I am trying to work out if I should release slides for my lectures before or after the actual lectures. I don't think the projectors for the lectures are very good, and I think it would also be nice for students to follow along and also get an idea of the structure of the lecture with slides they can download. On the other hand I'm concerned that having these slides may promote disengagement. The slides are a somewhat cut-down version of the full lecture and won't contain all the details that the live version possesses: this might make the lecture a bit harder to follow along with downloaded slides... but on the other hand it will be clear what details are not going to be included in the downloadable version (so whether or not students need to take notes on such would be clear at the time).

The two approaches are mutually exclusive, so I'm struggling to work out which is the preferred option.

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    Related: Is it common to provide digital notes (slides or handwritten) for students? Some of the suggestions there offer some of that balance you are looking for.
    – ff524
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:10
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    You should keep in mind that slides are in a format that should present information and engage the audience in listening to you. They are not supposed to cram information and serve as thorough lecture notes. Have you considered reformatting your slides and handing out actual lecture notes (formatted as such)? Those are much easier to follow while studying independently. Plus, you won't have to worry about having to put all the information on the slides and you can focus on presenting it with an engaging format.
    – user63725
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:14
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    My answer to the question @ff524 referenced would also be my answer to this question. I am disengaged from a lecture whenever I am writing. I am engaged when I am looking at the board, doodling, or staring off into space. Handing out notes in advance is ideal. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:16
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    @glauc yes: I try to have downloaded slides as a bit more "wordy" and live slides as more oriented towards presentation
    – Stumbler
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:17
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    Then I think you should format them as documents rather than slides. This will also help you engage your students, as they won't know how the slides are formatted. Plus conveying information in a different form can also help them understanding your lecture. And I also agree that distributing before is better than after.
    – user63725
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:21

5 Answers 5


Students generally prefer to have the lecture slides beforehand, and you should let them make their own decisions about whether having the slides out during class will help their ability to concentrate.

On my first day teaching a class, I posted the lecture notes after the lecture, and I immediately got several requests along the lines of "can you post the lecture notes beforehand instead."

If you want engagement from the students, you should earn it by being a better lecturer. Don't try to demand the students' attention by giving them fewer learning tools.

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    That last sentence (especially) is really excellent advice.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 15:40
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    Fair points, in general; but to the last paragraph I would add the cautionary note that what pleases the students is not always what will help them in the long run.
    – Yemon Choi
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 8:50

Here's a couple of questions that might help you put this into perspective.

  • Do you normally expect your students to have read (in at least cursory fashion) the textbook material the lecture is on before or after the lecture itself?
  • Do you provide a calendar of expected lecture topics, and expect this to be useful to them in advance?
  • Do you view your job in this course as one of introducing new concepts, and then leaving it to them to come to grips with these and how to use them through homework? Or of one of helping them understand and apply new concepts?

Now ask yourself how the lecture slides relate to your answers (which may differ depending on the course). If you are already expecting them to have a certain familiarity before you lecture, then what is the distinction that says that providing the slides before you lecture is bad but insisting they read the textbook is not? You don't even need to insist on it, really; the text is already there and they can always read it ahead of time, even if it's not expected of them, same as they could with lecture notes.

I've known a number of mathematics professors and lecturers who feel that the amount of lecture time available is inadequate to fully and properly explore the required topics to their full satisfaction. As such they must make certain concessions. One of the typical ones is to tell the students that they are expected to have performed a basic reading of the material in the textbook prior to the lecture on it. This lets the instructor focus a little bit less on trying to set up all of the new concepts, and leave many of the proofs to the text, and spend a little more on getting them accustomed to using it and understanding it via examples. Especially so in lower division courses such as calculus, where applying it is of greater importance than knowing how to prove it; but rarely so in their graduate courses, where the concepts and proofs are often of much greater importance.

That said, I've not seen even amongst those a consistent philosophy on the provision of lecture notes/slides. Sometimes they object because their notes are not written in a way to be useful to students (only to them), sometimes they object because they think (some of) the students will be lazier if given them, sometimes they provide them slightly before, sometimes long before, etc. And I've not seen any consistent correlation suggesting one approach is better than another; either in student achievement or in student reviews.

You need to figure out what goals your institution expects you to achieve with your course, what your philosophy of teaching is, what it is that will make you the most comfortable and effective at teaching, and how these things play into and impact your decisions. And, of course, always be willing to learn from experience should things not work out as well as you'd planned!


I have used both approaches throughout the years, and honestly still go back and forth about this same issue. One concern is that students may preview your slides ahead of time as a way to gauge whether or not they "need" to attend class. In theory, if they feel comfortable enough with the material you will cover that day, they need not attend. I have used a few techniques to deal with this concern -- If this is your only concern, you could make attendance mandatory and have students sign in. Or, depending on your class size, you could require short in-class activities be completed at the end of lecture (and turned in before they leave). This would not only gauge how much they learned from your lectures, but also would serve the dual purpose of checking attendance.

However all this being said, in my experience, even if students ASK for me to post lecture slides a head of time so they can print them off, very few actually do.


Posting slides, whether beforehand or afterwards, absolutely will encourage some students to either skip class or tune out, especially in intro/required/big-lecture courses. On the other hand, they are useful study aids for many students, especially students with certain disabilities. Since your intention is to flesh out the slides during lecture, you might try some kind of built-in accountability/interactivity such as a mini-quiz on notes you'd like students to take on the slides. The objective is to keep their brains in the on position.


Before, so the students can annotate their copies.

If you're worried that seeing the slides in advance will cause your students to want to skip the class then the problem is the class, not the slides.

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