What’s the best option: giving slides in advance or not?

It’s a discussion between many professors – and students – in higher education: should there be handouts in advance.

Disclosure: I never give them in advance, but I do give them a sheet with the structure of my lesson to help them take notes and they do get the slides afterwards.

This new study by Wortingthon and Lavasseur shows this approach isn’t such a bad idea, in short:


  • We examined student progress across two semesters comparing three slide conditions: No vs. partial vs. full slides.
  • We measured actual student attendance: Instructor-provided slides had no impact on actual class attendance.
  • We examined student use of partial vs. full slides in class note-taking and studying for exams.
  • Instructor-provided slides adversely impacted student course performance on exam items.
  • There were no differences by academic group (high/med/low GPA) on use of slides.

The study does have some limitations: just one course over a two-semester time frame and self-reports and most important, they did not directly test for a link between IP slides and student passivity. Still the researchers conclude:

While computers can assist in the learning process in so many meaningful ways, not all of the ways that students and teachers make use of computers will actually lead to more learning. The present study indicates that when instructors turn to computers to upload copies of course slides and when students turn to computers to download these slides, their effort is unlikely to boost student learning. Sometimes old “tried and true” pedagogical lessons trump new ways of deploying classroom technology. While the present study found few educational benefits from the deployment of IP slides, it did confirm the long-established effect of class attendance. Thus, students may need to worry less about whether their instructors are providing IP slides to a class and instead worry more about simply going to that class.

Abstract of the study:

As PowerPoint has pervaded today’s college classrooms, instructors have struggled with the issue of whether or not to provide students’ with copies of course PowerPoint slides (instructor-provided slides). While students report that such slides assist them academically, many instructors have expressed concerns that these slides encourage absenteeism and classroom passivity. To help assess the academic impact of instructor-provided slides, the present study examined two semesters of students’ progress in a communication theory course. Across these semesters, the study charted the relationship between access/use of various types of instructor-provided slides on class attendance and exam performance. In its key findings, the study found that instructor-provided slides had no impact on class attendance and an adverse impact on course performance for students using these slides in their notetaking process.


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