You Don't Have to Do it from Scratch:
How to Use Conventional PowerPointTM Lecture Slides in a Learner-Centered Class
Revisiting our CAE Teaching Excellence Workshops
Slater, University of Wyoming; Prather, University of Arizona; & Brissenden, University of Arizona
Today, many college and university textbook publishing companies provide faculty who adopt their textbooks ready-to-go PowerPointTM lecture slides aligned with their textbooks. Faculty working closely with publishing companies devote considerable time, effort, and resources to make these slide sets as accurate as possible, to select the very best illustrations from the text and other sources, and to provide a useful set of classroom tools (such as Flash animations) for the astronomy lecturer. Given how much effort has gone into creating these products, it might seem to be a proverbial "no-brainer" to simply use them in our courses. However, often these materials seem perfect for a traditional professor-centered, lecture-based course, but not suitable for the learner-centered course. In addition, the brilliantly illustrated, bullet-pointed lecture slides, aligned directly with the book, somehow seem to have less than the desired impact on students' learning.
The first step to rethinking and refocusing the professor-centered (information-download) lecture to a learner-centered classroom—where students are intellectually engaged—is to accept that much of the responsibility for learning resides squarely on the learner, not on the lecturer. The role of lecture in a learner-centered class still exists, but is radically shifted from a one-way dispensing of knowledge to that of guiding students through meaningful learning experiences. The core component of guiding in the learner-centered course is to ask questions. One approach to incorporating the use of questions into the pre-packaged PowerPointTM follows:
- Insert a ‘Learning Invitation'slide at the beginning of your presentation.
Have students spend three minutes creating a written response to a question (or questions) about the concept you'll be discussing. The point is to elicit their initial ideas, misconceptions, and reasoning difficulties: making these explicit to the students by having them down on paper, and using them to bridge to new concepts.
For Example: "List as many properties of extra-solar planets as you can." "What if the Sun were three times more massive than it is now. How would this affect its lifetime? Explain your reasoning." Or, occasionally, "Describe the big ideas from last session."
- Insert at least three ‘Think-Pair-Share' questions spread throughout the lecture.
Tell students that the point of the question is to be sure that they can practice adequately explaining their reasoning about an idea.
For example: Think about, then vote on an answer, before conferring with the person next to you. I'll ask you to vote a second time after that. Here's the question: The principle reason that scientists are debating the age of the universe is: (1) inexact recessional velocities; (2) unknown distances to galaxies; (3) insufficient time for telescope observations; or (4) radiometric rock dating produces variable results.
- Insert at least one ‘student debate,' and ask students to provide rationale for who (if either) they agree with.
This often works best if they encounter the debate BEFORE they have been told the correct answer, so they have a reason to look for the answer in the upcoming part of the presentation.
For example: Mitch says "The extra-solar planets web site shows that Jupiter-like planets are more commonly formed than are Earth-like planets." Chris says "I disagree. I think Earth-like planets aren't found very often just because they're harder to find." Talk with your neighbor and decide which person, if either, you agree with and why.
- Provide at least one ‘mini-case study' for students to debate.
Use one with ill-defined parameters so that learners have to make assumptions which lead to different answers. The advantage of having differing answers is that learners get to justify their thinking.
For example: Your research group has been given three nights in a row of observing time at a telescope to look for extra-solar planets. Explain what kind of observations you would like to make--the kind of data you want to get--and how this would help you find one. Explain your rational.
- Prepare students for test day.
Develop slides with practice quiz or test questions that are in the same format and flavor they will see on the test.
In addition to making the above additions to your pre-packaged PowerPoint™ lecture slides, you'll need to create a "learning packet" for students. This should be distributed BEFORE your presentation, and it should contain a modified version of your lecture slides based on the following guidelines:
- Provide a copy of slides that contain detailed learning objectives so you don't waste class time while students copy the information.
- Provide only slide titles, and then provide open space for students to write notes in.
- Provide diagrams with labels removed, and enlarge to fill the page if necessary, so that students can add the labels and notes during class.
- Remove any Think-Pair-Share questions from your slide set so students can't see them before instruction.
- Include any mini-case studies you'll be using, including any charts, tables, or regulations that must be referred to in order to complete the case study.
- Remove any practice quiz or test questions so students won't try memorizing the answer to one question instead of trying to understand the concept.
- Keep separate from the packet any handouts you want students to have, but to not see until you’re ready to use them.
- Give students at the BEGINNING of the session any evaluation forms you want them to complete (e.g., What helped your learning most? What helped your learning least? What could I change about the presentation to help your learning?) so they can make notes on them as the session progresses.
- Give your department head a sample copy of what you are working on so that no one is surprised when the monthly photocopying bill shows up in the department office. And give your office staff plenty of time to make photocopies.