Seeing the big picture

July 24, 2014

David Roberts suggests that using full-slide images with minimal text can fully exploit students’ learning potential (“Target visualisation”, Opinion, 17 July). This is as big an error as the one that it aims to solve: broader consideration of teaching and learning approaches is needed to engage students in learning.

Few educators would describe a slide full of bullet-pointed text as best practice. A full-slide image is, for some, equally impenetrable and restricts rather than enhances learner engagement. Certainly, images can help, particularly for those with visual learning preferences. However, we are not limited simply to PowerPoint as a teaching and learning tool, nor within it to just text and/or images. PowerPoint is just one tool; there are a range of creative, group-based, kinaesthetic and multimedia approaches that support a wider range of learning styles.

Some learners clearly have a preference for visual information. When I use learning styles questionnaires, such as Soloman & Felder’s Index of Learning Styles, more than half my students tend to prefer visual methods of learning. That does not mean that they always want images or indeed full-slide images all the time. Concepts presented visually with text using formats such as spider diagrams, flow charts, icons associated with text and additional visual clues (eg, colour coding) can help visual learners assimilate knowledge, even better than an image alone.

Aside from pictures being inaccessible to blind learners, many others, such as those on the autistic spectrum, struggle to relate facts to abstract images. These learners are poorly served by unnecessarily limiting text content. Images may also have sociocultural connotations, which can be helpful if used well but require learners to have the social capital to interpret them. For those learners who do not have a visual preference, an image may be as enigmatic as a block of text may be uninspiring.

An attempt to provide the best possible educational experience requires recognition of a broader range of teaching, learning and assessment approaches underpinned by an inclusive curriculum philosophy. Adopting principles such as universal design for learning may enable us to recognise the need for a wide variety of means to engage students in learning.

I fully agree with Roberts that text-filled slides are unlikely to lead to an inspiring lecture. The solution, however, needs to consider teaching and learning methods more broadly. Debate about how best to engage learners is welcome.

Bethan Collins
Principal lecturer in occupational therapy
Bournemouth University

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Reader's comments (1)

Learning Styles - i thought Frank Coffield et al put the final nail in their coffin - however some people obviously still see some value in their pseudo scientific, snake oil approaches

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