Multimedia Presentations

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Many instructors use multimedia, including presentation tools such as Microsoft PowerPoint, in the classroom to hold students' attention and to streamline class preparation. Here is what the latest research tells us about the effective use of multimedia presentations:

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  • Avoid duplication. Research by Jamet and Le Bohec in 2006 showed that presenting students with a Powerpoint presentation that directly mirrored the instructor's lecture resulted in lower information recall on multiple types of tests.
  • Concise is better. Research in 2003 by Bartsch and Cohern showed that elaborate PowerPoint features such as unrelated images, sounds, and extraneous information impaired student learning.
  • Draw graphs in class. Research in 2003 by Stern, Aprea and Ebner showed that groups presented with a graph that was ‘actively illustrated’ performed better in recall tasks than groups passively presented with the same graph. 'Actively illustration' is when students are asked to develop a graph themselves rather than merely having a graph shown to them.

Ten Secrets For Using PowerPoint Effectively offers some basic advice. The website Starting Point: Teaching and Learning Economics, which was created by KimMarie McGoldrick (University of Richmond), Scott Simkins (North Carolina A&T University), Mark Maier (Glendale Community College), and Cathy Manduca (Carleton College), contains more information concerning technology in the economics classroom.

"9 Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning" (Mayer & Moreno, 2003)

Mayer and Moreno propose a theory of multimedia learning and cognitive overload based on 3 assumptions. Cognitive overload is a term used in cognitive psychology to describe the overwhelming effects of a large amount of information on a person's working memory. Mayer and Moreno's theory involves three assumptions about cognitive overload. The first is called the dual-channel assumption and says that humans process verbal and visual in separate systems. The second, the limited-capacity assumption, argues that a limit exists as to the amount of information each system can process at any given time. Lastly, the active-processing assumption says that meaningful learning represents necessitates higher cognitive processes such as building connections between verbal and visual representations of information. Oftentimes, multimedia presentations bombard students with text, pictures, and audio all at the same time. If the assumptions in Mayer and Moreno's theory hold, multimedia learning may present a challenge to student's mental capacity, particularly for students who are not strong visual and/or verbal learners. The authors propose several ways of alleviating Cognitive Overload here: "9 Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning" (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).



Multimedia should serve as a guide to lecture, not compete with the teacher. This means that teachers have to be careful to not only keep student attention, but also make smart multimedia decisions to ensure every minute of lecture is transmitting information to the student in an efficient, engaging way.