Should Powerpoint handouts be uploaded to the VLE before or after lectures?

lecture handouts

Photo credit - libraryman

My PG Cert in Teaching in Higher Education kicked off last week with a workshop and one of the group activities involved us all delivering a short 5 minute micro teaching slot.  We had been forewarned about this so most of us had prepared a few Powerpoint slides to support our slots.  After we’d done our stint we had to evaluate our own efforts and then we got feedback from the other members of our small group and a course tutor.  This exercise stimulated some interesting discussion around student engagement and whether students today expected to be spoon-fed, in contrast to when we were all students when you had to take your own notes during lectures as there wasn’t the luxury of being able to download from the VLE what was written on the OHP or blackboard.  This discussion continued in the plenary session.  Some lecturers highlighted that they tended to use keywords on Powerpoint slides rather than have lots of text, which all seems to make good sense, but students weren’t happy because there wasn’t enough information for them on the slides.  Were they unhappy because they would actually have to listen and make notes …  I don’t know.

The debate about lecture Powerpoint handouts continued with some colleagues at the end of last week.  We currently make our lecture Powerpoint handouts available after the lecture has been given.  In a poll (run with Turning Point) in the last lecture of a 4 week teaching block one of the questions we asked was, ‘When did students want the Powerpoint handouts for lectures uploaded to Blackboard’. The options we gave them were before the lecture, after the lecture, at the end of a teaching block or not at all.  95% of them said they wanted them uploaded before the lecture.  Discussing this with a couple of lecturers there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for doing this.  The reasons for this are that, one they think that students won’t bother coming to their lectures if the handouts are available beforehand, and secondly as many of our lecturers are also busy NHS doctors they often don’t have their Powerpoint slides completed until just before the lecture.

I’ve had a very, very quick squint to see if I can find any literature that provides any evidence that releasing the lecture notes before the lecture affects learning outcomes for students and their performance in assessment etc or their attendance.   I haven’t really found much on this yet that I can get access to, but intend to do a bit more serious searching.

I’m interested in whether other institutions have protocols or guidelines on whether lecture slides should be made available prior to lectures, what are you encouraged to do?  What’s the rationale for making them available before hand rather than afterwards?  Does this approach affect attendance at lectures or learning outcomes.   Does giving out the handouts before the lecture encourage the students to come to the lecture more prepared and stimulate more interaction in the lecture or do you think it’s just spoon-feeding them?

I’d be interested to hear what others think!

Photo credit libraryman


  1. I upload the presentation first so that I know it is done… and so that I can know I will definitely have a copy when I am giving the lecture!

    I think that slides should contain links/terms that you might have to spell out etc. They should certainly not contain a lot of words because just as with any presentation people can’t really read and listen ( and write) at the same time. If more written material is needed then that should be a seperate handout.

    My lectures to students are trying to teach them about a process (self-directed refelctive learning visiting a family), not content, so I don’t have any concerns about spoonfeeding them. I want them to get the general background info through the lecture but expect to cover a lot more in tutorials, and through use of course blog, discussion forums on Blackboard.


    1. Hi Anne Marie – There are lecturers here who upload the lectures beforehand to, but not sure whether they all choose to make them visible to the students before the lecture. Just thinking about myself and meetings I’ve been too where you get the slides beforehand and whether I perhaps switch off a bit because I’ve already looked through the slides and sometimes the talk is not terribly engaging. However maybe that’s because I have an old mindset as I had to take my own notes in lectures and would then go and read around the lecture 😉

  2. We have run ‘paperless courses’ for several years now.

    • No hard copy handouts – saves paper and staff time
    • Students are encouraged to read materials before lectures and prepare their own notes
    • We aim to make lectures available online three days beforehand – often earlier
    • Makes staff consider what to include in their lectures and prepare them well in advance

    This has not had any noticeable impact on lecture attendance.

    Feedback from students has generally been positive.

    “I like making all sorts of changes to the lecture slides before i print out my handouts (eg add additional notes, increase the size of certain pictures, change the colour of some text etc). ”

    “I enjoyed not having handouts as I could make my own notes, more soaked in.”

    “Good because forced me to look at notes”

  3. In the early days of our VLE I retrospectively posted slides. The rationale was that if you put them up in advance people may not bother to attend. I am no longer persuaded that this has any bearing – why would I decide to come to a lecture because the slides will not be available until tomorrow any more than I would decide to come despite them being posted yesterday?

    When I made the switch to pre-publication the benefits were obvious. It was clear lots of students had printed out the sheets (they do also have a module booklet of info, not formatted as slides) and so I’ve gone with that ever since.

    1. Hi Chris – I think you’re right about the non-attendance issue, if they’re going up in the VLE anyway I guess the timing of whether it’s before or after the lecture is irrelevant. Good to hear you found there were benefits, this is something I will feedback to colleagues here.

  4. Hi @msars – Thanks for your comment and sharing some of the feedback from your students. Good to hear that students seem to look at the lecture slides ahead of the lecture and that attendance hasn’t been affected.

  5. I can totally see the benefits to motivated students – one of ours said that he reads through beforehand and comes ready to listen out for the bits he doesn’t understand, or the bits he’s interested in, annotates the lectures slides, and feels completely let down if the PP isn’t up beforehand.

    I, like Natalie, just find it a bit alien, having grown up with the (chalk and) blackboard, and OHP type lectures.

    It’s time I move with the times I suppose. I just feel miffed that I put so much effort into producing an entertaining presentation, that by giving out the storyboard first, they might not enjoy the movie. Perhaps I can give them the trailer….

    1. What is posted online in advance need not be exactly the same presentation that is shown in the lecture. For example I don’t include answers to worked examples in the uploaded file, though I do post the answers afterwards.

      1. @msars – Yes that would make a lot of sense, and I think we would do likewise when we are delivering lectures focussing on core clinical problems or where we are making use of Turning Point in lectures.

        1. There are definitely times when you want an element of discussion without the answer being there on slide 2! I hold back a few things in the online version so as not to spoil the surprise.

    2. @dundeechest – Does seem to be the norm elsewhere. Wonder if anyone has compared the old style chalk and blackboard/OHP vs the Powerpoint lecture in terms of learning outcomes.

        1. That’s a shame, I think it would have been a useful piece of work. Will need to take a search and see if anyone has looked at this.

  6. I couldn’t tell when would be the best time to publish slides. At the University of Helsinki we suggest teachers to do it beforehand but if they don’t, the students can look at the slides of the same course held a year before. All the material is stored in a huge repository since 2007 administrated by our library ( The material can only be accessed from computers with our Uni’s IP-address.

    Dr Shock wrote about same subject on March (

    1. Hi Marja – Many thanks for your comment about practice at your institution and the link to Dr Shock’s blog. Much appreciated!

  7. I am trying to move away from PowerPoints so in the ideal world my students read their content resources before lectures including any content powerpoints I provide, then our face – to – face are more problem solving sessions.

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