IT Connect
Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Working with PowerPoint

With PowerPoint you can easily create a set of slides and store them as a single presentation that you can use to enrich your in-class lecture. You can also post the presentation to the web, so that your student can preview or review the content of your lecture. Your students will be able to download the slides and bring with them to class, either on their laptops or as printouts. You can also encourage your students to use PowerPoint to present their own work to the class.

This guide outlines practical teaching and technical points you may find helpful as you work with PowerPoint. At the end of this document you will also find a list of readings you might find interesting when considering the advantages and disadvantages of using PowerPoint in the classroom.

Define Software and Hardware Needs for Your Presentation

One of the first considerations you need to make when planning a PowerPoint presentation is how you are going to present it. If you plan on using a computer and a projection system to do a slide show, you should make sure that the room in which you will be teaching has the appropriate equipment. You need to check the version of the software installed on the computer in the room, or, if you will be bringing your laptop computer, make sure you have all of the necessary cables and drivers to connect to the system. Classroom Technology & Events can help you identify classrooms and equipment needed for presenting with PowerPoint.

Use Appropriate Contrast and Color Schemes

When choosing colors and graphics for your PowerPoint presentation, you should strive for strong contrast between text and backgrounds. When in doubt, use either black text on a light background or white text on a black background. Combinations such as red on blue can be very hard to read when projected in a large lecture hall. Patterned backgrounds can also be very difficult. If you are not sure, stick with a solid background color. Colors and animations may look impressive at first, but can be annoying to viewers if overused. Try to create a visual look and feel that adds to the content rather than distracting from it. Use consistent color schemes and formatting conventions across the slides of your presentation.

Use Images Judiciously

Images can be very helpful in illustrating concepts, but they can also be irritating if they are overused or of poor quality. Keep in mind that, when projected on a large screen, a small image will appear quite large, and colors might appear very different from the original. If the quality of the colors of your images is an issue, you might want to choose another tool to show them to your students.

Be Prepared for Technical Difficulties

Even with extensive planning, computer-based presentations often present technical difficulties. If you have the time, it is always a good idea to have a backup copy of your presentation as color transparencies or printouts to hand out for your audience.

Schedule Time for a Run-Through

It can be very helpful to test your slides in the environment in which you will present them. Make trial pages with different themes and take them to the room in which you will be teaching. Test them out and look at them from a student’s perspective. Also, even if you have used a presentation before, it is best to do a run-through when you move to a new classroom, as it may have a slightly different projection equipment.

Consider Student Access to Web-Based Presentations

When posting a PowerPoint presentation to the Web, keep in mind that students must have access to the Internet to use it. Although you may not notice a difference when connecting on-campus, students connecting from home via modem will have to wait considerably longer to download a presentation rich of graphics and images. Consider creating a lighter version of your presentation to be posted to the web.

Consider the Visually Impaired

While people can change settings on their computers to make text larger, they cannot do much to change the colors you choose for your presentation. When putting your presentation on the Web, strive for strong contrast between text and backgrounds, and remember that different computers display colors differently, potentially rendering color combinations unreadable.

Consider Copyright Issues

Images posted on the Web are covered by United States copyright laws in similar ways to material found in books, newspapers, and magazines. For more information on copyright and the Web, see the UW Libraries page on copyright resources.

Further Readings

The use of Microsoft PowerPoint for lectures and presentations is becoming increasing popular among university faculty, staff, and students. Yet its validity as a learning tool has been put into question by some authors, while defended by others. Here is a list of articles and short essays about the pros and cons of PowerPoint: