In courses that rely primarily on "lecture notes" over a text book, I've primarily seen two different ways to go:

(1) Write slides that intentionally serve as notes (either by adding more detail after the fact or writing the presentation in this way intentionally)

(2) Write a document with a standard "book-like" feel to it that contains the ideas from lecture, generally in a section/paragraph format.

If we assume (unrealistically) that there were infinite time to generate slides, lecture notes, etc, I am wondering what makes one format better over another. Here are some (definitely incomplete) initial ideas:

Pro Slides:

  • Animations and pictures are easier to write for this format
  • Slides provide a "pre-chunked" format of the material (in the sense that the student is looking at a small piece at a given time, rather than just reading through pages)

Pro "book-like":

  • Students are, generally more familiar with this format
  • It can often be more thorough
  • The notes are more easily editable if the lecture itself changes due to student questions and interests.

So, finally, the question:

Is there any research backing one of these formats over the other? Or lacking that, has anyone tried both formats and noticed students are more engaged and likely to use one over the other?


3 Answers 3


I can only offer my personal opinion on the matter, having witnessed both formats as a student.

I think that the material you use should be designed for the specific use you want them for. Slides are great for talks, presentations and to supplement lectures. They are usually designed in a way that you can see all the important things at a glance. Unwieldy calculations can be chipped into gradually uncovering formulas. Good slides complement the things you talk about and should work best when accompanied by a talker.

Books and lecture notes, on the other hand are self-contained and are designed for people who read them on their own. There is few ambiguity, and unwieldy calculations are put into in-line formulas, blocks of equations and are interlaced with comments. They are sometimes printed out.

Because their use is so different, I suggest to pick the mode of presentation which fits best for its intended use: Slides style for talks/lectures, book style for lecture notes.


With your assumption of "infinite effort available" the "easier to edit" is of no consecuence...

In my opinion, slides should just point out the important aspects, "making them into lecture notes" isn't the right use of the medium. They should supplement the detailed notes.

If you distribute your lecture notes as e.g. PDF (not printed on paper), you can certainly include links (internal to the document, to external URLs), animations, and even interactive applets (I know that it can be done e.g. in the beamer LaTeX package to create slides, which generates PDF as output). So this really isn't a limitation.

Or (as has been said here IIRC) you could just go for a website, complete with cross links, animations, interactive applications, the works. See for example Cut the knot, like it's water problem discussion.

Given infinite time to do it, this won't be a problem ;-)


First: I'm not aware of any research on this sort of thing. Neither is specifically designed to create opportunities for students to think mathematically, so I doubt there is a significant math ed basis (or interest) for looking into this.

My guess is that a lot of the use of one or the other technology will come down to preference and convenience.

As far as that goes, my opinion on the choice of technologies for presentation assuming infinite time would be something like a Prezi presentation. Assuming we are talking about something relatively agnostic to the subject area.

It solves a number of the drawbacks of the slide technology. For instance, whereas slides are essentially a one-dimensional sequentially-arranged (though randomly accessible) structure, Prezi allows for any 2 dimensional arrangement. Though 2 dimensionality doesn't confine your structure to 2 dimensions (i.e. you're not stuck to a grid structure; you could use a tree or other structure).

I have used a Prezi to create a main, sequential thread for a lecture (picture it as horizontally arranged) with side-trips off each slide which can go off in another direction temporarily.

schematic of Prezi structure

That's one possibility, but obviously there are others based on whatever type of structure you can think of that an be laid out in 2 dimensions and makes sense for the organization and interrelatedness of your subject matter. Another "dimension" is size. You can compress blocks of explanatory text within slides so that they are visible, but not intrusive. Clicking on them will zoom into them. For example, definitions that are useful to have at hand, or elaborations that you would not go into detail with in class would be available for the students to use when they are reviewing the lecture.

You can define a main "path" through the lecture, but alternate paths are possible just by clicking around.

It's not the best example for what you're asking about, but here is a Prezi I made fairly quickly (from templates) to aid in an informal presentation I was collaborating on for a student-group discussion about one of Alan Schoenfeld's research studies. It shows some of the zooming in, 2D placement of "slides", inclusion of pictures. YouTube videos can also be incorporated.

It's a pretty flexible tool for presentation, and what I find is the main limitation is how long it can take to produce a good Prezi... but you offered unlimited time, so. :)

  • $\begingroup$ Note: don't try to understand the Schoenfeld paper from my slapdash presentation slides. I was only covering the beginning of the paper, so I was giving a 5 minute overview of the background of the study; not as interesting as the discussion and conclusions! His interesting paper is here: ncm.gu.se/media/ncm/dokument/classroom_obs.pdf $\endgroup$
    – JPBurke
    Apr 20, 2014 at 16:11

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