In our previous blog post, we looked at the humble PDF. This can be the result from many software applications and is intended to be viewed / displayed or printed without amendment. Perfect for teaching and student annotation.

This week, we turn our attention to PowerPoint to discuss its usage, accessibility, some best practices and file formats in 2020. So let’s get to it!

What is PowerPoint and who uses it?

When it comes to creating slides, Microsoft PowerPoint is one of the technology leaders for creating presentations. PowerPoint was first created by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin and initially called Presenter.

At this stage, it wasn’t a Microsoft (MS) product but it did become part of the MS Office suite in 1993. It’s come a long way since then.

The idea was for PowerPoint to present and display information in a text/visual format. This would come to replace overhead projectors and hand written acetates. As a result, it would remove the need for bulky equipment, costly consumables and audiences trying to decipher sometimes awful handwriting.

As a presentation tool, PowerPoint is one of the main tools used to convey information to students (and other audiences). Different medias can be inserted/embedded to presentations. And of course, the output format can be exported to PDF or other format for study / informational purposes.

NB: Other slide presentation software’s are available.

PowerPoint presentations are created for teaching (by teachers), for conferences (by speakers) and for student presentations (by students) and learning.

What file formats can I include in my PowerPoint and how?

PowerPoint allows for text, imagery, moving imagery and audio to be inserted on slides. Along with this, for the savvy PowerPoint user, you can also make the PowerPoint interactive by adding buttons, which when clicked, allow users to navigate the slides in a non-linear fashion. More on this in a moment.

Back to what we can add to slides and how.

Adding text

For accessibility purposes, text and images should be added to the template boxes provides on the slides. NEVER add in text boxes to add text as this text will NOT get picked up by screen-readers, thus disadvantaging some audience members.

Our aim is and should be to widen audience participation. This means making files as accessible as possible so audience members with specific needs can access the content and not otherwise be disadvantaged.

Adding visual imagery

No matter the type of imagery, ALT text should be added. Again, this is for audience members using screen-readers. If ALT text is not used on visual information, this leaves gaps in some audience members learning.

Also, adding ALT text to non-text items is best practice and a good habit to get in to.

Adding audio / video

There are a number of considerations here:

  • Copyright
  • Inserted versus embedded and file size
  • Accessibility

Copyright is an issue that needs attention. If you create materials, you own the copyright and can use the content as you see fit. If someone else creates materials you want to use, you need permission to do so. more information on Copyright, please read our posts on Copyright: What you need to know! and Copyright in Education.

How video is included in the slides is important. Yes, you can embed internet videos to your slides and not break copyright, it’s also best practice to include a direct link to internet videos. These links are clickable on PDF files and if videos are embedded in slides, it doesn’t add to the PowerPoint file size.

However, if you insert videos from your desktop, the video is now held in the PowerPoint file. This increases file size dramatically and is a consideration if the actual PowerPoint file is shared for downloading purposes.

Remember the worst-case-scenario for remote or online learning. This is the student with the worst internet connection and little or no data. Downloadable PowerPoints containing inserted videos can really use up that precious data and leave little resource for the student for the rest of their studies.

Also, as a lecturer, if you insist on uploading PowerPoint files to Canvas (Queen’s VLE), you’re using up excessive file storage on the Canvas module. Do consider, is it really needed? Can the videos be hosted in Stream or Mediasite and embedded to the PowerPoint as per any other internet video?

Videos inserted on slides most likely won’t have subtitles available. Again, this disadvantages audience members with hearing impairment. MS Stream (QUB video hosting service) automatically generates subtitles on uploaded videos. This is another argument why videos should be embedded rather than inserted.

Adding interactivity to PowerPoints

Savvy PowerPoint users don’t need to use slides in a linear fashion, i.e., going from one slide to the next in sequence. For the savvy PowerPoint user, they may decide to add button interactivity and make the PowerPoint a non-linear experience.

This might have the look and feel of a mini web-site, app or learning object and it’s a more engaging way to use PowerPoint. The major downside is the planning and the amount of time to set up and test such things.

Accessibility and best practices

We do need to consider audience members. Everything we create should have the audience in mind. Especially audience members with greater needs. By adding in accessibility and making materials more accessible, this benefits EVERYONE.

When we talk about best practices, these are forever changing but for good reason. As technology updates and processes become more streamlined, this should impact our workflow and benefit end users (the audience).

Some best practices for PowerPoint include:

  • Use the PPTX format (the most up-to-date format available) for narrating slides
  • Save slides as a PDF and share this with your learners, benefits include:
    • Quick and easy to download
    • Readable on any digital device
    • Easy to annotate
  • Widen audience participation, think about accessibility and audience members with particular needs, i.e., text / visual / colour / hearing issues
    • Include ALT text on visuals
    • Think about typeface, font size, colour combinations and space
    • Less text and more visuals
    • Keep colour palettes to a max of 3 colours
  • Embed videos / audio and provide direct web links on the slide
    • When narrating slides and exporting to MP4 (video), ensure the video hosting service can autogenerate subtitles/captions
When saving slides, what format should I use?

Office 365 is available for all staff and students at Queen’s University. There’s still a surprising amount of old PowerPoint format files being shared, i.e., PPT. Whilst this may not pose a problem for many and the world will keep turning, for those of us who want to narrate slides and make them into teaching materials, the format matters.

At Queen’s, if you are narrating audio on PowerPoint, it’s imperative the file be saved as the most up-to-date format: PPTX.

Some pockets of the university still use the old 97-2003 format: PPT. Whilst this is mostly not a problem when teaching face-to-face, when teaching online with pre-recorded materials, PPT removes the audio.

You have been told…

Do you know how many formats PowerPoint (O365) can save out or export to?

Admittedly, we don’t either. However, instead of us recreating the wheel and listing it all here, have a look at Microsoft’s File formats that are supported in PowerPoint.

It boasts upwards of twenty save as / export formats.


This has been quite the whistle-stop tour of PowerPoint and there’s still much you need to know. We will develop this over time and come back to PowerPoint and it’s usage / best practice as these develop.

In the main time, do think about the issues raised in this blog post. Mainly: Accessibility and Best Practice!

Next time

In our blog post next Monday, we will be looking at some Apps and online learning tools for students in Higher Education.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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