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How Slide Design Affects a Student Presenter’s Understanding of the Content

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Communication, Professional Development, and the Engineering Ambassador Network

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.671.1 - 23.671.11



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Paper Authors


Shannon Marie Aippersbach Pennsylvania State University

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Shannon Aippersbach is going into her fourth year majoring in Bioengineering at the Pennsylvania State University. She is originally from Pittsburgh, Pa. After graduation, Aippersbach hopes to pursue a career in the medical device field or research.

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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 Penn State. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer, 2013) and the editor of the web-site "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides," the first Google listing for the search term "presentation slides."

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Joanna K. Garner Old Dominion University

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[Type text]   Does the Design of Slides by a Student Presenter Affect the Student’s Understanding of the Content?AbstractEngineering faculty often have their students create presentations about their projects as a meansto have the students learn the content. For example, many design courses, such as Purdue’sEPICS,1 have student teams demonstrate understanding of the design by making a presentationwith slides. A question arises whether the way in which students design their slides significantlyaffects their understanding of the content. Theoretically, the way that slides are designed could affect the way that the presenterprocesses the content of the presentation. For example, slides that follow the assertion-evidencestructure call on the presenter to identify the main message of that scene of the presentation.2 Incontrast, slides following the typical structure of a phrase headline supported by a list of bulletpoints do not require such a separation of primary versus secondary details. In addition, in theprocess of choosing to create visual evidence to convey complex information, the presenter mayform more integrated and detailed representations of concepts.3 Moreover, according to Paivio’sPrinciple of Dual Coding, the combination of words and images allows the learner to makeconnections about a concept that words alone do not.4 Many slides created by engineering students (and faculty) do not follow the practicesmentioned above. For instance, a 2009 study found that 85% of slides in engineering and sciencebegin with a phrase headline that does not identify the main message of the slide.5 In addition,that same study found that almost half of the slides do not contain visual evidence. This paper compares how well engineering students learn technical information bycreating slides using the traditional structure versus how well students learn the sameinformation when using the assertion-evidence slide structure. The assertion-evidence structureconsists of a succinct sentence headline that states the main message of the slide. That sentenceheadline is then supported by a relevant image or graphic.2 In our study, we have assembled two groups of undergraduate engineers. Each group hadmore than 50 students. Both groups read the same article explaining a complex engineeringprocess, magnetic resonance imaging. Afterwards, each group created 5 slides describing atechnical portion of the process. One group designed slides in the commonly practiced way of aphrase headline supported by a bulleted list or by a bulleted list and a graphic. The other groupcreated slides following the assertion-evidence structure. The next day, each group was testedthrough essay questions on their understanding of the magnetic resonance imaging process. Twoblind raters using the same rubric scored those essays. This paper analyzes this experiment in two ways. First, this paper uses the created slidesto determine how well the learners from each group captured the main messages of the processand how well the learners eliminated noise from those messages. Second, this paper uses theessays to compare how well the learners understood the process, how many primary and[Type text]  secondary details from the article the learners recalled, and how many misconceptions thelearners had. Should this study find that one group has a statistically significant increase inlearning, the study could have implications in how engineering faculty design assignments thatcall upon students to create presentations.References1 EPICS / Purdue, “Project Conceptual Review Presentation Template,” (West Lafayette, IN: PurdueUniversity, 2011).2 Michael Alley & Katherine A. Neeley (2005). Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: A Case for SentenceHeadlines and Visual Evidence. Technical Communication, 52 (4), 417-426.3 Van Meter, P. & Garner, J. (2005). The promise and practice of learner-generated drawing: literature review andsynthesis. Educational Psychology Review, 17, 285 – 325.4 Alan Paivio (1986). Mental Representations. New York: Oxford University Press, 53.5 Joanna Garner, Michael Alley, Allen Gaudelli & Sarah Zappe (2009). Common Use of PowerPoint versusAssertion-Evidence Slide Structure: a Cognitive Psychology Perspective. Technical Communication, 56 (4),331−345.

Aippersbach, S. M., & Alley, M., & Garner, J. K. (2013, June), How Slide Design Affects a Student Presenter’s Understanding of the Content Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19685

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