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Presentation tools

How do you present content to students when you teach in a face-to-face classroom? Do you lecture from notes? Write on a chalkboard? Project a file or presentation on a screen? Some of these methods are easier than others to replicate in an online environment. In this post we will focus on presentation tools that you can use to communicate course material with your students.

PowerPoint was the standard presentation software for many years and is thus the presentation software that most people are familiar with. PowerPoint gets its fair share of criticism, but it is a powerful tool that we can leverage for online learning. When we think about PowerPoint (or Keynote or Google Slides) presentations for our face-to-face lectures, the ideal presentation contains graphics to support the spoken content, but the presentation itself has limited text projected on screen. Books like Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds focus on building presentations for this purpose.

However, what we are most interested in is how a tool like PowerPoint can be leveraged for online learning. Let’s say you have been teaching in a face-to-face classroom for years using PowerPoint to communicate your big ideas to your learners. You already have great content brought together and packaged in PowerPoint and you want to know how you can share the resources you already have with your online students. One way you could do so would be to use screen capture tools to record yourself talking through the presentations so that your online learners can see the content and hear your voice. Video is a great option in areas where internet connectivity is generally reliable. But if students do not have consistent internet access to view a long video, or if bandwidth is a problem, relying on video can be problematic. So what are some of the other options?

One great feature of PowerPoint is the presenter notes section. You many be familiar with it as a place to record notes to yourself of items you want to cover in your lecture. But did you know that you can also create handouts for your students using the notes section? In the View menu of PowerPoint you can choose to view the Notes page. In this layout, you can see your slide at the top of the page and the notes section at the bottom of the page. You can adjust the size of both sections in this layout. You can make use of the Notes section to write out the key ideas you usually share during the lecture while still including all the great visuals from your slides. Then when you are done, you can save the presentation and notes as a PDF that your students can download and read. This is one way to adapt the material you have already created for use in an online classroom.

Another possibility is to think about adapting your PowerPoint presentations to stand alone as a way to present content. This might mean adding more text than you already have to the slides to make clear the relationship between the main points or to clarify the significance of data and images. The goal is to create a presentation that you can save either as a .pptx file or as a PDF. Then students can download and read through the presentation. Once you’ve taken the time to create a file like this out of your presentation, you may even find that it works as a handout that your face-to-face students would appreciate having to reference after the in-person lecture. If you are interested in learning more about developing standalone presentations like this, Nancy Duarte has a great book called Slidedocs that you can download for free on her website.

Both of these options take up far less bandwidth than video, and so they can be great options if you need to reach students with limited internet access.

Google Slides is one of the Google tools that is fantastic for collaboration (for instance, if online students need to work together to create a presentation), but it is somewhat limited in the other features it supports as compared with PowerPoint. If you are thinking of using Slides to build your own presentations to share with students, just be aware that if you are coming to it from PowerPoint you may find that it cannot (yet) do all of the same things that PowerPoint can do.

If you are sick of PowerPoint, one other presentation option that is worth knowing about is Prezi. This is a great option for face-to-face or recorded video presentations, and it can also be leveraged effectively for building standalone presentations that students can click through. Essentially the Prezi platform lets you zoom in and out and move around on a large background image. For example, if you have a lecture that compares and contrasts conditions in several different countries, you can zoom to that country on the map and project the statistics for that region, then zoom over to the next country and project those statistics. If there is a strong visual hierarchy to your content, Prezi presentations can be a great way to visualize it for your learners.