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High-quality Visual Evidence on Presentation Slides May Offset the Negative Effects of Redundant Text and Phrase Headings

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Advances in Communication Instruction

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.694.1 - 25.694.13

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Paper Authors


Keri Lynn Wolfe Pennsylvania State University

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Keri Wolfe is a senior Chemical Engineering student at the Pennsylvania State University. She is a Leonhard Scholar and a German minor. She has been inducted to ΩXE Chemical Engineering Honors Society and ΔΦA German Honors Society. She is most active in Engineering Ambassadors and the Society of Women Engineers. Keri is conducting engineering education research to fulfill her Schreyer Honors College Undergraduate Thesis requirement.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Michael Alley is an Associate Professor of engineering communication at Pennsylvania State University and a part of the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer-Verlag) and has taught professional workshops on technical presentations on five different continents.

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Joanna K. Garner Old Dominion University

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How Common-Practice Slides Having Animation Fare Against Assertion-Evidence Slides on the Teaching of Complex ConceptsPresentation slides are often used by engineering students to communicate their technicaldesigns, by engineering faculty to communicate technical concepts, and by engineeringeducation research to present results. A 2011 study [1] showed that slides following theassertion-evidence structure [2] were more effective at communicating complex concepts thanwere slides following the slide structure most commonly used by engineers. That common-practice structure, as determined by a large survey of slides in engineering, consists of a topic-phrase headline supported either by a bulleted list of sub-topics or by a bulleted list and agraphic. In essence, that common-practice structure is heavily influenced by the default structureof PowerPoint. In contrast, each assertion-evidence slide consists of succinct sentence headlinesupported by visual evidence. While the number of words in the succinct sentence headline istypically more than in the phrase headline of the common practice structure, the total number ofwords on the assertion-evidence slides is typically much less, and the space afforded to graphicsin the assertion-evidence structure is significantly more. In the 2011 study [1], the increase in learning of a complex concept from assertion-evidence slides, as opposed to the common-practice slides, was statistically significantimprovement (p<.001). In this study, the researchers were able to match the numbers of wordsand lines on the common-practice slides with statistics for slides in engineering and scientificpresentations [3]. However, in regard to animation, the researchers chose to have almost noanimation for the common-practice slides. While many engineering presenters certainly choosenot to have animation, a significant portion of students, faculty, and researchers use muchanimation, especially to bring in bulleted text. A theoretical argument for such animation is thatit serves “to chunk” the information for the learner. The question arises then whether suchanimation would have an effect on the learning. This paper presents a similar test, as occurred inthe 2011 study [1], but one that includes animation of bulleted text for the common-practiceslides to determine whether this animation led to increased learning. In our experiment, two groups of engineering students, randomly selected from sectionsof a required engineering course, viewed a 10-minute presentation with the same recorded script.The presentation concerned a complex concept that is typically taught in medical schools: howmagnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is able to identify small cancerous tumors in the humanbody. One group, having 50 students, viewed a set of assertion-evidence slides while listening tothe recorded script. Another group, having 48 students, viewed a set of common-practice slideswhile listening to the same recorded script. After watching the presentation, the students wrotean essay explaining how magnetic resonance imaging worked. In addition, the studentscompleted a survey indicating their years of study, their majors, and their prior knowledge aboutthe topic. Results from that survey showed no statistical differences for any of these categories. At present, the essays have been numbered and arranged such that the two raters scoringthe essays have no idea from which of the two groups each essay came. The raters are assigningthree scores to the essays: (1) a score representing the correctly identified steps in the MRIprocess, (2) a score representing the misconceptions about the MRI process, and (3) a scorerepresenting secondary details from the script about the MRI process that are correct, but notdirectly applicable to the question of how the process occurs (for example, what percentage ofthe human body is water). This paper will present these three scores for this study and analyzewhat these scores mean in terms of whether and how the two groups learned differently from thetwo slide structures. Also assessed is whether adding animation of the bulleted text in thecommon practice slides made a difference in learning, as compared with the 2011 study [1].References1. Garner, J., L. Sawarynski, M. Alley, K. Wolfe, & S. Zappe (2011). Assertion-Evidence Slides Appear to Lead to Better Comprehension and Retention of Complex Concepts. ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (Vancouver: American Society of Engineering Educators, 2011).2. Alley, Michael, & Kathryn A. Neeley (2005). Rethinking the design of presentation slides: A case for sentence headlines and visual evidence. Technical Communication, 52 (4), 417-426.3. Garner, J., M. Alley, A. Gaudelli, & S. Zappe (2009). The common use of PowerPoint versus the assertion–evidence structure: A cognitive psychology perspective. Technical Communication, 56 (4).

Wolfe, K. L., & Alley, M., & Garner, J. K. (2012, June), High-quality Visual Evidence on Presentation Slides May Offset the Negative Effects of Redundant Text and Phrase Headings Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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