Student Fellows Grace Sukach and Erin Hodgson partnered with Dr. Trey Shirley to lead a session on maximizing learning through visual aids. The following blog post was written by Grace and Erin. Be sure to click the link at the end to the presentation slides. They are filled with excellent examples!

At the beginning of this session, faculty considered the question, “What is your objective with your visual presentations?” and discussed specific classroom objectives with their tables. We wanted faculty to consider the why behind their visual aids and presentations as we progressed with our session. Having this in the back of their mind, we showed them examples of poorly designed presentation slides that we had created. 

Some examples included green text on a bright blue background in Comic Sans font. Another slide was just seventeen lines of text on a white slide. Finally, another slide was bright yellow, and the bulk of the text was seven bullet points copy-and-pasted from the U.N. Charter, with a stretched image and a video URL simply pasted on to the slide. Erin created this last example with regard to the Social Science and the Arts because a majority of the classes have weekly required readings; we acknowledge that this differs from one discipline to another. When what is shown on the slide has already been assigned as the readings for the week, there is nothing added to the value of the class or a presentation. This information, like the U.N. Charter, is easily accessible if it’s public and already part of the prescribed reading for class. This is not to say that readings can’t be recapped, on the contrary rather— you should recap on the readings in class but you shouldn’t paste it directly into the presentation— you should build upon the knowledge of the readings in class using your presentation as a vessel to take you there in your lectures. Now of course, there will be students who don’t do the readings, but it’s up to them to come adequately prepared for class.

We then described our experiences with learning in regard to visual aids. We discussed the nature of the student-teacher relationship and how effort expressed is effort reciprocated. Students appreciate professors who come to class having prepared and put effort and thought into their classes. This in turn makes students exert more effort into the professors’ classes who expect the same amount of effort. 

Dr. Trey Shirley partnered with us for this presentation as an expert voice on the principles of design. He introduced professors to the basic principles of design that can be applied to visual aids and class presentations. 

Dr. Shirley highlighted that people are receiving so much information at a time, but can only process a small amount of it at a given moment. Because of this, it is better to break up the amount of information on presentations into smaller quantities so that students can receive and retain it better. It is also important to know that many students have visual impairments that make reading presentations more difficult, like dyslexia and color blindness. Therefore, it is important for you to put thought into making your presentation more accessible for students with different visual capabilities. He suggests avoiding text-heavy slides, arguing that less is more. You need not be afraid of empty space (also known as white space or negative space) on slides. It’s important to create a visual hierarchy of information using colors and font weights, but know that if it might seem like there is too much information on a slide, there probably is. Limit font selections to those that are clear and legible, using no more than two to three total fonts in a presentation to create consistency. Dr. Shirley repeatedly communicated that the most important thing to remember in designing clear and engaging visuals is to create contrast in your presentation through color values.