Friday, January 8, 2021

PowerPoint at the Psychonomic Society: A Comparison of Different Online Presentation Styles

Background: In November, I attended the online meeting of the Psychonomic Society (a scientific community for studying cognition, perception, and behavior). This post and the following posts summarize a few scientific findings that are relevant for giving better PowerPoint presentations. 

The Study: Online and Doing It Wrong: The Impact of Presentation Style on Learning in an Online Lecture by Jaclynn Sullivan, Mount Mercy University

Description: Teaching during the pandemic has placed a new emphasis upon online presentations. This timely study compared two styles of recorded online presentations. A narrated PowerPoint presentation was compared to a video lecture that utilized a whiteboard. Students who watched the video lectures scored slightly higher than the students who viewed narrated PowerPoint presentations. The reason for this difference could be embodied cognition, possibly an "internal mirroring" of the instructor. A key quotation: "Online lectures are more impactful when they incorporate the body in some way."

Commentary: The improved performance in the video group -- a person giving a white board lecture -- seems very plausible. I have certainly felt this influence myself in watching the online presentations. Watching people is intrinsically interesting. Watching slides without people, in comparison, is not so engaging. The author attributes the increased learning in the video group to embodied cognition, but it might also be an attention effect. The video group can watch the instructor's movements, and this live action might capture student attention.  

Examples: The presentations at the online meeting provided numerous examples of these two styles. Most presentations (like mine!) were simply narrated PowerPoint presentations. It's a bit dull, for sure, to watch a narrated PowerPoint online. In contrast, there was a terrific example of a PowerPoint accompanied by live video of the presenter. Timothy Brady's talk (#143 Invited Talk: The Role of Meaning in Visual Working Memory Capacity) combined PowerPoint with live video in a powerful and compelling way (see the screenshot below). The person plus the PowerPoint was very dynamic and engaging. It's a good example to aim for if you use recorded online presentations. Nice work Timothy!

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