Software literacy and student learning in the tertiary environment: PowerPoint and beyond


  • Elaine Khoo University of Waikato, New Zealand
  • Craig Hight University of Waikato
  • Bronwen Cowie University of Waikato
  • Rob Torrens University of Waikato
  • Lisabeth Ferrarelli University of Waikato


ICT, software literacy, PowerPoint, presentation software, teaching and learning, university studentswerPoint, tertiary


In this paper, we explore the relationship between student success in acquiring software literacy and students’ broader engagement and understanding of knowledge across different disciplines. We report on the first phase of a project that examines software literacies associated with Microsoft PowerPoint as a common software package encountered and used by most students at tertiary level. Student data was collected through an online survey and focus-group interviews. One hundred and seventy-nine first-year Engineering and Media Studies students from a New Zealand university responded to the survey. A majority of students considered themselves to be confident and comfortable in engaging with new technologies, had access to mobile-based technologies or laptops, and relied on this hardware and related software for electronic forms of communication and information access in their university courses. On the whole, students expressed a preference for informal strategies (including trial and error) when learning about PowerPoint, expected it to be used in their university coursework, and could identify its related affordances and constraints, and how those affected their learning. Despite their familiarity with PowerPoint, students fell short in their ability to critique the ways the software shaped their understanding of disciplinary knowledge. Implications are discussed in terms of university teaching, including the nature of support services.

Keywords:  ICT; software literacy; PowerPoint; presentation software; teaching and learning; university students

Author Biographies

Elaine Khoo, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Elaine is a Research Fellow at the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Education (WMIER), University of Waikato with research interests in pedagogical strategies in technology-based and technology supported learning environments.

Craig Hight, University of Waikato

Dr Craig Hight is an Associate Professor in Screen and Media Studies at the University of Waikato. His current research focuses on the relationships between digital media technologies and documentary practice, and particularly the variety of factors shaping online documentary cultures.

Bronwen Cowie, University of Waikato

Dr Bronwen Cowie is Professor and Director of the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER) at the University of Waikato. Bronwen has research interests in assessment for learning, ICT in science education, and classroom interactions.

Rob Torrens, University of Waikato

Dr Rob Torrens is a lecturer at the University of Waikato where he coordinates two first-year engineering papers and lectures in higher level materials papers. His engineering education interests focus on transition from high school; the first-year experience; and improving student engagement and performance.

Lisabeth Ferrarelli, University of Waikato

Lisabeth Ferrarelli is currently completing her Masters in Education at the University of Waikato. Her present research focuses on online scaffolding in a fully online educational leadership course. Lisabeth’s research interests encompass online teaching and learning, creativity, and theory of complexity.