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Application Of Multimedia Theory To Powerpoint Slides Created By Engineering Educators

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Using Classroom Technologies

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.221.1 - 14.221.14



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Paper Authors


Joanna Garner Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Joanna K Garner is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Penn State University, Berks College. Her research interests focus on the application of cognitive psychological principles to the improvement of student learning outcomes.

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Allen Gaudelli Pennsylvania State University

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Allen Gaudelli is working on his B.S. in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. This paper's project he performed as an undergraduate researcher in the Leonhard Center at Penn State. At present, he is working in a co-op position at Disneyworld.

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Sarah Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Sarah Zappe is the Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Pennsylvania State University. Her background is in educational psychology with an emphasis on educational testing and assessment.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (2002, Springer-Verlag). In addition, he regularly teaches presentation workshops at several research institutions in the United States and Europe.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Application of Multimedia Theory to PowerPoint Slides Created by Engineering Educators

Key Words: PowerPoint, multimedia learning, cognitive overload


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.


Garner, J., & Gaudelli, A., & Zappe, S., & Alley, M. (2009, June), Application Of Multimedia Theory To Powerpoint Slides Created By Engineering Educators Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5579

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015