9/24/97

Published on September 24, 1997

STUDENTS DON’T LEARN AS MUCH WITH COMPUTER SLIDE SHOWS

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A new study at Ohio State University has revealed that students learn more in traditional college lectures than they do in classes using computer-generated slide shows.

The study suggests that a mix of both methods -- heavy on traditional lecturing and light on computer graphics -- may be the best way to hold students’ attention while increasing learning and class performance.

Andrea Huff, chemistry lecturer at Ohio State, presented this research on September 9 in Las Vegas at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

“When a class is taught with the teacher’s lecture notes presented in a computer slide show, it seems the students feel that all the authority comes from the computer,” said Huff. “Instead of paying attention to what the teacher is saying, they just copy down what they see on the computer screen. They dissociate themselves from the class and become passive observers rather than actively participating in the learning experience.”

Huff and her colleagues tested the effectiveness of computer-generated slide presentations versus traditional chemistry lectures for two general chemistry classes Huff taught in fall quarter of 1996. In traditional lectures, Huff wrote her notes on an overhead transparency that she projected onto the front of the lecture hall so students could see them. In the other class, she projected her notes in the form of a computer slide show.

One class started the course with the computer, the other with the traditional method. One-third of the way through the course, they switched methods. Then the classes voted on which method they would like to use for the final third of the course. Both classes chose to return to the method with which they began the course.

“We found that the students resisted change,” said Huff. “They felt more comfortable using whatever method they started the course with.”

Students taught by the traditional method scored higher on quizzes than students taught by computer presentations. The grades on two midterm exams for both classes were nearly the same, but for the final exam, the class that spent more time learning with the traditional method scored higher.

“Students can cram to study for midterms, so that might explain the similarity in midterm grades, but for the final exam they have to draw on cumulative knowledge they gained throughout the course. Since the class that spent more time with the traditional method scored higher, it seems that the traditional method increases understanding and retention,” said Huff.

The traditional class took their final exam on Wednesday of finals week, and scored an average of 146.3 points out of a possible 300. The computer-aided class took their final on Monday of that week, and scored an average of 132.7.

The final exam scores are unusual because students normally score lower on exams that take place late in finals week. “They get burnt out as the week goes on,” said Huff, “and other students in their dormitories are already done with finals, so it’s harder for students with later exams to study.”

But in this experiment, the students who came from the largely traditional class earned the higher average score, despite the fact they took the exam 2 days later in the week. “I suspect that if the traditional class took their exam earlier, their average score would have been even higher,” said Huff.

Students incorrectly perceived that the pace of computerized instruction was faster than the traditional method. “Once I’m done with one slide and switch to the next, that slide is gone,” said Huff. “So if a student gets behind in copying down the information, they’ve lost it. But if I’m writing on a transparency, they can just look back to the top of the sheet I’m writing on if they missed something.”

Huff also cited course evaluations in which students in the computer class ranked her higher for qualities like being prepared and keeping the class interesting. Students in the traditional class ranked her higher for encouraging independent thinking.

“While we would like students to be interested,” said Huff, “one of the most important purposes of the course is to develop problem solving skills and the ability to think critically. Our research shows the traditional lecture method achieves that goal better than the computer method.”

Huff said that students felt the computer isolated her from the class. The study concluded that the computer presentation stimulated interest and appealed to the students but did not enhance learning.

Still, Huff feels that there are some advantages to using computers in the classroom as an adjunct to traditional teaching methods.

“The computer enabled me to show graphs, 3-D figures, and 3-D animations that were more effective than any drawings that I could make by hand,” said Huff. “In the future we intend to use the traditional method to increase understanding and retention of concepts but generate interest by incorporating the computer for graphs, figures, or illustrations. That would let the students take an active role in the class instead of disconnecting, which is what they tend to do when looking at a computer screen.”

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Contact: Andrea Huff, (614) 292-0679; Huff.5@osu.edu Written by Pam Frost, (614) 292-9475; Frost.18@osu.edu


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