Teaching and Learning

at Conestoga

5 mins 34 secs

Best Practices when using PowerPoint

How can I use PowerPoint more effectively in the classroom? What are some guidelines I can follow when developing my PowerPoint material?

This Teaching Tip is the first in a series of tips related to improving the use of PowerPoint as a teaching tool.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning

Many studies have investigated the value of using PowerPoint as a lecture tool. PowerPoint's strength is often the comfort we have as educators and learners with this lesson delivery format. But sometimes, our comfort level with PowerPoint can make us overconfident in how well it communicates complex ideas.

Most research on the effectiveness of PowerPoint shows that the software has no impact on students' memories or their assessment scores (Clark 2008, Mehta et al 2017). Many criticize text-only PowerPoint lectures as being overly simplistic and impersonal. Bulleted lists, the standard text format on a slide, are often overused. Text can be incomplete, and not meaningful outside of the in-lecture context. Slide decks are sometimes constructed too quickly, without consideration for learning outcomes or accessibility requirements. Graphics and video are often underrepresented and slide decks are often reused each semester, without revision or reflection. Some researchers caution that PowerPoint can "zone out" an audience, neutralizing student-to-student interaction completely (Holstead 2015).

Further, a poorly designed slide deck can detract from the quality of a lecture. PowerPoint can sometimes be too presenter-friendly. The slides conveniently organize our thoughts and jog our memories. Because of this, it's easy to create large PowerPoint slide decks, in our urge to be thorough in the content we cover. But large slide decks are not useful study tools for students, and leave facilitators scrambling to "get through" presentations. The driving force of the lesson delivery becomes the facilitator's voice and personality, rather than active learning of content.

A challenge in using PowerPoint, then, is keeping it learner-focussed. PowerPoint seems to have some real virtues for multimedia classroom presentations. Consider how you might engage in "active lecturing," where you might integrate direct instruction, active learning principles and experiential learning (Clark 2008). Well-designed PowerPoint slide decks can improve student retention of subject matter knowledge, and help students review for tests and exams (Clark 2008). Students report feeling more engaged and interested in course content when presented in PowerPoint (Holstead 2015). When combined with annotations on the board to emphasize definitions and key concepts, students report that they pay better attention, enjoy the approach, and would like more lessons structured this way (Swati 2016; Mehta 2017). Building in active learning strategies, like discussions, games or reflections, also leaves students hungry for more (Fratto 2011).

If a facilitator combines knowledgeable content delivery with active learning practices, a course using PowerPoint could certainly avoid the perils of "sage-on-the-stage" and effectively help students attain course outcomes.

Suggestions and Innovations

Your unique program, discipline, teaching approach and subject matter will inform the specifics of the PowerPoint lecture you create. However, there are some general best practices to consider when creating or revisiting your lecture material.

As a rule, classroom material should always be provided to students at least a week in advance of the class meeting. It also is a general rule that slide decks should be accessibility checked, and typo and glitch free. If you would like to receive training on improving your PowerPoint materials, contact the Educational Technology Officer.

The PowerPoint presentation should

Use a Background that is Simple and Professional

Use the Default Slide Templates

  • Use the Insert tab to add a New Slide, choosing from the slide templates
  • Make sure each slide has a title
  • Change the layout of a slide by right clicking the slide and choosing Layout from the option menu.

Have a Legible Font

  • 18 point font or larger for standard classrooms, 30 point font or larger for larger lecture halls
  • Sans serif font like Arial or Calibri
  • High contrast between the text and the background (typically dark text on a light background)

Be Concise and Thorough

  • Not oversimplified to key terms, but condensed enough that students can use slides as a review tool
  • Bulleted lists used only where appropriate to chunk items which are conceptually related
  • Hyperlink out to further reading or resources online

Use Colour Strategically

  • Slide design and colours are interesting but primarily strategic (e.g. colour coding, not aesthetic unless it relates to your content)
  • Avoid red/green or blue/yellow colour coding, as an accessibility consideration for those with colour-blindness
  • Consider this: if you couldn't see any colour, could you perceive a difference in these texts?

Be Rich in Visual Content

Be Varied

Contain Citations and References

  • Cite sources using APA @ Conestoga as a guideline
  • APA style may vary according to your unique discipline and program requirements
  • Images and videos within the presentation should be referenced as Figures
  • Include a References slide at the end of the presentation

Be Checked for Accessibility

Support Effective Study Strategies

  • Post in eConestoga in .pptx format at least a week prior to class for note taking purposes
  • Little or no information is directly replicated from the textbook
  • Allow students to add their own notes, rather than copying down everything

Provided Post-Lecture with Annotations

  • Work from a copy of your original PowerPoint, preserving your master
  • Save changes to the PowerPoint slides after the lecture
  • Upload the annotated PowerPoint to eConestoga within 48 hours for student review

Remember, you can always request training from the Educational Technology Officer if you would like help in enriching your slides.


Clark, Jennifer. (2008) PowerPoint and Pedagogy: Maintaining Student Interest in University Lectures. College Teaching, 56(1). Retrieved from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.eztest.ocls.ca/eds/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=5f27e30c-26d8-4489-86f66bbf71987762%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=31161342&db=tfh

Holstead, Jenell. (2015) The Impact of Slide-Construction in PowerPoint: Student Performance and Preferences in an Upper-Level Human Development Course
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(4).

Inoue-Smith, Yukiko. (2016). College Based Case Studies in Using PPT Effectively. Cogent Education, 3. doi:10.1080/2331186X.2015.1127745

Mehta, Maulin, Sandeep Adwal and Ashutosh Chourishi. (2017) Evaluation of different teaching-learning methods according to students' preference and perception. International Journal of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology. 6.1

Fratto, Victoria A. (2011) Enhance student learning with PowerPoint games: using twenty questions to promote active learning in managerial accounting.
International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education. 7(2).

Swati, Betharia. (2016). Combining Chalk Talk with PowerPoint to Increase In-class Student Engagement. INNOVATIONS in Pharmacy, 7(4)