Exploring the use of PowerPoint and workbooks: a lecturer’s dilemma

This article is based on a presentation by Monina Hurl at the Accounting Cafe Pop-up Symposium in March 2023 in which she explored the merits of PowerPoint vs workbooks.

The good old days

I’ve been a lecturer for many, many years. I started my career at a college training students for professional accountancy qualifications. The lecturers’ technology at the time? Good old OHPs (Overhead Projectors). I annotated reams of clear plastic while my hand slowly burned on the boiling surface throughout the day.

Overhead Projector (OHP)
mailer_diablo, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The digital age

Rolling into the new millennium, we have the sheer luxury of pen-enabled laptops today. What a treat for those who must demonstrate computational examples to our students. We build the answers up in front of their eyes, step by step, digit by digit, the way they will do in their exams. Perfect.

How does this fit with the format of notes for our modules? Within my department at Aston University, there tend to be two direct camps. In the red corner are the “Perfect PowerPoint slides”, and in the green corner are “Wonderful Workbooks”.

I’m a huge fan of workbooks, and for all my modules, I provide a weekly version to the students. In these, I introduce an area, showing what the topic relates to and how it is used practically. I provide a solved example and then get them to practise, leaving gaps in the workbook pages for them to set out their answers, or copy mine. We discuss what the answer is telling us and its uses. This scaffolding method works well in clarifying the threshold concepts of the topic, building up to the learning outcomes for the students and giving them the confidence to tackle the area independently.

Examples of workbooks: Week 6 WACC and Capital Structure Theory

Can’t this be done with PowerPoint?

I feel that one can only present a relatively small amount of information on a slide; therefore, there is much clicking through to get to the point. They also can feel impersonal. Yes, they’re excellent for presenting information on a university induction day, but workbooks win hands down for lecturing purposes—in the author’s opinion, of course.

However, am I now going to have to combine the two? Why would such a travesty occur? It is thanks to my inheriting my dear mother’s lack of cartilage. I now have osteoarthritis in my hands, and my writing is becoming so shocking that the medical department could easily award me a degree for its sheer lack of legibility, perfect for writing those prescriptions!

I worry about how I will draw up these wonderful computational answers for the students and ensure that my numbers and writing are clear and understandable. Fear not, I won’t be eliminating my beloved workbooks. Every week, they will still be uploaded to our university online system, Blackboard, for the students to devour. When a lecture example needs working through within a workbook, I’ll pull up a separate PowerPoint slide. This has the answer embedded and—through the wonders of YouTube—I get each line to fly in at the mere click of the mouse. So the students will still see, step by step, if not quite digit by digit, the method of answering the question. They still write their answers—physically into their printed workbooks, typed into a Word version, or using their pen-enabled laptops.

I will certainly miss channelling my inner Carol Vorderman, and impressing the students with my hand-written number crunching. Still, when it comes to PowerPoint vs workbooks, combining the two formats gives them the best experience for learning. For me, there is, therefore, no overall winner between PowerPoint and workbooks, and I will use both quite happily.

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2 thoughts on "Exploring the use of PowerPoint and workbooks: a lecturer’s dilemma"

  1. Lindsay Hoyle says:

    Inspired by your presentation at the symposium, I am bringing workbooks into my modules. I know that there is research that supports the benefits of writing notes to support learning and I think workbooks with, very clear gaps for the students to fill in, really do help scaffold their learning and also provide a great resource for students to refer back to between lessons and cement their understanding. Maybe the technical nature of my subject lends itself more strongly to this approach, but I am a fan for sure.

    Thank you for giving me the nudge to change my approach.

  2. Monina Hurl says:

    That’s lovely to hear Lindsay. Let me know how it goes! If you would like to have a Teams chat about it, send me an email.

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