One of my recent posts described an approach to teaching that would introduce more opportunities for failure in the classroom. The reason this would work is that people learn best from mistakes and repeated attempts. A similar effect may be at work in the study described today in Wired:
Two classrooms were given the same teaching content via powerpoint slides. One slide set was original and one had the fonts changed to something that was determined to be less legible (“ugly fonts”). The suggestion is that the ugly fonts make students either pay closer attention or the fonts increase the difficulty of the course material. My guess is that both effects are present but I argue that this is a pretty hollow way to make the course more difficult. Of course, we are talking about a course that relies heavily on powerpoint so it is going to be pretty hollow to start with. Don’t worry about the fonts, why not make the material itself more difficult, or let students tackle it directly in group problem solving, or projects. Any number of approaches exist that make the material challenge students. My personal favorites are Just in Time Teaching, Clickers, and group projects.
Ditch powerpoint, and forget about how ugly or pretty your fonts are. You’re putting students to sleep either way.