Developing strategies to evaluate the effective use of electronic presentation software in communication education

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Earnest, William James

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This dissertation seeks to investigate the efficacy of “slideware” programs like Microsoft PowerPoint in two areas of interest to educators and public speakers: a) the impact of slides on short term and long term learning, and b) whether slide design characteristics influence audience members’ perceived satisfaction with a speaker’s presentation. The experiment described here considered just two design characteristics— font style (serif vs. sans serif) and color contrast level (high or medium). Audiences viewed a live speech and were shown one of four combinations of the fonts Verdana or Times New Roman and color schemes of black text on an almond-colored background or white text on a medium blue background. A fifth group viewed the speech without the aid of accompanying slides. Statistical analysis of the results found that the speaker-only group (no slides) performed significantly poorer on tests of both short term and long term learning than the groups whose speaker used slides. Among the four groups whose speaker used one of the slide design combinations there were no significant differences in either short term or long term learning. In terms of the effect of slide design on audience satisfaction, of three different satisfaction questions, significance only obtained in the results of one—audiences expressed a marked dislike of the medium contrast color combination of white text on a medium blue background. Because I had expected to find that short term and long term learning as well as general satisfaction would be greatest with the Verdana (sans serif) / black text on almond (high contrast) slide combination, the results left most of the proposed hypotheses unsupported, raising more questions than they answered. Prior to the analysis and discussion of these results, the first several chapters trace the historical development of visual aids within (and prior to the rise of) the Communication Studies discipline and offer a rationale for doing research into the pedagogical effects of slides.