Using LibreOffice/OpenOffice Impress in education

Posted by Greten on 06 Sep 2013 under Tools

Presentation is one of the most important part of a lesson. It is during the presentation when the bulk of the information is transmitted from teacher to students. Many teachers now find it useful and convenient to use presentation software such as LibreOffice/OpenOffice Impress, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Apple Keynotes.

Few decades ago, teachers are using big manila papers or cartolina with handwritten text and illustrations, meant to be embedded on the board. Just few years ago, several teachers used acetate slides meant to be placed on an overhead projector. The old chalk and blackboard method can be considered a presentation. These older methods are still being used and very useful in certain topics or certain teaching methods. However, as education marches with technology, more teachers are conducting lessons with the aid of presentation software programs.

Since this blog is about using free and open source software (FOSS) in education, most of the examples provided here are done on the assumption that you will be using LibreOffice/OpenOffice Impress in creating your class presentation. However, many of the tips and tricks that I will discuss are applicable if you are using other presentation software programs such as Powerpoint or Keynotes.

Determine how you intend to use the presentation

There are different ways of using Impress for educational purposes. In general, they can be divided into two:

  1. Using the presentation in aid of lecture
  2. Using the presentation as a stand-alone learning module

You need to be clear on how exactly you will use the presentation. A stand-alone learning module is not ideal to be presented in a lecture, unless the teacher intends to sit down while the presentation runs on its own. On the other hand, a presentation made in aid of lecture is an incomplete review material unless the student managed to get some notes while it is being presented or if it comes with a study handout.

Using LibreOffice Impress slide presentation software in classroomA presentation made as a supplement to lecture may be a simple as showing only the titles of the topic and subtopics, with the bulk of the lecture coming from the speech of the lecturer. It may also contain illustrations, diagrams and pictures. It may also be used to demonstrate how to execute a certain process, e.g., how to multiply numbers or how to setup an experiment. This kind of presentation needs to stick to simplest animations such as "appear" and "fade" and should have as few text as possible.

A presentation made as a stand-alone module may contain more text and more complicated animations. However, ensure that you do not cram so many text in just one slide and the animations you used have specific purposes and not just for the show.

Develop an easy-to-the-eye layout

Impress and other presentation software are designed as visual aids. It is important that you do not cram them with text meant to be read. Show only one picture, diagram, figure, table, or graph per slide, with only one or two lines of text serving as caption. Provide as many white space as practical.

For slides that contain nothing but text, rule of thumb is that there should be at most five lines of text arranged neatly in bullets. You can have bullet items with two lines but since you must not exceed five lines, you cannot have more than five bullets. If you have too many text, then consider distributing them across several slides. However, you need to avoid this whenever possible as your students or audience may get bored if you have a long series of slides containing nothing but text.

For figures that may require a large chunk of text, e.g., an illustration of digestive system requiring labels for each of those parts, use exit animations to display one label and emphasize one part at a time. See the preview below. You can download the actual ODP file by right-clicking the image and clicking “Save As”.

Slide show of Digestive System with exit animation for labels

Compare this to a single animation in which all labels are appearing all at once. The slide is cluttered with labels.

Slide show of Digestive System with fading labels

Note: while PowerPoint, Keynotes, and other presentation software are likely to open ODP (open document presentation) files, the animations and other special effects might not render properly when run. LibreOffice and OpenOffice are free anyway, so why not download and install one of them and see a fully functional ODP slideshow.

There must be sufficient contrast among text, images, and background

Presentation softwares like Impress, PowerPoint and Keynotes are called presentation software because they are meant to be presentational or visual aid. What's the point of creating a presentation when the text and images are camouflaging on the background or each other?

There must be sufficient contrast between text and background, and between images and background. The following tips can be useful in determining whether the contrast is sufficient.

  • Black text on white background or white text on black background provides the maximum contrast. Darkest and lightest versions of the same hue (e.g., navy blue on sky blue) also have great contrast. Anything between these extremes can be evaluated for readability with consideration to other factors like font size and font face.
  • Whenever possible, do not put text in front of figures especially if it is a photograph. If it is a diagram or a part of a diagram with single color and you are putting the text in front to serve as label, it is okay to give it a different color from the other text if that's what provide the best contrast.
  • Just as much as putting a text in front of a photo is not advisable, it is also not advisable to put a picture as a background. The reason is that pictures are dark in some parts and light in others. Exceptions are photos that are consistently dark or consistently light, such as marble or parchment patterns.

The tips I presented here are applicable if you will use LibreOffice/OpenOffice Impress (or any other presentation software) to create slide presentation whether in aid of lecture or as stand-alone module. In my next two posts, I will discuss additional tips that applies only to one of these two possible uses.

Last updated on 26 Sep 2020.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning