Thursday, April 29, 2010

Colleges told: merge or die

In the Irish Independent today John Walshe (Education correspondent) writes that Ireland has too many universities and colleges that must now merge to survive, the head of the State's third-level funding body has warned. HEA boss Tom Boland fires a warning shot across the bows of all Colleges that the biggest ever shake-up is on the way - and at the same time send a shiver up the spine of everybody working in the third-level sector who must now face the certain prospect that jobs will be lost, and mergers will become more common. Already Limerick IT and Tipperary Institute have announced a merger to save the Tipp college. I have heard several rumours about the upcoming HEA review that there will be more mergers - especially in the Institutes of Technology sector. Boss Boland has indicated that the number of Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) needs to be reduced. IFUT (not surprisingly) sees this as a threat to Lecturers contracts and has already stated that this is a non-starter. There is also a suggestion of more effective monitoring of academic staff.

There is undoubted waste in the HE sector - half-full classes in two Colleges for the same course in the same area does not make sense (this makes Dublin Colleges more vulnerable - except Trinity and UCD of course). There is duplication all over the place, and many courses are run in small Departments that make a loss. I recall one occasion back in the 80's in Trinity invigilating an exam in Polish that had only one student in a large exam hall. As a Lecturer, I myself have stood in front of a classes as small as five students.

I think we can all expect a lot of change - but perhaps not a revolution. The big Colleges will dig in - despite being almost fully funded from the public purse. The unions will also dig in (I continue to choose not to join a union). Students will be stuck in the middle (as usual). Trinity and UCD will still be around in 100 years, but what of the smaller Colleges, and more to the point for me - what about NCI? Even in that last sentence I am thinking of myself, rather than thinking about what's the best way to deliver an effective value-for-money College education in desperate financial times for Ireland. The big Colleges will eat up and stomp on the little guys - this is called "Evolution - Survival of the Fittest". In such circumstances, the little guys must adapt and change - or else perish. There is not enough money to keep us all going. New NCI President, Dr Phillip Matthews, to say the least has a big challenge on his hands to keep NCI alive in the midst of (cash) starved predators. Make no mistake - all the Dublin Colleges - TCD, UCD, DCU, DIT, ITT, ITB, IADT, will do whatever it takes to survive, even if it is at the expense of the likes of non-HEA Colleges such as NCI, Griffith College, and DBS. One interesting prospect is that their greedy eyes may look on us as cash generators as a much higher proportion of our income comes from fees (not Government subsidies). NCI's location in the heart of the IFSC must also be an attractive proposition. In the event of an acquisition or merger - Academic Snobbery might dictate that NCI Faculty will be the big losers. Tough times ahead?

Watch for more comment and positioning by all in the lead-up to the publication of the HEA review this summer. I will write more on this as I try to formulate my own opinions. I have selfish reasons of course to hope that my own position will not be affected greatly, but at the same time I do agree that something must be done. I promise not to fall into the "No Cuts Here - Tax Somebody Else" attitude that others have taken in other sectors. We all need to do our bit - just how big a "bit" remains to be seen.

The supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together!
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (15th April, 1917)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

I came across the article We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint by Elisabeth Bumiller of the The New York Times (via @marklittlenews on Twitter), which adds a little to the PowerPoint debate (see my other posts on this below). In a presentation, the graphic to the right was shown to a general - it was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti. Keep this in mind lads when next you go in to battle against the Taliban!

Some generals are quoted in the article as follows:

“PowerPoint makes us stupid” and “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

One officer when asked how he spent most of his time, he responded, "Making PowerPoint slides". Apparently he was serious! Junior officers are referred to as "PowerPoint Rangers".

There seems to be a backlash against PowerPoint in the US Armed Forces - no surprise there when something is over-used. While PPT is excellent for things like maps and charts showing trends, it is reported by the Army that the PPT "program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making". The diagram above no doubt looks confusing, but is actually might mean something to the intended audience.

I would like to see what my Lecturing colleagues who teach modules such as Strategic Management think of the use of PPT. Do they use it in class? How do you convey concepts such as the strategy process, capability, and purpose in bullet points? No doubt there is much in-class discussion where there are more mature and experienced students (eg in part-time courses in NCI), maybe less in undergraduate courses.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Look what a Parking Payment Machine can do!

While out for a walk at lunch today I came across an almost empty Upper Sheriff Street - I took the photo from outside the door of the Docklands Train Station facing east at 1.50pm.

Normally on this wide street every parking space would have been taken from an early hour. But recently, Dublin City Council obviously decided that they were having none of this free parking lark and that folks would have to pay for the privilege of parking on Sheriff Street. A two-hour limit is imposed in an area with almost no shops, amenities, or facilities. Who would be stopping here for less than two hours?

As you can see, this cunning plan to generate more revenue is not working. Lunchtime in the middle of the day should be the busiest time, but there is only ONE car parked in the whole street. 

How much did the marking of the lines, new sign-posts, and the parking machines cost? Not to mention the contract for the deadly Clampers! What genius in the Council decided to do this? Did they do a cost-benefit analysis? Today this street is making only a few cent for the Council (assuming the car owner above paid their fee). How long will it take this street to pay for itself (Payback)? Are people in the Council accountable for generating an ROI? How do they decide if a street will pay for itself, or even make a profit? Surely this is costing much more that it makes?

Grown up people in the Council made the decision to charge for parking here, but all they've done is empty the street. It would be an interesting research project to do to find out where all the cars are now parked. There are so few streets in this area now where you can park for free all day. It's clearly Council policy that there should be no free parking, and they'll spend whatever it takes to enforce this. But all they are doing is emptying the streets - and still getting virtually no revenue.

Me - I think it is just mean and stupid.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Interview on South Dublin Community Radio

I finally got a copy of my interview with Dr Paul Heslin of South Dublin Community Radio as part of his "A Life Discovered" Saturday afternoon show, which was broadcast twice over the past two months. The interview is about an hour long, so I decided to break the file up into three parts. Some music by Rory Faithfield is also used in the programme, but I did not include in the clips below as it would be a breach of copyright.

In Part 1, Paul and I discuss Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and Education. To hear this clip, click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

In Part 2, Paul and I discuss some Problem-Solving Techniques. To hear this clip, click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

In Part 3, I tell Paul about my Dad's "Water in the Toolbox" story, Google-Storming, and What Would Jesus Do (WWJD). To hear this clip, click on the "Play" button on the toolbar below:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Virtual Impotence

Courtesy of my colleague Neal, who gave me a paper copy of an article by Joel Stein in TIME Magazine, March 19th last was a National day of Unplugging in the U.S. I missed this event - I don't think it was publicized over here. Stein participated in an "Unplug Challenge," going "off the grid" for 24 hours last weekend. He got lost on the way to a party because he had turned off his GPS; missed his friends because he had gotten lost and couldn't text to let them know; and drove really fast to fill in the void of the radio. But he still found the notion of being unplugged addicting. (above taken from an article by Tanya Schevitz of the Huffington Post).

Stein (who is a self confessed attention seeker) at first found being "Off the Grid" difficult - he and his wife lasted 11 minutes, but eventually he got into the idea and even added on a second 24 hours. I loved his comment that he would never write anything longer than my name with a pen.

It's 9.20 am as I write this (must get to work) and already I have checked my Gmail and TweetDeck before breakfast on my iPhone, checked my NCI email, re-tweeted the Stein article on Twitter, and posted this item on my blog.  (I've just realized that Twitterfeed will also post a link to this post on Twitter - I must remember not to double up). 

Stein has got me thinking - how long would I last without technology? I am addicted to my iPhone and my computer, and would feel a kind of "virtual impotence" without technology. Almost like Stein's feelings about lighting even one candle (read the article to see what I mean).

Graphic above is an illustration by John Ueland for TIME and is taken from the TIME article above.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Building Activity at Anglo Irish Bank proposed new HQ

In my first effort at "Everyone's A Journalist" - I stopped off at North Wall Quay this morning when I noticed that a crane was working at the site of the proposed new HQ of Anglo-Irish Bank. Only one of the four cranes was moving, but I whipped out my iPhone and recorded a short (25 secs) on-the-spot news report which I have uploaded to YouTube:

I pass by this site regularly, and it has been dormant for well over a year - no building activity that I could see. So - what is happening? I'm sure that this building site now belongs to NAMA. Is this basic maintenance? Or is the building going to be completed? Or it it being prepared for demolition? 

It seems to me to be a pity if it is demolished, on the other hand it also seems to be a waste to spend any more money on it. Hopefully folks who are far more intelligent than me will make the right decisions on this and other similar cases.

I had a slight bit of bother uploading the video to YouTube. This is because I have two YouTube channels - one for my How To... and Problem-Solving Techniques videos, and a second for stuff like this Anglo video. (which I don't want on my serious channel). My iPhone seems to allow me to publish directly to only the first (if there is a way I'll figure it out). So I emailed it to myself, downloaded and then uploaded the video directly to YouTube.

I have also tweeted about this earlier on Twitter (it has been re-tweeted already) - this has resulted in 15 views already. Though I have very few followers, it will be interesting to see how many views it will have by the end of the day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Norman Motte Glasscarrig, Co Wexford coast

Just down the coast from our house in Skuna Bay, is a Norman Motte in a location called Glasscarrig Point. Some time ago, while out walking, I took a photo from the beach and uploaded it to Panoramio - click here to see more details on this photo and location on Google Maps. There is an excellent view of this very flat part of North Co Wexford from the top of the Motte - it is located on a farm (be careful about trespass) very close to the beach, and is in fact in some danger from coastal erosion that occurs in this area. It is easy to get to - take the road sign-posted for Donaghmore from the Courtown to Ballygarrett road (just after Doyle's Garage). Go right down to the end of the lane (you will pass the ruined Donaghmore church and small graveyard), park, and walk the short (0.5km) distance south along the beach. A church at Donaghmore is reputed to have been founded by St Patrick himself - see extract of an article by William H. Grattan Flood in 1905.

The Normans first invaded Ireland in 1169, and among several castles they built was the one in Ferns built in the 13th century. The Normans also established a network of wooden Motte and Baileys Castles - the picture to the left (a link from the UK Castles website) shows what they looked like. Only the mound (motte) still stands at Glasscarrig. It is believed that the shortest distance between Ferns Castle and the coast of Wexford is to this point, which may have been the reason why the Normans built it here (quick escape route!). There is even a rumour that an underground tunnel exists between the castle and the coast here, but this has never been found. 

It's nice to have 800 years of history on your doorstep. Many locals hope that this historic site, plus the church and graveyard at Donaghmore, will prompt Wexford County Council to take anti-erosion measures (my house is about 50m from the sea). However, as most of the houses along the beach here are holiday homes belonging to people mostly from Dublin (no votes for local politicians), very little is being done (some work was done a few years ago near Cahore).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Teaching on the Go by Dr Stephen Kinsella

I have just  been listening to a podcast of a talk given by Dr Stephen Kinsella of UL (available here) about "Teaching on the Go". The talk is divided into two parts: first - he talks about slideware and its limitations. The second part is a Q+A (which contains lots of tips). This podcast is certainly worth listening to (especially the first half - 30 mins approx), as he gives a good summary and discussion on his "sans slideware" debate - and it has the added value of feeling his passion for what he is doing. (The photo to the right is a link to his page, which he also discusses in the podcast).

Kinsella starts out with an excellent story on buying fonts in his Dad's taxi (immediate connection made with me -  I thought "hey, this sounds interesting" because I often mention my Dad in class). And then he describes how he asked his students to prepare a 10-slide summary of some complex material. He realizes that this doesn't really work, as all you get are 10 slides of "grunts" in a linear format. There must be a better way.

The podcast discusses a wide range of topics from cognitive overload to cost-benefit decisions being made by students. Interestingly, Kinsella (who is 31) has worked out that in the remaining 37 years of his lecturing career he will deliver "7,104 slide decks" (presentations) until he retires, as he says himself - "boring the arses off my students" at the same time. No wonder he wants to try something different. Pre-podcasts of lectures seem to be his preferred way to go, and then use the lecture for other student-engaging activities (he has a brilliant explanation of economic concepts by auctioning a €20 euro note in class). I know separately from the talk that Kinsella uses his own software and gets students to use their mobile phones to send text messages to the lecture theatre screen. A much more engaging learning experience.

I look forward seeing the fruits of this work, and in particular how students feel about his classes when compared to other classes. It's wonderful to see such passionate and young (he's 19 years younger than me) lecturers who want to improve both learning and teaching experiences at third level. The future of our education is in the (safe) hands of such people.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some thoughts on the use of PowerPoint in class - Part IV

If you have to  use PowerPoint....

Following on from an earlier post about making better use of PowerPoint, here are a few more thoughts that readers may find useful:

If you have to make text available...

Sometimes there is no getting away from it - you have some text and you want to make it available in PowerPoint. In my own case I have a lot of written material from my book that I would like to simply copy and paste into PPT. But no way will I just fill up a slide and expect my students/audience to read it from the screen. As I know my own text very well, I don't need to have it all on screen - I prefer to have two or three short bullet points and a diagram. Use the "Click to add notes" tool to copy and paste large amounts of text into the text-only box under the slide as you are editing the presentation - here's one from one of my own slides:

Students can view the text-only material later in three ways:
  1. Print the presentation out in "Notes format" (slide in the top half of the page, and all the text-only notes in the bottom)
  2. Run the slide show on screen and select to view "Speaker Notes" to see content of a pop-up notes box on-screen (if there are a lot of notes, this will appear very squashed as there is very little formatting)
  3. View everything in edit mode in the same way as you created the slide
This way you can avoid lots of text - but be sure to refer your students/audience to its presence, as many will not know to check out this feature. A good example here might be to have some terms on the screen, but full definitions in the notes box.

This tip goes back to my earlier discussion on using graphics. If you have a scanner available, it is sometimes useful to scan a table, diagram, or even a text list from a book and copy+paste into PPT. First, this saves you re-typing out the text. Secondly, you can use it to refer the student to more detail in the book.Thirdly, there is a certain authenticity to using real material from a book - I like to mix this with my own material. It is also a good way to show some of your own published material. Our large printers at NCI allow us to scan and email a copy of the scan to my Inbox - I open in Adobe Reader and use PaintShop Pro to cut out the piece I need. Then paste to PPT.

Screen Tools
If you have a large audience, a high-tiered lecture hall, or two screens - it can be difficult to point out important items on the screen. There is nothing as stupid as a lecturer/presenter pointing with his/her finger at a screen from a lectern some distance away - the students are looking at the screen and can't see what you are pointing at. Some folks use fancy pointers, but there is an easier way. Why not try the Screen Tools option that is available when you are running a presentation. If you don't know where these are, just move your mouse and you'll see a silhouette diagram in the bottom left of the screen (see bottom of diagram to right). Click on the pencil and you get a pop-up of options. I use the "Felt Tip Pen" to underline, circle, and draw arrows directly on my slide - drawing with a mouse is difficult, but even I can do circles, squares, underlines, and basic arrows. The highlighter allows you to highlight items on screen in the same way as you would use a light-coloured highlighter on paper. 

You may want to refer to an item on a web page, but often the link is very long. To avoid students reading a long link (when they should be listening to you), either put the full link on the course VLE page (eg Moodle) for students to access at another time, put it in the Notes box (and tell students it's there), or simply have a short message on screen with a hyperlink for students to follow up on later - eg "See here for more details on....."

Reading from the screen
I try to avoid this - unless it is something important like a definition or a quotation. The worst presenters are those who simply read from the screen - even if you are reading from a lectern, this is not good. And it is not PowerPoint's fault. Your audience will suspect that you don't know your own material (even if you do), that you were not prepared (even if you are), and some may even resent you doing what they can do themselves (ie, read). It is boring, boring, boring - and must be avoided. I recall a super presentation by a motivational speaker at a Sales conference in the USA when I was with SmartForce (I don't recall his name). Yes - he had slides, but he never looked up at the screen - always keeping eye-to-eye contact with us, his audience. He did not speak from a lectern and did not have a computer screen in front of him, I even checked the back of the conference room to see if he had a prompter to read from (like they do at the Oscars). This guy knew his own material so well that he did not need the slides to speak. Our attention was focussed on him - not the slides. In fact, his presentation would have been just as effective without the slides (he was also promoting his book and had a graphic of the book cover on every slide!).

White/Black Board (another tip to not use PPT)
It's there in your classroom - use it! Instead of providing a full diagram on a slide - why not draw it (from your own notes). Students are used to this from school. Because it is a diagram and you only have one drawing hand - you (by default) draw the diagram in a step-by-step process. This is easier for students to take in and understand. They will understand it even better if they copy your diagram and take notes on what you are saying as they go along. You can still put the original diagram on-line, but isn't it a better Learning and Teaching experience to draw it yourself and get students to take it down? This is also an added incentive to get students to attend class. I sometimes even take a photo of my drawing and put it on-line.

Discovery Learning
Many of us already know some things about a subject/topic before we go to a class. Let's say you are teaching something simple like the names of the 32 counties of Ireland. Instead of dumping all 32 names on screen in PPT and going through them one-by-one, why not blank the screen and ask the class to come up with some names - everybody will know the name of the county where they were born, so that should get you started. Then ask "Where did you go on your holidays?", and you should get a few more. You can follow on with "Where does your granny live?" and many other questions to tease out of the class as many names as possible without you giving them even one. At the end of this process you will probably have a long list - maybe even all counties. Students will have between them come up with all or most of the names, and as a class will have "discovered" that they already knew a lot. If there are still a few items missing, you as the expert can fill in the blanks. This can be applied to many situations and is very effective if used carefully.

PowerPoint's place in all this? First, turn it OFF. Second, you can display a slide with all the names AFTER you have conducted the discovery learning exercise so that students can take away something from the class.

Hiding Slides (another tip to not use PPT)
Let's say you find a recent survey result on a topic that you want to discuss in class. A really neat thing to do is (if possible) to get the students to take the survey themselves, or maybe get them to answer one or two key questions from the survey (most VLEs will allow you to do this, or even do with a show of hands). Have the "real" result of the survey on a slide that the students do not get in advance (avoids bias), but that you show only in class. You need to remember to omit the slide from the version of the presentation that you upload to the class VLE (I keep two versions). Students can then compare their results with the "real" results - hopefully enhancing their learning experience.

Finally - keep it simple.

Pretty templates may look well, but can be distracting. Watch out for appropriate use of colours - what might be OK on screen may not look so good in a printout. Also keep in mind that many students print out the presentations at home. If you have slides with dark (or any colour other than white) backgrounds, this will use up a lot of printer toner unnecessarily.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

eircom brochure - is this the right message?

I picked up an eircom leaflet in PC World last Saturday which was advertising "FREE online tutorials worth over €3,000". You have to sign up to 3MB broadband to get this "exclusive offer". eircom call this the StudyHub for Junior and Leaving Certificate curricula. Sound good - I must check if I can get this for my daughter Vicki who is doing the Junior Cert this year.

But look at the picture on the brochure (click to enlarge)...

...the note has written on it.

There is a very mixed message here. Now I don't for one second think that anybody in eircom condones cheating in exams, but I don't think eircom were advised well by the folks who dreamed up this picture. I know this is a tongue-in-cheek photo, but does it send an ambiguous message to students? Is the StudyHub a better way to cheat? Does the brochure imply that students cheat all the time?

Unfortunately cheating in exams does happen every year - students who are caught cheating sometimes face severe penalties. Cheating must never look "cool", and (IMHO) should not be used to advertise products.

Maybe I'm just seeing something that's not there.............?

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Philadelphia Here I" come at the Gaiety

I went to see the Brian Friel play "Philadelphia Here I Come" at the Gaiety Theatre last evening - I had never seen it before. Written in the early 1960's it is about a young man (Gar) about to emigrate to Philadelphia. The intriguing part about the play is that Gar's alter ego is also a character - both parts were given fantastic treatment by CiarĂ¡n O'Brien (Gar Public) and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Gar Private). The dialog and action featuring these two was never tiresome, and was a joy to watch. A potentially complicated play was made very simple, and was excellently produced. Barry McGovern as S.B. O'Donnell was the star of the show for me. He played the part of Gar's father to a tee - I saw lots of men like him when I was growing up. Not many lines for McGovern to say, but he was perfection.

It's quite a long play (2 hours and 20 minutes). The Intermission was short and incredibly there were only two people serving at the bar. By the time it was my turn to be served a third bar-person arrived (why does this always happen to me?). Roma and I enjoyed a nice glass of red wine each.

Overall - a fantastic play, well worth seeing.

We adjourned to the Bleu Bistro on Dawson Street afterwards for dinner - this was my first time here as well (I had made several efforts to go there in the past). While the restaurant was very noisy (due to a large party), I had a most wonderful meal. For main course I had "Crisp Duck Confit, Carrot & Star Anise Puree, Potato Rosti, Hazelnuts & Orange" (from their menu). This was simply superb - I took the unusual step of calling over the waiter just to tell how much I was enjoying the meal. I asked for (and got) an extra portion of Puree. If you like crispy duck you have to try this - fantastic stuff.

Bleu Bitro - recommended!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My YouTube Channel - 75,000 views

Just a quick note to report that my YouTube Channel has now reached over 75,000 views - modest in the context of YouTube, but phenomenal to me all the same. It is 41 days since I reported that the channel reached 60,000 views. Comments continue to be largely favourable - Coolg82 says Thank you Dr, O'Loughlin! I spent all day using other "tutorials" that did not work. Yours did, thank you and good work.

I'm still hopeful that I will get to present at EdTech 2010 about using YouTube in class - I got confirmation today that my paper was accepted, but not in the Track that I had hoped for. I'm keeping my fingers crossed (and hoping that CB will look favourably on my request for a change in Track).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Some thoughts on the use of PowerPoint in class - Part III

If you have to use PowerPoint....

As mentioned previously in Part I of this short discussion on using PowerPoint in class - I use PowerPoint in all my lectures. However - as I have also mentioned before, I am also dead set against the use of text-only slides that fill up the screen (that is sooooo common and verrrrrrry borrrrrrring), and try to avoid these if at all possible. So - at the complete opposite end of Dr Stephen Kinsella's sans slideware debate where he proposes eliminating PowerPoint, I'm going to suggest how we can use PowerPoint in a much better, and non-traditional way. Be warned - this involves extra work for lecturers in preparing slides. PPT can do a lot more than simply present bullet points - with a little bit of work it can be made somewhat more interesting for students instead of just being plain boring and useless.

Here are some of my techniques to make lecture notes in PowerPoint a little bit more interesting (as I am suggesting several techniques I'll do this over more than one post):

First - NO long lectures
Some of my modules are made up of a two hour lecture and a one hour tutorial per week, and they are timetabled for different days. A two hour lecture is too long - even with a break in the middle. So what I do is....
  • move the tutorial into the two hour lecture so that it is (approx) half lecture/half tutorial
  • have a lecture instead of the tutorial
  • in the two hour session start with a 45-50 minute lecture for the first half
  • in the second half I do a tutorial for the rest of the class
My tutorials consist of exercises, questions, groupwork, research - anything to get the students active and involved. It also allows me to go around the class, giving individual help and getting to know the students better. (It also cuts down on absenteeism that is rife in tutorials).

This way - students are not faced with a two-hour long session driven by PowerPoint (even the 45-50 minute lecture is probably still to long).

The "B" button
Perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do with PowerPoint in a class is TURN IT OFF! Use the "B" button which blackens the screen (and "B" again to turn screen back on). As Neil D. Fleming (he of VARK learning style fame) states in his excellent booklet 55 Strategies for Teaching, "...the visual effects can attract attention to the extent that students miss the message because they are engrossed in the appearance and disappearance of words and the fancy effects that can be generated..... Sometimes the immediacy and directness of the teacher writing on a whiteboard or on an overhead transparency is seen by students as "real". 

I once attended a seminar by Fleming here in NCI - he hit the "B" button regularly, and our attention was focussed on him immediately.

Use Graphics
I am an addict for adding graphics to my presentations (this comes from my e-Learning developer days). In addition to catering for differing learning styles (Visual and Read), it adds a bit of colour to each slide as well as being a visual aid to learning. When using a diagram, eg a diagram from a book - ONLY have the diagram on the screen with no text. One diagram per slide works best - makes sure that it is clear and easy to read. As a lecturer, you can talk about the diagram for as long as you like (I sometimes do for 10 minutes), pointing out important information, and emphasizing key components.

If you are lucky enough to have the skills, you can draw your own diagrams. However, if you are like me (I couldn't draw a nail) you will be lacking drawing skills using a computer. So, when I'm stuck for a graphic, or don't know what graphic to use, I go to Google image search to get ideas (e.g. click on the image to the right to see what shows up if you search for "ethics"). Google can be a real treasure trove for graphics (be careful about IP). Animations can sometimes also be found, and can be useful. Learn how to use a graphics package like PaintShop Pro so that you can do some basic graphics editing (like cutting out the part of a graphic that you need).

YouTube makes a difference - younger students love it. Search YouTube by topic and you will almost always come up with something relevant (you'll get lots of garbage too). News clips are great, experts on a subject sometimes post to YouTube, even "fun" videos can useful (for example - I played the iPad Smashing video in class this week). And they are short.

You can insert YouTube videos right into your presentation with very little effort - and it looks cool too. No clicking on links and opening up a separate browser - why not just play the video on your presentation screen. True to form, here's one of my own "How To..." videos which shows you how to do this:

And it gives you a break!

Avoid Text Animation
Having words twisting and flying in to your slide has NO educational value WHATSOEVER! Don't do it. This was cool back in the mid 90's, but not any more. Microsoft should get rid of it.

If you are someone who likes to present bullet points one at a time in a (vain) effort to focus concentration on a particular point, you will inevitably start out with a lot of blank space - there's no point in this. What does it say? Students are looking at a half blank screen - and learning nothing! Why do we do this?

This reminds me of the "good old days" when lecturers used to uncover an acetate sheet on an overhead projector bit-by-bit - I always used to wonder why they didn't show the whole damn thing and be done with it.

More next week...
I have a few more items that might be of interest that I will post next week. In the meantime - take a break from PowerPoint!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Some thoughts on the use of PowerPoint in class - Part II

In 2005 Elliott Masie decided that at the Learning 2005 Conference "every session will only have one slide" - what he called a "1 pager". I met Elliott once, I think about 1994, when he visited the then CBT Systems offices in Clonskeagh. He is a keynote speaker at the EdTech 2010 Conference which is being held this year in Athlone IT on 21st and 22nd May. I look forward to hearing him again. Also in 2005 Clive Shephard also comments on the "1 pager"  idea in his "Clive on Learning" blog where he also tells a very funny, but very interesting story about the Emperor's New Slide Show (make sure to check out this post - it is a must read). 

I would like to try a "1 pager" out, but I feel that I would get a lot of student complaints if the notes for a lecture were just one slide. Of course I could supply some "notes" separately - but there is a expectation among students today that they will get a lot of notes from their lecturers. A "1 Pager" presentation will definitely get over the "Death by PowerPoint Syndrome", a nice idea - but will it work in a class? Here's the dilemma - how do we make class more interesting, but at the same time give the students what they want - i.e, lots of notes? I will commit here to trying out a "1 pager" very soon. It may be possible to try it out at EdTech 2010 - assuming my paper proposal is accepted ;-)). Another possibility is to try it out at a seminar, or in a less pressurized setting where there is no expectation of taking away pre-prepared notes.

Dr Stephen Kinsella writes today in his "sans slideware" debate that the best slides are beautiful, but really, information-free, and he concludes...

Think what sitting there, watching slide after slide after slide, does to the learner. They are passive, bored, and complex information is chopped up and fed to them relentlessly over 2 hours. Much better to engage them, to ask them questions, ask them to participate, perhaps even make something. No slideware program can help do that.

I see "bored" learners every day - I'm certain that many can recall a very low percentage of what a lecture was about within hours of the lecture being over. Recently in a class on Management Information Systems I got the students to do an exercise on the well known Robin Hood case study written by Joseph Lampel. To get the students in the mood I played an extract of a Robin Hood series on YouTube and sang along in front of the class to "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Riding through the Glen...." before the exercise - I bet they'll remember that! I have to remember that I am an educator and not an entertainer - but this was an interactive exercise carried out without the help of PowerPoint.

Question - do you provide printouts of your notes to students? I stopped doing this since the introduction of Moodle in NCI. Not because of saving trees or carbon footprint, not because it reduces printing costs to the College, not to save students the bother of writing notes in class, and not even because I want to ensure that students actually get a copy of the notes into their hands. The main reason is that students can choose their own way of printing out the notes (6, 3, 2, or 1 to a page), print in colour or Black-and-White, and print some pages but not others. Or if they want - not to print them out at all, some may prefer to read the notes on a screen, or download onto an iPod.

In July 2009, T.X Hammes in his essay for the Armed Forces Journal called "Dumb-dumb bullets" refers to PowerPoint as the "antithesis of thinking". The context here is on decision-making in the armed forces. In the article, Hammes states:

Make no mistake, PowerPoint is not a neutral tool — it is actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making. It has fundamentally changed our culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them.

He goes on to examine the use of PowerPoint in the Armed Forces. In particular I like his comments that ...Most damaging is the reduction of complex issues to bullet points and  ...Future historians are going to hate the PowerPoint era. While I recommend that your read Hammes' article, keep in mind the context - he actually states that ...PowerPoint can be highly effective if used purely to convey information — as in a classroom (my emphasis) or general background brief, and goes on to make the point that PowerPoint particularly good if strong pictures or charts accompany the discussion of the material.

Finally, what makes a good presenter? Is it that important that a Lecturer is also a good presenter? One of the best presenters is of course Steve Jobs of Apple. One thing to note about his keynote presentations is that his slides are minimal, hardly ever have text, and make use of simple graphics (almost always only one-at-a-time on screen). But he has probably got a small army of graphics designers and script writers to help him out. Us humble lecturers do not have such resources, but there is no harm in sitting back and looking at the master in action - check out the following video Present Like Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo of BNET:

Now wouldn't it be great to get cheering from students in a lecture as Jobs does from his audience?

In my next post on this subject I will give some of my own tips and techniques for making better use of PowerPoint in class. Can't wait? Check these comments out from MetaFilter.

"Death by PowerPoint" image above is a link to an image from

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Some thoughts on the use of PowerPoint in class - Part I

I have been following a "sans slideware" on-line discussion by Dr. Stephen Kinsella of UL (@stephenkinsella on Twitter) with interest. His choice of teaching tool for the past nine years is the "slide deck" (presumably PowerPoint), and he doesn't want to "want to use this tool in lectures anymore". He is seeking comments and suggestions for alternatives here. He concludes that:

There is a problem with teaching using slideware: it is boring, it does not help us as lecturers, it does not help students learn. Slideware is the wrong tool for the job. We can do better.

Stephen also interestingly places his lecture notes online using Slideshare - for all the world to see. My own lecture notes are only available to authorized students on the College's LCMS (Moodle) - safely tucked away where only my students can see them. Having read Stephen's paper, I thought I'd write down some of my own thoughts on using PowerPoint.

I use PowerPoint for all my lecture notes, and post them in advance of class on Moodle. I also post lots of other items such as links to case-studies, videos, supporting documentation, exercise files, and solution files. As an advocate for the use of technology in the classroom, I try to make as much course related material available on-line as possible. The aim of doing this is to give my students the opportunity to read over the notes before class - with the exception of some of my postgraduate students, almost none do this. Even less print them out and bring them to class, but very few students take notes any more. To me a student should bring a printout of slides to class and add more written notes. Many of my notes are based on chapters in books, and in isolation they are simply a summary of what's in the chapter. Some textbook authors provide slides to accompany the text - these slides are a godsend (cuts down on preparation time) to some lecturers who use them without modification. To me, they are mostly totally inadequate and I always modify them, sometimes almost beyond recognition - which is possibly a breach of copyright rules (I do site sources at all times). Most of my changes are to add more up-to-date information, examples, videos, and graphics (mostly plundered from Google image searches). This is my effort to make my slides more appealing - I am dead set against the text only slides that are so common. This, I'm sure, is as a result of my experience in CBT Systems/SmartForce as a courseware developer where our storyboards had to have a new graphic for almost every sentence! Text only screens of content were not allowed.

A set of slides for one of my classes will take, on average, about 5-10 minutes to read from start to finish at most. Yet, I can talk for an hour in a lecture using the same slides - sometimes I will discuss the contents of a single slide (especially diagrams) for several minutes alone. Quite often I am hurrying near the end of a lecture to finish the content - this mostly happens when I get a lot of feedback and discussion in class (which is great and very enjoyable). As I keep text to a minimum and use a lot of graphics, a student who misses my class will only have a 5-10 minute file to read - and he/she may be wondering how this is translated into an hour long lecture. This probably makes studying for exams very difficult - how do you learn from a set of slides from a lecture that you did not attend? I know what happens - many students simply try to learn off by heart the contents of the slides. I know they do this - because time after time I get, in response to an exam question, a list of bullet points! No analysis, no discussion, no thought, no supporting examples. In this I agree with Stephen Kinsella that "We can do better". His pre-class podcast idea is a good one - but how many students will listen to a podcast and then go to class?

I remember attending a project management class given by my former colleague at NCI, Dr. David Keane, not long after I started in NCI. He used no slides at all in the class - instead he turned it into a discussion where everyone got involved. This worked quite well - though a student missing this class is obviously going to miss out on a great learning experience, as well as having no notes to study. I once attended a course (CIPD Certificate in Training) which was delivered by the excellent Dr. Teresa Williams. She provided printouts of her PowerPoint notes, but never used them once over the ten days of the course! Instead, the (all-day) classes were a series of workshops, problem-solving sessions, analysis of cases, group-work, and student presentations. A fantastic learning experience for me as a student - many of the techniques learned are put to good use in class.

In the good old days when I were a student - of course there were no PowerPoint slides. Some lecturers had the old style film slides for diagrams and photos, but most used the blackboard or overhead projector. One of best lecturers in Trinity that I had, Dr Frank Jeal, mostly used the blackboard with a few film slides in each class. He had the wonderful ability to hold student attention throughout class, while we all hastily wrote down as much notes as we could.

Part II to follow....

(Cartoon above shamefully ripped off from Morten Flate Paulson's book: Online Education and Learning Management Systems - I use this in a class on Technology Enhanced Learning).