but maybe you could refactor them gradually over time, so it wasn't such an enormous task. Try to get them into a cohesive theme and smooth the transitions as you continually improve the course.

As much as I admire your thirst for hard data, there are times to go with your gut. If you cringe at the haphazard feel of your presentation, perhaps your students are noticing, too.

One last hint to consider: If getting the slides more cohesive is a daunting task, perhaps you can hire a student to do some of the heavy lifting. We did that for a course that needed a lot of material moved from written notes into PowerPoint. It was an efficient way to get much of the work done at a very reasonable cost.

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I don't think there's any research on 'slide quality and its effect on student learning'. I would imagine that it is very difficult to separate just the effect of slide quality from other factors affecting student learning.

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    This really doesn't answer the question. – ff524 Jul 15 '16 at 8:40
  • I was trying to answer to "Has there been done any research on the impact of lecture slide quality on student learning?" – Regel Jul 15 '16 at 8:43
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    @ff524: This is quite obviously a direct response to the question "Has there been done any research on the impact of lecture slide quality on student learning?" The answer claims there has not. Whether it is correct or not is a different matter, but it does answer the question posed. – Dan Fox Jul 15 '16 at 9:17
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    I guess I don't really think of "I don't know" as an answer. It's more the type of thing I would expect to see in a comment. – ff524 Jul 15 '16 at 9:24

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