PowerPoint & Animations

In an interesting post on the Deliberations blog,  Matt McCusker discusses the use of animated PowerPoint slides to present evidence to a jury.

He cites the  famous 1963 Weiss and McGrath study which found that information is retained at a remarkably higher rate when it is presented orally and visually (65% retention), rather than orally alone (10% retention) or visually alone (20% retention). 

 He also cautions going too far.   Animation could be counterproductive as shown by a  study out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington which found that college students retained less information when presented with animated PowerPoint slides, than when the same topics were presented through static (non-animated) PowerPoint slides.

To quote Matt:

Still, it should be remembered that a good PowerPoint presentation, demonstrative computer animation or video clip will only go so far.  This audio-visual array must also be set in a framework that allows jurors to focus on learning, rather than remembering.  Researchers from the University of Amsterdam and Duke University have demonstrated that learning and remembering compete for valuable resources in the brain. As a result of this battle for brain power, jurors who are constantly trying to recall case elements (Who is who? Why does this matter? When did this happen?) are distracted. 

How does this relate to legal education?

PowerPoint slides can enhance learning in the law school classroom when they are used by the professor to illustrate a difficult concept.  Slides can be used to stimulate critical thinking and to promote student interaction.  They can be posted in TWEN to serve as a course outline.  They can be narrated and posted to serve a study aid or as supplemental content to what was covered during class time.

An article by Gregory Sisk, from Drake University Law School about using PowerPower in law school classes is worth reading. Though written in 2002, he offers  thoughts about using powerpoint that are still valid today:

For the most part, the slides provide a kind of outlines, charts, or bullet points …

After each day’s class session or after concluding a particular set of materials, I then post the PowerPoint slides on a web page that I maintain for each class.

…because I post the slides on my web site after class, I often tell students to put down their pens, stop taking notes, and instead listen, think, and participate.

…everything is not “All PowerPoint, All the Time”; some topics or segments of materials do not lend themselves as well to this technique.

…technology cannot substitute for careful class preparation and, if done reasonably well, will probably increase the time necessary for preparation.

…if adoption of some form of technology in the classroom pushes each of us to engage in an intensive re-evaluation of our instruction, that in itself can only be a positive result for educational quality.

Back to Matt’s recommendation regarding animated PowerPoint slides —

Slides used to teach legal concepts should “focus on learning, rather than remembering.”  If the animation facilitates learning, then it’s a positive addition to the slide, otherwise, it could be distracting to the students.


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