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.

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