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Study Finds Taking Photos of Slides Helps Students Remember Lessons

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Students in class

A new study from the University of California, Riverside has found that students who take photos of PowerPoint slides in class or during online presentations were better able to remember content than for slides they did not photograph.

The study’s results contradict previous studies which determined that taking photos actually hindered the human brain’s ability to retain information. However, those studies, one from 2013 and another that built upon it in 2018, were conducted at art museums and mimicked experiences outside of classrooms. This new study specifically looks at learning environments and came to significantly different conclusions.

“Given that the floodgates have already opened regarding the use of technology in the classroom — particularly with the proliferation of online courses offered due to COVID-19 — it is wise to study how best to support learners’ use of technology in the classroom so we can understand how best to support their learning with these devices,” UC Riverside psychology professor and researcher Annie Ditta, the main author of the study, writes.

This is a first-of-its-kind study that looks specifically at lecture slides and found that not only did students remember content better when they photographed it, but also that they better remembered the spoken-word lectures that accompanied the slides.

The study used a pool of 132 university students who were asked to take photos of alternate PowerPoint slides on their computers. Half took photos of the even-numbered slides and half took photos of the odd-numbered slides. The lessons the students were shown, who were mostly psychology students, were determined to be subjects that they would have very little familiarity with: printmaking, fencing, and cheese-making.

The students were then tested with a 60-question “fill in the blank” style test where they were asked to recall information both from the slides and from what lecturers said that accompanied the slides.

“The first experiment found participants remembered the slide information significantly better when they took a photo than when they did not. However, there was no difference in memory for the spoken-word-only information,” the study found.

“In the second experiment, half of the 108 study participants could photograph their choice of slides, as long as they photographed about half. The other half of participants were ‘yoked’ to the first set of students, instructed to photograph only the slides the others chose to photograph.”

In both cases, students remembered slide photographed content better than the content of slides they did not photograph.

“Overall, we found evidence for a photo-taking benefit in an online lecture,” Ditta writes. “The results were surprising, given that most prior research has found a photo-taking impairment effect.”

Previous studies have found that note-taking helps students retain information and even found that it is superior to taking photos in terms of remembering content. This particular study did not perform such a comparison, but it is a topic of interest for future studies.

“Overall, these results indicate that students do not seem to put themselves at risk for memory impairments by taking photos of lecture slides. On the contrary, photo-taking could benefit memory for photographed content,” Ditta concludes.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.


Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

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