Tips to improve our PowerPoint presentations

Despite the availability of valuable alternatives, PowerPoint is still the most used technological platform in college classrooms. However, its actual pedagogical potential is rarely achieved and most of the time instructors employ it as a simple visual transposition for their lectures. In order to tackle this issue, Professor Ronald A. Berk wrote an article that summarizes most of the research conducted to identify the best strategies to express the educational potential of PowerPoint, which is, in my opinion, worth learning from.

Berk makes a distinction between “basic features and uses” and “rich media,” where the former indicates those features all the instructors are more familiar with, while the latter designates instructional tools like videos, music, movement.

In reviewing the academic research on the basic features, Berk outlines a series of directions to optimize the learning process and improve the way in which instructors build their slides, which can be recapped in few useful points: 1) minimize the background since it should not distract the students from the content. 2) The length of the text and bullet points should be reduced as much as possible, at the same time it is important to create a conceptual hierarchy using the given visual options (upper lower cases, bold, italics etc.) 3) headlines should be a full sentence as opposed to a single word or a phrase. 4) The best way to make the text readable is to pick up high-contrast color using a cool background and warm text.

According to Berk, those expedients alone can only slightly improve the retention of information by the students. Because without using any multimedia tool, instructors are left with what he defines as “dead words,” which do not evidently improve the effectiveness of the lecture. What instead can surely enhance one’s slides are the multimedia tools that too often are overlooked by instructors, which, for Berk, mostly consist of three elements: movement, music, and videos.

PowerPoint offers a lot of different options when it comes to movement but, as Berk underlines, transitions of slides and animation of letters, words, and graphics, can be counterproductive if not use systematically. The research mentioned in the article shows how animated graphic can increase students concentration, but if it is overdo or not consistent it usually distracts them.

Music can also be a very valuable device since, as many studies have shown, it creates emotional connections. Implementing music in or between slides can activate students attention and, consequently, allow the move of the content into long-term memory. Berk suggests also that the students should be somehow familiar with the music in order to facilitate the processes explained above.

On the last multimedia tool, video, there has been a more extensive research, and Berk notes how, overall, all the investigations agree in underline the positive effects on the learning process of video clips embedded in PowerPoint. The same research stresses the effectiveness of a verbal and visual presentation on low-knowledge and high-spatial learners.

To conclude, I think it can be worthwhile to follow Berk’s suggestions and spend more time on designing effective PowerPoint. But on the other hand, instructors should also be careful not to embellish their slides excessively, if they do not want their students to focus too much on the visual devices and not paying enough attention to the content.



Berk, R. A. (2011). Research on PowerPoint®: From basic features to multimedia. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 24-35.

The Challenges of Online Writing Instruction

The increasing of online courses has brought to attention the need for a reassessment of both teaching practices and course designing, which, in order to be effective, need to be adapted to the specificity of an online environment. Such a challenge is even more crucial for composition classes since their pedagogy has always stressed the central importance of the communicative aspects and of the work done in the classroom. In order to tackle that issue, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) created a committee with the task to come up with a series of guidelines that could help both instructors and institutions in the effort to develop efficient online courses.

The committee came up with fifteen Online Writing Instruction (OWI) principles that sum up all the different aspects and problems concerning the switch from a face-to-face environment to a virtual one.
Here are those that I find the most compelling:

OWI Principle 2: An online writing course should focus on writing and not on technology orientation or teaching students how to use learning and other technologies.
In my experience using online platforms for language classes, I have always found myself receiving several emails from students asking for help with technical problems. This is a big waste of time for the instructors and for the students as well, who should, instead, be only focused on writing. It is fundamental that the institution offering the course assures that students (and instructor) with no technological competence can be able to learn and accomplish as much as any other student.


OWI Principle 3: Appropriate composition teaching/learning strategies should be developed for the unique features of the online instructional environment.
It is obvious that moving to an online setting requires an effort to develop a coherent and functional pedagogy. Instructors should not simply adapt their didactics to the online setting, but they must rethink and reshape their teaching strategies toward a new approach based on the opportunities and benefits provided by the new environment.


OWI Principle 10: Students should be prepared by the institution and their teachers for the unique technological and pedagogical components of OWI.
This is inherently linked to OWI principle 2 and, even though it can seem self-evident, it is worthed to spend few words on it.
A common mistake among institutions is to think that general technology training can allow students to fully participate and success in an online writing course. Such a presumption does not take into consideration the fact that, in order to get the most out of an online course, students should be familiar with its specific components, and they should also be able to know in advance what kind of commitment it requires. For this reason, each course should offer a preliminary training session, conducted by both lab technicians and instructors, where students can get familiar with the tools indispensable to accomplish.


OWI Principle 11: Online writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success.
Collaboration with fellow students is a very important component in composition courses, and its motivational value should be preserved in online classes as well. The sense of community must, therefore, be recreated following different routes. To this aim, it is essential that, first of all, the institutions create an environment where online instructors are able to communicate to each other and re-create their own community. Within this community, instructors can later collaborate to design a series of community-creating activities for students.


If you are interested in the other principles and in the overall discussion around them, see the following link: