On Wednesday 7 December the Academic Development Directorate ran a Masterclass with Dr David Roberts from Loughborough University. David has been conducting research for a number of years on Multimedia Learning (MML) and how to create more effective methods of large group teaching.
David argues that the ‘orthodoxy of text’ in Higher Education is ignoring one of the key ways we learn and understand and showcased how the use of relevant images with minimal or no text on PowerPoint slides can be a much more effective way to encourage active learning.
David has taken inspiration from the work of Richard E. Mayer, who applies cognitive psychology to practical questions in learning, teaching and effective communication. Mayer’s work on the principles for multimedia learning suggests that when we sit through ‘traditional’ lectuers based on passive listening and text-heavy slides, we are only deploying around 50% of our learning potential. However, when images that are complementary to the spoken words in a lecture are used, students report greater understanding and engagement with the lecture content, and even report that the slides affected their emotions which in-turn had a positive impact on their engagement with the subject. It’s important that the images used are relevant to the content in the lecture, whether metaphorically or literally, as it is also reported that images that do not match with the subject content to not have the same effect on the students’ learning. In David’s research, conducted over two years and comparing survey answers with a control group who were exposed to textual slides only, the results were consistent and the group exposed to the slides containing mostly images and minimal text always reported higher levels of engagement and enjoyment. Students with Dyslexia also reported a much bigger difference in the slides complementing the spoken words, than when presented with text-only slides. Results of David’s research so far can be found on the School of Business and Economics blog at Loughborough University.
During last week’s workshop, David showed us examples of images he has used in lectures and shared the results of his research, as well as showing us how one line of text on a plain black background can be more effective than bullet-points of text. There was also some excellent discussion with the other participants and David shared some examples of websites he has used to get relevant, royalty-free images. From a practical perspective, David mentioned that he always shares the slides in both PDF and PowerPoint format with his students, and uses the PowerPoint notes field to add additional text for students, so that the content is fully accessible to all students before the session and afterwards. One of the key points that came out of the discussion among participants was that the over-reliance on text-heavy slides could be just as much a ‘crutch’ for the lecturer, causing worry that if they deviate from the text in the bullet points it means that they’re not covering the ‘correct’ information. David reported improvements in his confidence as a lecturer from changing his practice and anecdotally reported that students were often talking about content that had been covered in his lectures weeks after it had originally been shown.
From a pedagogic perspective, the group discussed how this method could drastically change the pace of the lecture and give students more time to construct meaning from the images when they are first displayed by allowing a few seconds of silence before the lecturer offers their particular interpretation of the image. There is also scope to combine this method with other ‘active’ methods such as in-class polling technology and peer instruction. If you are already using MML extensively in your lectures, we would love to hear from you.
Further reading and resources
- Slides from the session [PDF]
- For lecturers, there is life beyond Death By PowerPoint [David Roberts in Times Higher Education]
- Loughborough University School of Business and Economics Research blog [posts by David]
David’s research into MML is ongoing and ADD’s Mark Dransfield and David Roberts are starting up a Community of Practice based on Multimedia Learning and welcome anybody who is interested in joining. Please contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Introductory information will be sent out in early 2017.
Future Masterclasses and other ADD Events will be advertised in the all staff email and on the ADD Webpages.