By Lin Guo, Health Services Administration
Since I joined the Graduate Program in Healthcare Services Administration in 1996, I have been using PowerPoint, the Internet and other technologies in teaching. With the help of these technologies, the average scores of overall excellence of my courses increased by nearly 50% in five years. Students told me numerous times that they loved my technology-based approach and hoped I could incorporate more technologies into the future classes. They consistently ranked the PowerPoint presentations, use of the Internet to download PowerPoint slides prior to class, and help extended outside classrooms (emails) as the best features in my classes.
My best experience with PowerPoint presentations was that they made my teaching more efficient and better organized. With the main ideas of my instructions already written on PowerPoint slides, I was able to build upon the previous experience and continuously improve teaching in an incremental fashion. Every time I had new ideas, I created new slides, inserted them into the existing slides and reordered slides so that the new slides were naturally merged with other slides. Gradually, my highly quantitative courses were converted from detached, boring, and ?mechanical? contents into more connected, interesting and challenging endeavors. Furthermore, PowerPoint slides in electronic files were easier to carry and access compared to regular slides. I could copy a PowerPoint presentation to the G drive on the LAN and then access it anywhere from campus. When presenting, I did not have to lug slide trays to lectures or be careful to ensure everything is right side up and in the correct order. Instead, I just needed to turn on a computer and a projector, open PowerPoint and a file, and use a mouse to present it. I also used the following features of PowerPoint frequently:
- Importing text - PowerPoint can import text from Microsoft Word, and use this as the basis for a presentation. If the "Styles" feature of Word if used, PowerPoint will convert anything designated as a Level 1 Heading into the title of a new slide; lower levels will be converted into Level 1 bullets, etc;
- Importing charts - PowerPoint has extensive charting and graphing capabilities. Besides directly importing a chart or graph from its partner Excel, it is possible to link to an Excel file so that whenever the Excel file is updated with new data, the related chart in PowerPoint changes automatically. This is useful when a certain presentation is given repetitively but the data changes regularly (e.g. research);
- Importing other slides - PowerPoint slides can be inserted from other PowerPoint presentations, either individually, or the entire file;
- Exporting text - The text in a PowerPoint slide show can be exported as an outline, which is handy if the presentation serves as the basis for a paper;
- Presenting on a computer without PowerPoint - When the Pack and Go Wizard is used to package together all the files and fonts as well as the PowerPoint Viewer on a disk, PowerPoint slides can be run on another computer that does not have PowerPoint installed;
- Web presenting - PowerPoint is powerful to convert a presentation to a web (or HTML) presentation. A "Wizard" walks through all the choices and creates all the files that are needed when "Save as HTML" is selected. When the files are transferred to a web server, people can see the presentation in its entirety and the original files are available for download on the web page as well;
- Linking to other Internet resources - PowerPoint allows embedded hypertext links on a slide. If a computer is connected to the Internet and links are clicked on, the hypertext links will automatically launch a browser and display the web site.
However, a PowerPoint presentation may have an adverse effect on both teaching and learning experiences when it is not used properly. For example, it could create a classroom environment that discourages discussion, questioning, probing and pondering. An instructor seems to move at a faster pace because the teacher often assumes that with the handouts in their hands, students spend less time taking notes and more time on listening and discussing. Based on my experience, however, a fast-paced instruction often leads to insufficient time for students to reflect, ponder and interact, resulting in the lack of understanding of course materials.
When PowerPoint was first used in my class, for example, a number of students told me that they disliked the lack of interaction in classrooms and the fast pace of instruction. In responding to these comments, I made several changes in my instruction. First, I redrew diagrams on a blackboard together with additional instructions after PowerPoint slides that contained the complex diagrams of concepts were shown. As a result, students had more time to think and interact because the drawing was printed prior to class, and class interactions increased significantly. Second, rather than simply presenting information, I prepared a set of questions for almost every slide and asked the questions at the end of each slide. Third, I frequently paused for questions and sometimes for silence when difficult concepts were presented. Silence is equally important as the heated exchanges of opinions in the development of critical thinking (Meyers, 1991). Given periods of silence for reflection and incubation, students can ponder quietly to mull over and digest the new information, concepts, and methodologies. Fourth, I continued to lecture when presentation media were switched. At Cohen Center where my classrooms are located, switching between different media is difficult. To switch to blackboard from PowerPoint presentations, for example, I have to turn off the computer projector, roll up the screen, and walk all the way to the back of the room and turn on the lights. Then it will take some time for students and I to adapt to the new medium and lighting. Continuing to lecture during the switching period was the best way to keep the continuity of the presentation.
The other improvement I made was to prepare two versions of PowerPoint presentations, an instructor version and a student version. The difference between two versions was that the instructor version contained a complete set of major points, instructional notes, and discussion questions while the student version had only the major points with ?note? section purposely left bank. The blank ?notes? sections provided spaces for students to take notes but more importantly kept them al0 during my lectures. After such a change was made, even those ?sleepy? students became more interactive because they had to take notes and understand whatever they wrote. The last major change I made was to improve the visual effects of the slides by following the rules below:
- Applied large font size (>24 point);
- Used one graphic or visual element per page;
- Applied light text on a dark blue background for projection (yellow text on a dark blue background);
- Minimized the number of words per slide (only include main points on slides and use "notes" sections to record the details of instructions);
- Minimized the number of slides per class meeting.
By focusing on main points, I was able to reduce the number of slides used for a 2.5-hour class from thirty slides in my first teaching year to ten slides today. With fewer words on a slide and fewer slides per class meeting, I could reinforce the main ideas on a slide by repeating them and spend more time to interact with students. It was also easier for students to grasp the main ideas when only a few points were shown.
Another technology I used frequently was the Internet. With the Internet, I set up a home page, which enabled the distribution of class materials before class. The materials were copied to Xavier?s LAN and students had to print them out in a computer laboratory prior to the home page. They often came to class without handouts because the laboratory was closed or the printer did not work. Now they could download my notes anytime and from anywhere and they rarely showed up in class without handouts. In addition, I also provided links to Web sites related to health services administration on the home page. These sites were useful not only to classes but also to students? residency and future employment.
Besides the home page, I also encourage students to use email to interact with me outside classrooms.
There were several advantages of using emails for the interaction between faculty and students. First, email made me always accessible to students, independent of time and place. My office hours actually became obsolete after I started to use email to interact with students. Second, when students asked questions using email, their thoughts were more organized and questions were concise. Third, email enabled students who traveled out of town on business to submit their homework assignments on time.
Technology-based teaching becomes more and more popular on campus, in responding to the employers' higher expectations for computer skills, rapid development of computer hardware and software, and an increasing number of working students. As one of the many faculty members who use technology-based teaching, I primarily share some of my pleasant and rewarding PowerPoint and Internet experiences in this article. However, I also have many unpleasant and sometimes painful experiences with other computer software and I am still in the process of exploring the best way of adapting these computer applications into my teaching. For the upcoming year, I will move all my teaching materials to the Electronic Reserves provided by the library. The new site has additional features that my old site does not have. I am sure that I will enjoy my new experience and continuously improve my technology-based teaching.
Meyers, C. 1991. Teaching Students to Think Critically. San Francisco, California: Jossey ? Bass Publishers.
Lin Guo is an assistant professor in Health Services Administration.
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