Teaching Reflection: Presentation Slides

I listen to a lot of podcasts. A number of them relate to teaching and research practices, previously I have kept a notebook of reflections. I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts about certain episodes and how I will implement ideas into practice, but also consider my own institution’s advice, and provide a space for conversation and later reflection.

I listened to The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast with Jennifer Gonzalez – ‘Episode 129: Let’s Make Better Slideshows.’ Gonzalez makes seven recommendations on how to improve presentations, some you would think are pretty basic but need to be said:

  1. Put it in presentation mode, apparently, there are people out there that still do this – what a horrific way of presenting!
  2. Cut back on the text – out of the seven suggestions this is the one that I know I have to watch for as I sometimes get carried away with providing facts. Gonzalez suggests short phrases as bullet notes with notes section for additional detail or creating a handout. My institute suggests using a maximum of six bullet points per slide.
  3. Update your assets – holy crap it is so obvious when people are using old slides. Gonzalez suggests updating things like clipart (who even uses clipart anymore?) There are websites with free stock photographs that are not copyright restricted. To be fair, I have a subscription to stock images so that I have a larger library of images to use. You can also access copyright-free images in Google (instructions provided). It also helps that my partner is an illustrator and graphic designer when I want something unique. Gonzalez also has a comprehensive blog post on ‘Ethical use of using images online.’
  4. Create previews and signposts – let the audience know that your presentation is organised by providing an outline slide of what you are going to cover. Signpost your discussion as you go along to relax your audience.
  5. Go light on the animations – I don’t use animations, it does my head in. I don’t have time or the inclination to do this. Further, they do not work on online live lecture software our institution uses. I did it once to try to be fancy, never again.
  6. Keep things consistent – this is personally something that drives me a little made seeing different sizes of fonts and things not being visually appealing.
  7. Proofread – out LOUD.

I think the key issue not specifically mentioned by Gonzalez as she focuses on presentations done in person, but she touches on it through her suggestions is – accessibility. Good presentations don’t just look good but improve the accessibility of documents for groups such as:

  • English as a second language.
  • Specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia.
  • Autistic, such as Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Deaf/hearing impairment.
  • Blind/visual impairment.

The key recommendation with university training modules is to check accessibility in PowerPoint. To access this tool is super easy!

  1. Choose Review tab.
  2. Check Accessibility.
  3. Report provided.
  4. DONE, it’s that easy.
Screen Shot of slide showing accessibility checker report
Screen Shot of slide showing accessibility checker report

I reviewed several of my presentations from last semester to see where I could improve. The key issues showed that because I use a lot of images on my slides is that I need to work on including alternate text descriptions and include headings on slides with images (these do not have to be visible but present to be voiced by screen readers).

My institute’s advice in addition to using the accessibility tool is to:

  1. Structure the content of slidesusing the built-in templates.
  2. Give each slide a unique title. Check the reading order of the slides.
  3. Keep the background clear and provide good colour contrast between background and text.
  4. Leave text left-aligned, keep text to a minimum and with a minimum recommended font size of 24pt.
  5. Use up to a maximum of six bullet points per slide. Use punctuation at the end of each list item.

Another suggestion is to keep the image size small so the presentation does not take too long to download. Within our institute Blackboard and online lecture software limit the size of the upload. Office also provide additional hints and tips for accessibility. A key suggestion from Office is to set the reading order of content on slides.

Screen Shot of slide showing order of slide content
Screen Shot of slide showing order of slide content

Key things I’m going to change/work on are:

  1. Provide text descriptions of images and headings.
  2. Reduce text on slides – I’ll try no more than six bullet points.
  3. Increase font to a minimum of 24 pt – I currently use 34 pt for headings and 18 pt for the text below.
  4. Add transcripts or captions for presentations – this is something that I am going to experiment with for the coming semester. I would like to do this with all my lectures. However, I’m not sure how practical it will be for me to achieve this, I will experiment with software and see what works well.

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