The Point of PowerPoint in SophLit

by Jana Anderson, Mimi Barnard and Chris Willerton

Abilene Christian University


GoblinThis study examines presentation software as an effective technology for the literature classroom. We have found that showing brief PowerPoint presentations before our students read a literary work can improve their comprehension measurably.

ERIC lists many studies of the efficacy of technology to improve student learning and foster creative teaching. But these studies have primarily centered around technology use in elementary to high school classrooms in the following disciplines: industrial and computer technology, science, psychology, mathematics, and reading. Studies of technology in university teaching/learning have been confined to composition courses (improving student drafting, revising) and the value of distance learning and teaching via the Internet. However, there seems to be little quantitative data measuring the effect of technology in the literature classroom at the university level, particularly in the use of presentation media. We have found no previous studies on the effectiveness of PowerPoint, for example, when used for pre-reading preparation rather than for embellishing a lecture.

University-level sophomore literary survey courses are a mission effort. Like other core curriculum courses, they have a mostly captive audience of sophomore-level students who are not majoring in the material and whose minds are on pledging, romance, intramurals, and so forth. A good teacher woos them to the material, and it always seemed to us that presentation software could help with the wooing. Our challenge was not just to get the PowerPoint presentations produced, but also to prove that they worked--that they measurably improved learning. This paper describes our collaboration and what we've learned from our studies in fall 1997 and fall 1998 at Abilene Christian University. We knew that our students were a media-soaked generation, but we've also learned from our study that bringing in electronic images does not automatically make students succeed.
War Poets

We chose PowerPoint for this study because of usability and availability. Not only are PPT presentations fairly easy to assemble, PPT software was already available on many of our faculty's departmental computers.

Before describing the method of our study, we should reassure teachers who have never tried PowerPoint. It is feasible even for the technologically challenged. The first step in creating a presentation is brainstorming: what images would most effectively introduce the literary text? The next step is to collect images, retrieving them from the Web or scanning them from a textbook, magazine, etc. Once the images are digitized, the process is fairly simple. Start the PowerPoint software and open a new presentation from the menu heading. The screen will offer you a choice of templates (so you don't have to guess what lettering goes with what background). Then, slide by slide, you type your text and insert the pictures; both text and pictures can be resized and rearranged. On individual slides, you can record narration or animate objects or text. (Generally we were not that fancy. Because of time limitations and skill level, our presentation slides were simple: background, image, and text.) As you accumulate slides, it is easy to rearrange them and delete those you don't want. With 10 minutes of coaching and an hour of practice, you'll surprise yourself with how much you can do. We caution you not to put too much text on a slide. Put complicated text on handouts; save PowerPoint for pictures that let your students see things from outside their experience--World War I tanks and trenches, for example.





Currents: An E-Journal Currents in Electronic LiteracySpring 1999 (1), <>