Application of multimedia theory to powerpoint slides created by engineering educators

Joanna Garner, Allen Gaudelli, Sarah Zappe, Michael Alley

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Each year, the ASEE annual conference hosts hundreds of presentations to help disseminate engineering education research to the more than 3,000 attendees. This paper examines the slides from 72 presentations at the 2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition to determine common practices among engineering educators with regard to their presentation slides, and whether or not these slides followed accepted principles of multimedia design. These principles target the content and format of presentation slides and aim to increase the audience's comprehension and retention of information. Of the 72 presentations considered in this study, 31 received Best Paper nominations, 12 arose from the rigorous Educational Research and Methods Division, and 3 were plenary sessions. In examining the 1,381 presentation slides from these 72 presentations, we determined common practices through a scoring rubric that considered the following three aspects of presentation slides: (1) slide structure (form of the headline and body); (2) slide density (the amount of text on each slide), and (3) frequency and classification of images (decorative, representative, organizational, and explanative). In regard to structure, almost half of the slides per presentation had a topic phrase headline supported by a bullet-list. Almost one-fifth per presentation had a topic phrase headline supported by a bullet list and an image, and a similar percentage had a topic phrase headline supported by an image. To capture slide density (the amount of text on the slide), we counted the number of lines of text and number of words. On average, engineering educators used 7.5 lines of text and 33.4 words to communicate their research. When broken down to words per minute viewed by the audience from presentation slides, these numbers correlate to about 35 words per minute, which is high. This finding raises the question whether cognitive overload for the audience typically occurs in these slide presentations. This finding also raises the question whether the slides of engineering educators violate multimedia principles of learning. One of these multimedia principles concerns the frequency and classification (according to purpose) of images. This study shows that fewer than half of the slides per presentation contained an image. Using a scale used to rate the depth of purpose achieved by an images, we found the majority of images used were at the representative level, which means that those images identified but did not explain the topic of the slide. Also, almost half of the engineering educators used a decorative background. These backgrounds contain decorative images that multimedia researchers contend reduce the comprehension and retention of details. The results of this study suggest that much room exists for engineering educators to improve the visual aids in their research presentations. However, before significant improvements will occur, presenters will have to challenge the defaults of PowerPoint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2009
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2009Jun 17 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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