This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Table of contents

  1. Overview
    1. The Ergonomics of Digital Slideshows
    2. What’s the criticism on slideshows?
    3. Digital Slideshows are Tools
    4. Dynamic Presentations
  2. In Practice
    1. How to Use Presentation Software
    2. The Use of Presentation Software
    3. Making Lectures More Dynamic
  3. Useful References
    1. General Texts on the Effects of Digital Slideshows in Class
    2. Presentation Design and Ergonomics
    3. Handwritten annotations of a slideshow
    4. Use of polling tools
This report was first published in May 2014, and updated in February 2020. It is a translation of a text first published in the French edition of Profweb.


For many teachers, their first foray towards integrating Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) into their pedagogical practice comes through the use of digital presentation software (such as Microsoft PowerPoint) as a visual support for their lectures. Nowadays, these digital slideshows are undoubtedly the most common technology in college-level classrooms. This tool has become the norm and teachers who do not use it are becoming few and far between.

Presentation software programs are numerous:

They all have interesting features. That said, they also present shortcomings and traps that should be avoided. This report presents practical tips for the pedagogical use of digital slideshows with students and looks at different ways of using presentation software in the classroom.

The Ergonomics of Digital Slideshows

The following ergonomics rules can help you to optimize your presentation and ensure that it is effective:

For content:

  • Present only one idea per slide.
  • Keep the amount of text in each slide to the minimum.

The Ergonomics of a Presentation: Content

Since students will intuitively read the text projected on screen each time a new slide is shown, they will not listen to you until they are finished reading what is being projected. You will have to resort to reading the text along with them as it appears on the screen. However, given that the speed at which your students read is greater than the rate at which you will be reading aloud, it is preferable to limit the amount of text (as much as possible) instead focusing on the essential ideas you wish to convey.

Nevertheless, a study by the Adaptech Research Network shows that students prefer teachers to write complete sentences rather than key words. The key is to choose the sentences carefully.

For layout:

  • Use a maximum of 2 different fonts:
    • one for the titles
    • one for the bullet points in the body of the presentation.
  • Choose “sans serif” fonts as much as possible, such as Arial, Verdana or Calibri.
  • Avoid underlining and using italics or drop-shadow effects.
  • Choose a font color that contrasts with the background colour (pale writing on a dark background or dark writing on a pale background).
  • Ensure that the text is large enough to be read from the back of the classroom.
  • Avoid using “busy” backgrounds, which are distracting.

The Ergonomics of a Presentation: Examples of Fonts

The Ergonomics of a Presentation: Layout

Presentation software programs generally offer several attractive templates. You can find more (available free of charge under an open source license) on SlideCarnival.

Transitions and animations

  • If you choose to use transition effects between slides, pick a discrete transition and stick with the same type of transition for the whole presentation.
  • With Prezi, transitions between different elements of information create a dynamic effect, but they can make the audience dizzy if they are over-utilized. Use them sparingly. Keep in mind that the disorienting effect of transitions is amplified once your presentation appear on a large screen. Hence, you should choose transitions that
    • do not move too fast
    • do not create movement over great distances or zoom
    • spin around excessively
  • Skip the animations if possible not essential. Using animations in a slideshow should always serve a pedagogical purpose.

Maintaining eye contact with your students

When you use a slideshow in class, it is tempting to look at the screen to read from your slides. In doing so, you might end up turning your back on the group for most of the class. To maintain eye contact with your students, there are several solutions:

  • Look at the computer screen instead of the projector screen so that you can still face your students while presenting. (For some software such as PowerPoint, you should use the “presenter mode,” if possible)
  • Print out the presentation with the presenter’s notes you have prepared and consult the document as needed.
  • Use a remote control to change slides from anywhere in the classroom to avoid being tied to the computer.
  • Use a tablet or smartphone to control the slides instead of a computer in order to increase your mobility within the classroom.
  • Move around the classroom, don’t stand next to your screen.

What’s the criticism on slideshows?

Whether a computer screen, a printout, a tablet or the screen itself is used, a study from the University of Ottawa, the Université du Québec en Outaouais and the University of Moncton demonstrated that a majority of teachers tend to have more substantial and prolonged visual contact with their presentation than with their audience. Students indicated that PowerPoint can be a trap for teachers who focus too much on their slideshow, thus forgetting that the students are right there, in front of them.

In the United States, the Center for Educational Analysis and Research (ECAR) published in 2019 the results of a vast survey of 40,000 students in higher education institutions. One of the students surveyed commented : “I want my professors to stop reading PowerPoint slides word-for-word off of a screen, and to start using the technology at hand to create a different kind of lecture that will engage their students in the learning process.”

In educational settings, the main points of criticism on slide-based presentation formats such as PowerPoint, Google Slides and Keynote are not aimed at the software per se:

  • Presentations or lectures are not learner-centered.

  • Presentation slides give students fewer opportunities for cognitive processing.
  • Students retain less of the information that is conveyed verbally.
  • Delivery can be flatter or more static when sticking too close to the slides’ content.

In light of these pitfalls, some institutions have gone as far as to ban their faculty from using PowerPoint. Yet, surprisingly, several studies clearly indicate that students prefer their teachers to use presentation slides over alternatives such as a blackboard, whiteboard, or no visual support.

Andy Van Drom

Digital Slideshows are Tools

Respecting the ergonomic rules of digital slideshows is no guarantee of success. When used incorrectly, a presentation with a digital slideshow can lead to “boredom and even apathy in students.” (Raby et al., 2011) In a 2014 study of Quebec colleges, Catherine Fichten and colleagues found that digital slideshows were both the most popular and least popular technology in the classroom for students:

  • Interesting when:
    • it helps students follow what is said during a lecture
    • it structures note-taking
    • it helps to understand the material
  • Annoying when:
    • the teacher goes through the slides too quickly
    • the contents of the slides are too vague
    • the slides are too content-heavy

Thus, the way of using slideshows makes all the difference.

The slide show is one thing, the way it is used is another.

Presentation software is a useful tool, but is not in itself a new pedagogical strategy. A lecture supported by a digital slideshow is not fundamentally different from a presentation supported by overheads and a projector. However, when used properly, a digital slideshow can have very interesting advantages.

Synthesizing the material and structuring note-taking

A slide show can help to synthesize the material and structure the students’ note-taking. If you want to use a slideshow for this purpose, professionals who work with students, interviewed by the Adaptech Research Network team, recommend that you include :

  • references to pages in the manual
  • references or hyperlinks to documents used in the classroom related to the subject presented
  • headings and subheadings on slides to help students navigate through the slides

Visualizing ideas

Presentation software is particularly useful for projecting :

  • images
  • quality animations
  • diagrams
  • tables
  • graphics

According to Michel Vincent, the Associate Director of Information Technology at the Collège Édouard-Montpetit, presentation software “should first and foremost help us visualize ideas.” For example:

  • An image can be used to illustrate the explanations being offered by the teacher, while helping students to understand. An anthropology teacher running a class about Japanese culture could show various aspects of traditional and modern Japan to illustrate their point, as an example. Only images that are relevant to the topic should be used.
  • A graph showing the evolution of a situation can also illustrate ideas that a teacher is trying to convey while helping the students to understand. That being said, one must also take some time to analyze the graphs being shown to the students in order to develop their understanding of the information.
  • It is important to ensure that the diagrams shown to students are clear and easy to read. Delete superfluous information, if need be. If you really have to show a complex figure (or a table with a large amount of data) to students, print it out for distribution to the students in paper format.

Michel Vincent also notes that “PowerPoint should be used to impress an idea upon the audience, so that they remember an argument or fact more clearly. As such, showing a number to talk about a budget, or showing a video testimonial can leave a mark in the audience’s mind.”

In all cases, whether to synthesize material or to visualize ideas, a digital slideshow should not be designed to be a memory aid for the presenter.

Dynamic Presentations

As with any presentation, a lecture supported by a digital slideshow must be well-structured and organized.

As it is difficult to sustain the attention of students over a prolonged period of time, dividing a presentation into 10-minute blocks and alternating them with periods where students are asked to process the information is recommended. Ulric Aylwin calls these pauses dedicated to information processing “assimilation breaks”.

To help your students to process information, you can:

  • Ask your students some questions. Take some time to plan which questions you want to ask your students. Choose questions that spark some reflection, or even debate, if applicable. Use a visual support as the springboard. You can integrate the questions (and an answer interface) directly into your slideshow with tools such as:

Clickers are another option for polling your students from your slideshow, but the cost associated with their purchase probably makes them less attractive today. Student electronics can be a great replacement for them when using applications like the ones mentioned above, or other applications that don’t fit directly into a slideshow like:

    • Kahoot! (may include “traditional” slides (no questions) if the paid version is used)
    • Socrative

If you invite students to use their own devices, make sure that everyone can participate. If some don’t have devices:

    • check if they can borrow a computer or tablet from your college library (or if you can do it for them).

    • depending on the context, encourage them to respond as a team

Teachers are generally more reluctant to encourage students to use their mobile devices in the classroom. However, students like to use their own devices and this can help to educate them on the ‘effective’ use of these devices as learning tools.

One of the best known ways to use clickers in class is the one presented by Eric Mazur, a teacher from Harvard University who pioneered the use of “peer-instruction.” It can be implemented with televoters (as was done in 2009 by Luc Tremblay, a teacher at Collège Mérici) or any web-based polling tool. The diagram below shows Mazur’s method.

Figure showing the peer-teaching method developed by Eric Mazur

  • Interrupting the presentation to propose a short exercise to the students (asking them to solve a problem, proposing a formative mini-test, etc.).
  • Asking students to summarize what has just been said, or asking students to formulate their own questions related to the presentation and ask them to ask their peers.

To prevent your presentation from becoming monotonous, consider including demonstrations. For example, a science teacher may have filmed himself using lab equipment for a demonstration and incorporate the video into his presentation.

Of course, you can use a digital slide show for a portion of your lecture (a block of about 10 minutes, for example) without having to use it for the entire lecture.

It is also possible to put your slideshow on hold at any time during your presentation. This can be useful if you want to make a digression, or just to make sure that your students are looking away from the screen.

Putting a slideshow on hold

To put a slideshow on hold, when you are in slideshow mode in PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides (Google Presentations), press the “b” key on your computer keyboard. The screen will turn white. If you press the same key a second time, your slide will reappear.

In Practice

How to Use Presentation Software


In order to use presentation software in class, it goes without saying that you must first be familiar with the software. The ICT Profile team has produced several videos on this topic.(The tutorials illustrate the use of PowerPoint 2010, but also apply if you use PowerPoint 2016).

A video series on the use of PowerPoint for you to use or pass on to your students!

There is also a lot of information on how to use PowerPoint on the Microsoft Office Suite website.


Apple has produced a user guide on Keynote, which can be found on their website.

Google Slides (Google Présentations)

Google Slides is part of the Google suite associated with Google Drive, available in a free version. This tool looks a lot like PowerPoint and Keynote, but is web-based. (There is also a mobile application).


Preziis different from other software because of its non-linear layout; yet its potential for pedagogical applications is comparable to that of PowerPoint, Keynote or Slides. It is a web-based tool of which there is a free version..

A Prezi template for presenting a course plan

A Prezi Digital Tool page [in French] is available on Profweb . On the Prezi website, you will find a lot of documentation, including video tutorials. Note that it is difficult to print a presentation with the free version of Prezi, as you need a paid account to export a presentation in PDF format. This makes it difficult for students to annotate the presentations.


Genially is a web-based tool, available in a free version, that allows you to create animated computer graphics and interactive presentations. A Digital Tool page on Genially is available on Profweb.

A Genially presentation to show you how Genially can be used for educational purposes (in or out of the classroom).

Traditional use of presentation software

Most teachers who use digital slideshows use them as a support for lectures.

Projecting static or moving images

Presentation software is particularly useful for projecting images that would be difficult or impossible for the teacher to draw on the board. In addition, presentation software can be used to show animations and videos to students.

What’s more, a presentation software can be used to show students animations and videos (animations that show a particular phenomenon or how a mechanism functions, for example).

Projecting text or equations

Digital slideshows are useful to show text or equations. These elements can instantly be projected without the teacher having to write or draw everything by hand on the board.

Some teachers see this as an advantage, as it leaves them more time for activities in which students actively participate. If students have access to a copy of the slideshow, the time dedicated to the students transcribing the information on the screen to their notebooks can be invested elsewhere, such as participating in activities or exercises.

Should presentations be made available to students?

Some teachers choose not to make their slideshows available to students. On the contrary, others put them online. Contrary to what one might think, student absenteeism does not increase when you post presentation online. This has been validated in a study conducted by Catherine Fichten and her colleagues.

Levasseur and Sawyer noted in their study Pedagogy Meets PowerPoint, in cases where teachers use slides with lots of text, the fact that the students have access to a copy of the slideshow is the only valid reason they have a positive impact on learning. In other words, in cases where the slides are full of text, the benefit of using PowerPoint can be attributed to the fact that the students have access to a complete, organized set of notes that they can review at will. Otherwise, students confronted with these slides will frantically try to copy the notes as they appear on screen (while not listening attentively to the teacher).

When a teacher wants to use their slideshow as a visual support to illustrate their ideas with images and graphs, or as a way to impress the audience with powerful arguments, they also need to limit the amount of text on their slides. This helps them to maintain the attention of students, since they are not busy trying to transcribe the notes from the screen. Using a digital slideshow does not prevent a teacher from distributing paper copies of some relevant graphs and figures that might be too difficult to transcribe to a notebook (or laptop).

Annotating a Digital Slideshow

Showing slides in class can sometimes have a negative effect on a student’s perception of the course content. When ready-made slides are presented, students might have difficulty following the teacher’s cognitive process. When a teacher writes on a traditional blackboard with chalk, students can easily follow the progressive development of the concepts seen in class.

Considering this, using a tablet to “manually” annotate slides has some interesting potential:

  • Students like when teachers share their thought process in the annotations.
  • Students are more likely to pay attention during a lecture if the teacher spontaneously annotates the slides.

Whether it is on a tablet, on an interactive white board or using the mouse of the computer, the “stylus” and “highlighter” tools available in the “slideshow view” in PowerPoint allow you to:

  • Underline elements
  • Highlight elements
  • Add brief comments

Tutorial – Annotating PowerPoint slideshows during a presentation [in French]

Using an interactive whiteboard or a tablet makes a lecture based on a slideshow more dynamic. Instead of simply delivering a lecture, the teacher who uses an interactive white board can have students come to the board to ask them to solve a problem or fill in blanks on a slide. Those teachers using a tablet can pass it around in the classroom.

If you are looking for dynamic visual support during a lecture, slide shows are not the only option. Consider, for example, OneNote, a note-taking tool included in Microsoft Office. Physics teacher Olivier Turgeon wrote a real life story on Profweb [in French] to present his experience using OneNote Classroom and a 2-in-1 tablet computer during lectures.

Making lectures more dynamic

One of the frequent criticisms of the use of presentation software in class is that digital slideshows focus on the presenter and the content rather than on interaction with students. Digital slideshows would seem to encourage lectures that are more traditional in nature. However, there is much more that a teacher can do with digital slideshows. PowerPoint is over 30 years old, but it’s never too late to start (or start again) using digital slideshows… in a good way!

Useful References

General Texts on the Effects of Digital Slideshows in Class

  • Fichten, C., Jorgensen, M., Havel, A., King, L., Harvison, M., Lussier, A. & Libman, E. (2019). More Than Meets the Eye: A Canadian Comparative Study on PowerPoint Use Among Post-Secondary Students With and Without Disabilities. International Research in Higher Education 4(2), 25-36.
    Study conducted in a Quebec college with students in the Social Sciences and Humanities to compare the perceptions of students with disabilities to those of others with respect to teachers’ effective use of PowerPoint. The study concludes that there are many similarities in the perceptions of students in the two groups. All students prefer that:
    • the slides are available prior to class in PowerPoint and PDF format. (This is particularly important in the case of students with disabilities).
    • the teacher walks around occasionally rather than staying at the front.
    • the teacher chooses slides with good contrast rather than an interesting but busy background.
    • the teacher writes the concepts with complete sentences rather than just key words.
    • the pictures in the slide show are accompanied by text rather than alone.

The study shows that well-designed slides that incorporate accessibility features (via the PowerPoint accessibility checker, for example) benefit everyone. (For more information on best practices for accessibility of PowerPoint presentations, see the documentation provided by Microsoft on this topic).

  • Hébert, M., Boulet, A. & Baudoin, R. (2010). La présentation électronique en ses paradoxes : regards d’étudiants et de professeurs universitaires. Revue internationale des technologies en pédagogie universitaire 7 (2), 20-34.
    Study based on a mixed research strategy on PowerPoint presentations established by 12 Canadian university professors, their perceptions and pedagogical intentions, as well as their students’ perceptions of the impact of PowerPoint in their learning process.

    A very critical study on the use of PowerPoint in class:

    • Digital slideshows create a distance between students and teachers that is detrimental to learning.
    • Insightful excerpts:
      • “Almost all teachers explained that they used digital slideshows out of habit or to meet student expectations, mentioning that they could easily do without it. Students, on the other hand, have the opposite perspective: they believe that teachers create the slideshow for themselves first and foremost and that they could easily do without it!”
      • “The presentation that was most appreciated by students and that they described as helpful in their learning process is the one that [“at least respected the common rules of ergonomics and the “pedagogical efficiency” guidelines”]. In the classroom, the teacher was observed using the slides merely as a visual cue to help students identify the most important points in long texts they need to be acquainted with. When reviewing the video that had been recorded of the teacher, a greater number of visual contacts with the students was observed. This teacher might be an exception to the rule, but this example nevertheless supported the students’ perceptions on the human factors related to the teacher in their classroom.”
  • Inoue-Smith, Y. (2016). College-based case studies in using PowerPoint effectively. Cogent Education, 3.
  • Levasseur, D. G. & Sawyer, J. K. (2006). Pedagogy Meets PowerPoint: A Research Review of the Effects of Computer-Generated Slides in the ClassroomReview of Communication6(1-2), 101-123. DOI : 10.1080/15358590600763383 
  • Raby, C., Karsenti, T., Meunier, H. & Villeneuve, S. (2011). Usage des TIC en pédagogie universitaire : point de vue des étudiantsRevue internationale des technologies en pédagogie universitaire 8(3), 6-19.
    Study based on data with regards to the general use of ICTs collected from more than 10 000 university students in Quebec. As might be expected, the topics covered in the study include digital slideshows.


    • The majority of surveyed students (78.6 %) confirm that PowerPoint boasts interesting features such as visual support, but only when used appropriately
    • The use of PowerPoint allows to:
      • Maintain students’ attention;
      • Condense and structure course notes.
    • The integration of graphs, images, animations and short videos in PowerPoint presentations can enhance the content and make it more dynamic while allowing for a better understanding of the course content.
    • If used inappropriately, PowerPoint is a merely a crutch for some educators and becomes boring and demotivating (spontaneity is replaced by rigidity)
    • “Among all the ICT uses mentioned by the students in the survey, PowerPoint presentations are both the most likely (13.8%) and least likely (9.8%) to encourage learning. The difference seems to lie in the way the tool is used.”
  • Turgeon, A. & Van Drom, A. (2019). Digital tools for content presentation, Profweb. Part of a featured report presenting digital tools to support an inclusive pedagogical approach.
  • Presentation Design and Ergonomics

    Should Presentations Be Available to Students?

    Handwritten annotations of a slideshow

    Use of polling tools

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