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The Effectiveness of “Interactive” Slide Presentations for Promoting Student Engagement in University Engineering Courses

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Innovative Teaching Techniques in the Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1208.1 - 24.1208.14



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Paper Authors


Sean A. Wirth

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M.S. Civil Engineering student @ CU Boulder from 2011-2014. Part-time adjunct instructor and CADD Technician. Carried out observations of in-class student engagement levels under direction of Abbie Liel, Ph.D.

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Abbie B. Liel University of Colorado Boulder

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Dr. Abbie B. Liel is an assistant professor of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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John S. McCartney University of Colorado Boulder

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John S. McCartney received BSCE and MSCE degrees from the University of Colorado Boulder and a PhD degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. McCartney’s research interests include unsaturated soil mechanics, geosynthetics, and thermally active geotechnical systems. He has received several research awards, including the NSF Faculty Early Development (CAREER) Award in 2011, the Croes medal from ASCE in 2012, the DFI Young Professor Award in 2012, and the Young IGS Award from the International Geosynthetics Society in 2008. His teaching efforts were recognized by the 2012 Shamsher Prakash Prize for Excellence in Teaching of Geotechnical Engineering. For his service on ASTM committee D18 on Soil and Rock, he has received the President’s Leadership Award in 2013 and the Richard S. Ladd D18 Standards Development Award in 2011. He is also active on the editorial boards for ASCE Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering (JGGE) and ASTM Geotechnical Testing Journal (GTJ), and he was honored as the 2012 Editorial Board Member of the Year for JGGE. Homepage:

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The Effectiveness of “Interactive” Slide Presentations for Promoting Student Engagement in University Engineering CoursesInstructors of university engineering classes commonly teach with Microsoft PowerPoint orother slide presentation software. Criticisms of slide-oriented teaching, which is seen asenabling students to be passive participants in the classroom environment, are well-documented (Clark 2008). However, non-traditional slide presentation approaches have notbeen much studied. This paper focuses specifically on “interactive” slide presentations,which are characterized by use of a stylus and a tablet PC to annotate and draw on slidesduring the lecture or classroom discussion. Typically, incomplete (un-annotated) slides areprovided to students in advance of the class.This paper assesses the effectiveness of “interactive” slide presentations for promotingstudent engagement. The methodology employs a classroom protocol adapted from Lane(2010) for quantitatively measuring student engagement in the classroom. In this protocol, atrained observer watches 6-10 students and, during each observation cycle of 1-2 minutes,records the instructional style or classroom activity and rates each student’s engagement,based on visual cues of the student’s actions. A key advantage of this protocol is its emphasison evaluating instructional style and instructor performance through student actions.In this study, a single observer regularly attended three civil engineering courses at a largepublic university in either the Fall, 2012 or Spring, 2013 semesters. The courses included onelarge junior-level required class (~100 students), an elective taken by seniors and first-yeargraduate students (~45 students), and a masters-level graduate course (~ 20 students). Thesecourses are taught by two different tenure-track faculty instructors, both of whom commonlyutilize interactive slide presentations in their teaching. Every two minutes, the observer madenote of the instructional content according to a pre-defined rubric. Categories included“slides writing”, which is characterized by the use of slides that are dominated by instructorannotations, and “slides explaining,” which is characterized by the use of slides that aredominated by previously developed material. Other instructional content categories werestudent work or Q&A. In each of these two-minute increments, the observer also evaluatedsix students, rating each student as actively engaged, passively engaged, disengaged oruncertain. Students were selected randomly for observation at the beginning of each classperiod and the same set of six students monitored throughout. In total, the observer attended15 75-minute class periods for each of three courses, resulting in over 3000 data pointscomparing instructional content and student engagement.The results show large differences in student engagement between “slides writing” and“slides explaining”, with 44% more students being observed as actively engaged. Thesefindings are consistent across the different courses and instructors. In fact, the only otherclassroom activity scoring as high as “slides writing” in terms of student engagement was“student work”, which typically involved small group problem solving activities. In end-of-semester surveys, students gave mixed reviews of the interactive slide presentation method,but all three courses received higher than average scores for the department of civilengineering in university-administered course evaluations. The paper also finds correlationsbetween student engagement, as measured by the classroom observer, and student learning.Selected ReferencesClark, Jennifer. “Powerpoint and Pedagogy: Maintaining Student Interest in UniversityLectures” College Teaching, 56:1, 39-44Lane, Erin, “How does student engagement change with instructional technique” CarlWieman Science Education Initiative, 2010.

Wirth, S. A., & Liel , A. B., & McCartney, J. S. (2014, June), The Effectiveness of “Interactive” Slide Presentations for Promoting Student Engagement in University Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23141

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