What Should I Do With My Slides Now That I’m Teaching Online?

by David Noffs and Kristina Wilson


If you’ve taught face-to-face before, there’s a good chance you’ve developed slides to help give lectures in your classroom. You may even have structured your course around them: ten slide decks for ten weeks of class. There’s no shame there–keynote speakers and conference presenters use slides as an important part of their practice, and when properly designed they can make for engaging in-person presentations.

Now you’re designing an online or hybrid class, and you’ve got your slides in hand. These worked great in my face-to-face class, you’re thinking. I’ll just put them online for students to read. But wait! How will students interact with your slides online? Will they download them from the course site and need to re-open them in PowerPoint? Do your slides make sense without you to speak to them? Are there new copyright or accessibility considerations?

Your slides were developed for a specific teaching context, so you’ll need to approach this task with care, asking yourself some key questions and reviewing your transition options.

Are they needed? Is the content available elsewhere?

The first question to ask yourself is “Are these slides needed?”

Despite your best efforts, your slides may not serve the learning objectives in your revised online course. Especially if you are using the Quality Matters framework, consider whether your course materials–including slides!–help connect your learning objectives and assessments. If not, they’re out of alignment. Adult students are typically pressed for time, between work, family, and school commitments. If reviewing the slides won’t help students meet the stated goals, they should be excluded.

Do you use slides in your face-to-face class to pace the course time, providing directions for individual and small group activities? In an online class, you will likely use the learning management system (LMS) to create places for students to interact with each other, and include directions on those pages. You likely don’t need to provide slides with this weekly structure.

The next question to ask yourself is “Is the content available elsewhere?”

Sometimes, instructors use slides in a face-to-face class to provide an review of readings prior to launching into a discussion. Online, students will likely have the resources on their desk or pulled up in another window as they work on activities and assignments. You may not need to provide review slides. (Though they could be provided as optional resources if you still think students will find them helpful, possibly for studying.)

Importantly, though, are your slides easily replaced by another, more engaging type of content that conveys the same information from a different perspective? Rather than downloading and reading a slide deck, could students watch a TED Talk or YouTube video? Read a web article, blog post, or journal article available via Course Reserves? Think about it: Do your slides need to remain slides at all?

Can I still use my slides at all, or should I just start over?

Before you decide to start over, consider repurposing the message your slides convey and think critically about new and different ways of conveying the same message. There are very few instances where slides are the best solution in an online, asynchronous context, and there are many more tools to choose from in an online Learning Management System. Emily Moore (2013) suggests reworking your PowerPoint slides to act as a storyboard for your script. She points out that PowerPoint slides are really best for conveying visual information rather than text anyway.

Another possibility is to convert your slides into another activity, like a discussion, or annotated gallery, for example. You could create an annotated gallery by simply repurposing the quiz tool into a self-guided and even interactive lesson. By converting your slides into a different type of activity, you are really building on the power of your message and, hopefully, making the content more accessible and engaging at the same time. Wherever possible, you should try and leverage Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles throughout your online teaching. UDL (2011) strategies are based on three principles which are:

  • Multiple means of representation – Give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
  • Multiple means of expression – Provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know
  • Multiple means of engagement – Tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation

Use these principles as you rethink your slides. Remember, text-heavy slides could be good for conversion; image-based slides will need you to compose text to accompany them. (If you’d like to read more about Universal Design for learning, check out our recent blog post and webinar on ways to incorporate UDL into your online course.)

If you conclude you need to use a PowerPoint or Keynote slideshow for any reason, you can make them much more accessible and engaging by adding a voiceover, as described in the next section. You could also upload them to a site like Slideshare, or Northwestern University Carousel (check with your design team) which allows you to then embed and stream the slides directly from your Canvas page. Avoid simply uploading PowerPoint presentations to your Canvas course, as this requires students to download them, exit Canvas, and then launch the PowerPoint application on their own computer. This is a time consuming, frustrating, and unnecessary process to put your students through.

What are the best practices for recording voiceover presentations?

So, you’ve decided that slides are truly the most appropriate format for your content and you’re planning on recording a voiceover presentation. What best practices should you follow?

  • Keep it brief. Although you may have built your slides to structure a three-hour face-to-face class, that length is not a viable option for an online class. Instead of “replacing” in-class lecture time, distribute the amount of talk time among other resources and narrow your focus for an online lecture. Based on current research and internal analysis of how SPS distance learning students interact with video content, we suggest that online lecture videos be eight minutes or shorter.
  • Rely on images rather than text. Check out this TED Talk by David JP Phillips to help avoid “death by PowerPoint.” Your slides should be predominantly used for sharing touchstone images and infographics rather than textual content. When text is shared on a slide and then read aloud by the instructor, students are processing content in a fractured way; they hear your voice reading aloud, but visually they are also reading using an internal voice. When these two input methods are not in sync, it is actually harder to follow along and retain new information. For information on how to select images for your slides, check out this blog post: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adding Images to Your Online Course.
  • Ensure copyright compliance. Any images you use in your presentation must be carefully selected to ensure that you are in compliance with copyright law. Your in-class presentation was transient, showing an image on the screen for just a moment; your video presentation is more stable, recording that image for all future students. Ensure that the images are freely available using a Creative Commons license (or obtain permission to distribute the images) and make sure to cite your sources.
  • Provide textual alternatives. In addition to captions for the audio in your video, provide the slides for download. Then, students with disabilities will have the benefit of access to all of the information–auditory and visual–contained in the presentation. Don’t forget to ensure that your slides themselves are accessible too! You should use headers to organize the reading order of your slides, and provide alternative text for images.
  • Let students see you. So often, voiceover presentations are slides with a disembodied voice over them. Consider recording a video introduction using a webcam and cutting it into your voiceover presentation at the beginning and end (or throughout). You might also use recording software that captures both inputs simultaneously, so that there is a picture-in-picture setup; you are shown in a thumbnail while the slides are the main focus. Alternately, you could record using the One-Button Studio, which displays your slides on a flat screen TV while you stand next to them. You might use annotation software to mark up your slides, providing examples or illustrations as you go. The Lightboard can even be used to creative videos in which you annotate your slides.
  • Incorporate active learning strategies. The Quality Matters framework recommends developing “learning activities [that] provide opportunities for interaction that support active learning.” When recording a voiceover presentation, consider asking students to pause the video, try an exercise, and restart the video to see you walk through the solution. There is also a variety of educational technology that can support in-video quizzing, note-taking, and other activities. Check with your Instructional Technologist to see if any might be a good fit!

Could students create the presentations?

Ask yourself how your students can interact with the lecture rather than be passive observers. Is there an opportunity for active learning? Your slides can be converted into an outline or even a script for the introduction to a student activity. For instance, you might break up the main points of your slide presentation into separate activities for your students. This way, your lesson turns into a participatory activity that students actually do, rather than just watch. Remember, if you really want your students to understand something, have them teach it to someone else!

If you have already created on-ground activities that accompany your slides, how will those manifest online? You can have students present in various formats in an online course. Rather than have students create their own PowerPoints, hence continuing the expectation that PowerPoint is the primary means of expression, offer alternatives to students such as live sessions in BlueJeans or Webex, or creating a video presentation using Panopto. There are many new tools on the web that do not require membership and allow students to create presentations in unique ways. Here are five web based alternatives to PowerPoint that students or teachers can access, but there are many more new ones appearing regularly.


In summary, online education is no longer experimental but is grounded in solid theory and science based upon many years of research. We know what works and what doesn’t, and placing your face-to-face slides into your online course wholesale falls firmly in the “what doesn’t” category. Moving your course to an online or hybrid course offers you, the instructor, a unique opportunity to pause and reflect on your practice and reimagine the materials you use to teach.


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

Moore, E. (2013). Adapting PowerPoint Lectures for Online Delivery Best Practices.

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