PowerPoint in the Classroom

Do you use PowerPoint (or Keynote, Prezi or other presentation software) as part of your teaching? If yes, why? This is not meant to be a question that puts you on the defensive, rather to ask you to reflect on how the use of a presentation application enhances your teaching and fits in with other strategies to meet your learning objectives for the class.

Cartoon-like drawing of a presenter showing a slide to a sleeping/snoring audience.It’s been almost three years since The Innovative Instructor wrote on using PowerPoint in the classroom. See Polishing your PowerPoints, a post that covered some tips for creating more effective slides, citing a book by Nancy Duarte called Slide:ology [Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology,  O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2008].

A key point from that post to reiterate: “Duarte reports on research showing that listening and reading are conflicting cognitive processes, meaning that your audience can either read your slides or listen to you; they cannot do both at the same time. However, our brains can handle simultaneous listening to a speaker and seeing relevant visual material.”

It’s important to keep this in mind, particularly if your slides are text heavy. Your students will be scrambling to copy the text verbatim without actually processing what is being said. On the other hand, if your slides are used as prompts (presenting questions or key points with minimal text) or if you don’t use slides at all, students will have to listen to what you are saying, and summarize those concepts in their notes. This process will enhance their understanding of the material.

An article in Focus on Teaching from August 1, 2012 by Maryellen Weimer, PhD asks us to consider Does PowerPoint Help or Hinder Learning? Weimer references a survey of students on the use of PowerPoint by their instructors. A majority of students reported that all or most of their instructors used PowerPoint. Weimer’s expresses the concern that “Eighty-two percent [of students surveyed] said they “always,” “almost always,” or “usually” copy the information on the slides.” She asks, “Does copying down content word-for-word develop the skills needed to organize material on your own? Does it expedite understanding the relationships between ideas? Does it set students up to master the material or to simply memorize it?” Further, she notes that PowerPoint slides that serve as an outline or use bulleted lists may “oversimplify” complex content, encourage passivity, and limit critical thinking.

Four journal articles from Cell Biology Education on PowerPoint in the Classroom (2004 Fall) present different points of view (POV) on the use of PowerPoint. Although written over a decade ago, most of the concepts are still relevant. Be aware that some of the links are no longer working. From the introduction to the series:

Four POVs are presented: 1) David Keefe and James Willett provide their case why PowerPoint is an ideal teaching software. Keefe is an educational researcher at the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. Willett is a professor at George Mason University in the Departments of Microbial and Molecular Bioscience; as well as Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. 2) Kim McDonald highlights the causes of PowerPointlessness, a term which indicates the frequent use of PowerPoint as a crutch rather than a tool. She is a Bioscience Educator at the Shodor Education Foundation, Inc. 3) Diana Voss asks readers if PowerPoint is really necessary to present the material effectively or not. Voss is a Instructional Computing Support Specialist at SUNY Stony Brook. 4) Cynthia Lanius takes a light-hearted approach to ask whether PowerPoint is a technological improvement or just a change of pace for teacher and student presentations. Lanius is a Technology Integration Specialist in the Sinton (Texas) Independent School District.

These are short, op-ed style, pieces that will further stimulate your thinking on using presentation software in your teaching.

For more humorous, but none-the-less thought provoking approach, see Rebecca Shuman’s anti-PowerPoint tirade featured in Slate (March 7, 2014): PowerPointless. With the tagline, “Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education,” Shuman reminds us that “A presentation, believe it or not, is the opening move of a conversation—not the entire conversation.”

Shuman offers a practical guide for those, like her, who do use presentation software, but seek to avoid abusing it. “It is with a few techniques and a little attention, possible to ensure that your presentations rest in the slim minority that are truly interactive and actually help your audience learn.” Speaking.io, the website Shuman references, discusses the use of presentation software broadly, not just for academics, but has many useful ideas and tips. 

For a resource specific to academic use, see the University of Central Florida’s Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning’s Effective Use of PowerPoint. The experts at the Center examine the advantages and challenges of using presentation software in the classroom, suggest approaches to take, and discuss in detail using PowerPoint for case studies, with clickers, as worksheets, for online (think flipped classes as well) teaching, the of use presenter view, and demonstrate best practices for delivery and content construction.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Oliver Tacke https://www.flickr.com/photos/otacke/12635014673/

“A Lecture from the Lectured”: What students have to say

View of a large university lecture in progress. Seen from the back of the lecture hall.Back in October 2015, I wrote two posts about the tradition of the lecture format and where various faculty stand on its value in 21st century teaching: Where goes the Lecture? and Where Goes the Lecture, Reprise. The second post reviewed an article by Molly Worthen, assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, who wrote an op-ed piece, Lecture Me. Really. Worthen came out in favor of the traditional lecture, especially for humanities courses. Rebecca Schuman, who writes as an education columnist for Slate, refuted Worthen’s position with Professors Shouldn’t Teach to Younger Versions of Themselves. But, there was an important voice missing from the debate—that of the students.

In A Lecture From the Lectured [Vitae, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 4, 2016], John Barone, Cassandra Chaplinsky, Taylor Ehnle, John Heaney, Riley Jackson, Zoe Kaler, Rachael Kossy, Benjamin Lane, Thomas Lawrence, Jessica Lee, Sarah Lullo, Kevin McCammack, Daniel Seeder, Carly Smith, and Demetrius Wade, all students in Catherine Prendergast’s writing course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote a thoughtful response to Worthen and Schuman.

For these students, who are often taking a heavy course load of large, lecture format courses, competing with other students to fulfill distribution requirements, and holding down a job as well as being a full-time student, the sage on the stage can be intimidating. And why should a student attend lectures if the instructor is reading from a PowerPoint that restates the material found in the textbook?

“We expect to be held accountable, but we would also hold accountable our professors as well. Nothing will guarantee our attendance if we do not have the opportunity to challenge our professors, ask questions of them, and engage with our paying classmates. When we feel as though we won’t be missed if we skip class, it makes it easy to do just that.”

The students state that the lecture is not necessarily doomed. They have had professors who were great lecturers and offer examples of what those faculty did to inspire their students. Often, it is simply a case of offering a human side, making the students feel as if they matter.

“Instead of debating the lecture, instead of imagining what students are thinking, get to know us. Find out what college is like for us now, rather than what it was like for you years ago. Learn that we respond to your lecture very individually, and that we pick our lectures often for the individuality of the professor rather than the subject. Condemning or celebrating the lecture isn’t, in the end, as useful as understanding what we need. So please ask us. Because we’ve had enough of sitting silently in the dark, listening to all of you talk.”

If you lecture, read the article. It’s good to know what your students are thinking.

********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image source: Pixabay.com

Where Goes the Lecture, Reprise

Black and white image of universal sign figure at podium with a point, overlaid with red prohibited sign -- a circle with a question mark over it.Lectures were the topic of the last post, and usually I adhere to the adage that variety is the spice of life. Lectures, however, have been a hot topic in education news recently, and there was a comment on the previous post with a link that I wanted to share. Therefore, lectures, take two.

First, Illysa Izenberg, lecturer for the Center for Leadership Education in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, commented on the previous post, “I think maybe the best way to teach may be to teach in many different ways.” She wrote an article for Faculty Focus (a free e-newsletter and website that publishes articles on effective teaching strategies for the college classroom) titled, The Eight-Minute Lecture Keeps Students Engaged, August 31, 2015. Izenberg writes: “When I began teaching in 2006, I assumed that students could read anything I say. Therefore, my classes consisted of debates of, activities building on, and direct application of theories taught in the readings—no lectures. But I noticed that students had difficulty understanding the content in a way that enabled accurate and deep application without some framing from me. In short, I needed to lecture—at least a little. This is when I began the eight-minute lecture.” She then describes how to prepare students for using this methodology and how to implement it in your course. An example from a course she taught provides specificity. Although this technique might be more difficult to apply in a traditional large lecture hall, it would work well in any classroom space that allows for flexible seating arrangements.

On October 17, 2015, Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed piece for the Times Sunday Review, Lecture Me. Really. Worthen pushes back against the “active learning craze” in favor of the traditional lecture, especially for humanities courses. “Lectures are essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship.” Students should be exposed to “absorbing a long, complex, argument” that requires them to “synthesize, organize and react as they listen.” Along with this she cites the value of learning hand-written note-taking skills, which recent research has shown help students better remember course content.

Rebecca Schuman, an education columnist for Slate, responded to Worthen on October 21, 2015 with Professors Shouldn’t Teach to Younger Versions of Themselves, offering a reality check. Worthen’s concept represents an ideal situation with ideal students, Schuman says, but those may not be the students in your classroom. “The American professoriate shouldn’t gear their courses exclusively to students who are so bright and motivated they could learn the material on their own. They should also include components designed for the average, real, very-much-not-ideal student they will actually meet.”

Regardless of what you choose as the method for content delivery, you will want to consider classroom climate and teaching to diversity, making sure that you are fostering an inclusive classroom.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image remixed from Pixabay.com images

Where goes the Lecture?

Black and white image of universal sign figure at podium with a point, overlaid with red prohibited sign -- a circle with a slash through it.At Johns Hopkins there have recently been discussions among faculty and high-level administrators around the concept of “blowing up” the lecture. Nationally, we hear and read that the lecture is ripe to be “disrupted” and replaced by online, hybrid, or flipped course experiences. This is a debate that arouses strong feelings for and against the age-old pedagogical method. But what if you aren’t in a position to re-invent your lecture-based course? The three articles reviewed in today’s post offer some insights into best practices for working within the lecture format.

In How to Teach in an Age of Distraction [The Chronicle of Higher Education October 2, 2015], Sherry Turkle, Professor, Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looks at the broader issue of reaching students immersed in their electronic devices. As almost all instructors today face this challenge, the article is well worth a read, whether or not lecturing is your mode of content delivery.

Turkle defends, with caveats, the lecture, citing anecdotal evidence from colleagues that with MOOCs and flipped classes, students often miss interacting face-to-face with an esteemed faculty member. “A student in an MIT class acknowledges that she gets to listen to the professor speak in an online video, but she wishes she could hear him lecture in person. He is an international figure and has a reputation for being charismatic. She feels she is missing out.” Turkel argues that watching course content videos alone in their dorm rooms isolates students and increases their connecting learning with using electronic devices. Further, she says,

But for all its flaws, the lecture has a lot going for it. It is a place where students come together, on good days and bad, and form a small community. As in any live performance, anything can happen. An audience is present; the room is engaged. What makes the greatest impression in a college education is learning how to think like someone else, appreciating an intellectual personality, and thinking about what it might mean to have one of your own. Students watch a professor thinking on her feet, and in the best cases can say: “Someday I could do that.” What the young man meant by showing up to “something alive” was really showing up to someone alive — a teacher, present and thinking in front of him.

As stated above, Turkel’s essay focuses primarily on the value of face-to-face conversation and collaboration, arguably not the primary components of most lecture-based courses. A well-designed flipped class would be more likely to foster these pedagogies. But, in Turkel’s defense, the flipped-class trend has not guaranteed that all flipped classes are better learning experiences for students than lectures.

In Turkel’s own classes, which are small seminars, students agreed to put away their devices and focus on the discussion at hand. It is not out of the question to ask that your students do the same in a lecture class. Helping students understand what they will gain by doing so may go a long way towards getting buy in. Turkel’s essay will help you make those points.

There are other reasons to eschew the old-fashioned sage-on-the-stage approach in favor of more interactive teaching practices. Annie Murphy Paul in Are College Lectures Unfair?, an opinion piece in The New York Times [September 12, 2015] asks if college lectures discriminate. Specifically, are lectures “… biased against undergraduates who are not white, male and affluent?”

Paul cites studies conducted by scholars at the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin that suggest that the lecture format puts women, minorities, low-income, and first-generation college students at a disadvantage. The studies showed that use of active learning strategies in the classroom reversed the effect. “Research comparing the two methods [lecture vs active learning] has consistently found that students over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families.”

Although Paul looks to flipped-format courses as the answer, there are many examples of ways in which to incorporate active learning into a lecture by using classroom polling systems (clickers), think-pair-share exercises (see more on this below), and other strategies. See Twenty Ways to Make Lectures More Participatory from Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning for more ideas.

Regardless of the content-delivery format, instructors should understand the value of creating an inclusive classroom climate and the importance of teaching to students with diverse backgrounds. The JHU TILE project (Toolkit for Inclusive Learning Environments) is a good place to go for resources. I highly recommend watching the video The Affective Domain: Classroom Climate.

The third article, What If You Have to Lecture?  by David Gooblar, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, University of Iowa [The Chronicle of Higher Education Vitae: Pedagogy Unbound, February 18, 2015] addresses the conundrum directly.  Gooblar offers three ideas to keep students engaged for those who “…simply don’t have the option of abandoning a lecture-dominated course.”

Gooblar’s first suggestion is to use regular quizzing. He cites an earlier article he wrote on the benefits of frequent low-stakes testing for student retention of information. He offers the suggestion of handing out a short multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of the class that students will answer as the lecture progresses. All of the questions will be covered in your lecture. The quizzes are collected and graded at the end of every class with each quiz counting as a small percentage of the final grade. An even better pedagogical approach, Gooblar proposes, would be to have students answer the questions at the beginning of the class before the lecture, then correcting their own answers during the lecture. This approach allows students to see what they don’t understand and helps them focus on learning those points.

Gooblar second idea is to incorporate group work, a common active-learning strategy, into your lectures by putting students in pairs. Pairs work best in large lecture settings as it is easy for students to turn to the person next to them, and every student is accountable. He describes the classic think-pair-share activity, but also suggests, “Pair students up and, at various points throughout the lecture, pause and ask the pairs to share and compare notes for the previous section of the lecture. This is a good way for students to discover if they’ve missed anything important, and for misconceptions to reveal themselves quickly.”

Thirdly, he recommends that you “cultivate confusion” by asking students either in the middle of the lecture or at the end to write down their “muddiest point.” If you do this in the middle of class you should then call on students and have them read their responses so that you can address concepts that are not clear.  If students are asked at the end of class, collecting the responses, reviewing them and then responding at the beginning of the next lecture to clarify misunderstandings will help keep them on track. Gooblar maintains that this “…is a great way to break students out of the role of passive listeners….” This kind of formative assessment is a good practice for an instructor as well.

Even if you must lecture, you can ask students to be present and reinforce that by keeping them actively engaged. They can’t be on their cell phones if they are being called upon to answer questions, take graded quizzes, and pair up to discuss concepts with classmates. Be aware of the inequities that lecturing may bring and address issues of classroom climate at the beginning of your course. Use formative assessment to benefit you and your students. As you can see, a lecture doesn’t have to be a passive experience.

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Image remixed from Pixabay.com images

Back to School

It’s freshman move-in day on our campus, signaling the end of summer and the start of classes. Today’s post offers some resources for instructors as the semester begins.

Empty lecture hall, tiered with wooden seats.The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker Blog post from August 13, 2015 by Natalie Houston (associate professor of English, University of Houston), From the Archives: Getting Ready for the New Semester, offers tips on getting ready to teach. Whether you are new to the profession or a practiced professor, there are links to articles with suggestions on learning student names, being prepared for medical emergencies in class, and routines to help you get organized.

In the The First Day of Class: A Once-a-Semester Opportunity (Teaching Professor Blog August 19, 2015), Maryellen Weimer, (professor emerita, Penn State Berks) writes, “There’s only one first day of class. Here are some ideas for taking advantage of opportunities that are not available in the same way on any other day of the course.” She suggests using the opportunity to tell students why the course is important, why you are committed to teaching it, why they should be committed to learning the material. Take the time to learn about your students and begin building relationships with them. “[G]et students connected with each other and the course content.”

Students often complain of poor presentation methods in lectures where instructors use PowerPoint (or other presentation software applications). A common mistake is to attempt to make your slides serve two purposes by being both lecture notes and lecture slides. This leads to too much text on the slides and reading from the slide. Both practices lead to student inattention. Bryan Alexander, in Giving a great presentation: notes on using PowerPoint, (July 27, 2015) tell us, “Your argument…is the essential thing.  The slides enhance your essential argument.  They amplify it and render it easier to understand. Make and use slides accordingly.” While the focus of the article is on presentations in general, there are some good things to consider for your use of presentation software in teaching!

Thinking about flipping your course? Check out Robert Talbert’s post Four things I wish I’d known about the flipped classroom (June 5, 2014), from his blog Casting Out Nines.

Or, perhaps you are considering implementing active learning strategies in your classroom. A recent article in Nature, Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right (July 15, 2015) by M. Mitchell Waldrop, examines the problem of persistence in undergraduate STEM education. “Active problem-solving confers a deeper understanding of science than does a standard lecture. But some university lecturers are reluctant to change tack.” Waldrop stresses the importance of active learning, while analyzing the factors and challenges that contribute to slow adoption. For specific active learning strategies, see Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence website page on Active Learning. If you are going to be using an active learning classroom, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Education Innovation offers advice.

New to teaching or looking to brush up on your pedagogical skills? The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) is re-offering the 8 week-long MOOC: An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching, starting September 28 and running until November 19, 2015. Having taken the course last year, I highly recommend signing up. Here’s the description from Coursera:

“This course will provide graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) who are planning college and university faculty careers with an introduction to evidence-based teaching practices. Participants will learn about effective teaching strategies and the research that supports them, and they will apply what they learn to the design of lessons and assignments they can use in future teaching opportunities. Those who complete the course will be more informed and confident teachers, equipped for greater success in the undergraduate classroom.”

*********************************************************************************************************

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The Power of Prezi

Are you looking to spice up your presentations? Do you find PowerPoint and Keynote limiting? Maybe you should take a look at Prezi.

Prezi logo.What is Prezi? It’s a free, cloud-based, presentation tool that allows users to place content on an open canvas. Prezi uses a Zooming User Interface (ZUI) to enable navigation and

display of content. ZUI is a term used in computing to describe a graphical environment wherein users can change the size of a viewing area by enlarging or reducing it, navigate by panning across a surface, and zoom in and out of content.

The Prezi website describes the application as “…a virtual whiteboard that transforms presentations from monologues into conversations: enabling people to see, understand, and remember ideas.”

The application offers a cloud-based environment with a limited number of templates or the choice of using a blank canvas supporting a number of themes. There is a basic, easy-to-use interface for creating content. The templates include two different types of world maps, which would be ideal for geographic content. Another template is a subway map type schema that might be useful for demonstrating workflows.

Prezi takes a different approach to presentations. Instead of slides that advance in linear order, the Prezi canvas allows multiple approaches. Users can create a path to allow for a planned progression of the content or can zoom in to specific concepts as desired without a pre-programmed order. One of the great things about Prezi is the ability to zoom out to see the big picture–the layout of the entire canvas. This kind of visualization can be very powerful.

Images can be embedded and YouTubes videos can be inserted as well.  You can insert the following video file formats–FLV, MOV, WMV, F4V, MPG, MPEG, MP4, M4V, and 3GP. Other videos found online can be linked from the presentation. Sound can be an important component and Prezi supports voice-over narrations and music as a background track or applied to specific path steps. Supported audio files include: MP3, M4A, FLAC, WMA, WAV, OGG, AAC, MP4, and 3GP.

Some viewers find the ZUI to be distracting, even motion-sickness inducing. Careful use of the ZUI by the creator can minimize this consequence and turn it into an effective tool. Prezi presentations are inherently dynamic and this feature can be used with great advantage to keep audiences awake and engaged.

At the free end, all content that is created is public and users are given 100 MB of storage. For a small monthly fee, users have the option to keep presentations private and receive 500 MB of space. There is also a desktop version of the program available for an annual fee. This comes with additional editing features and unlimited storage space.

To get a better sense of what Prezi is and can do, take a look at some of the examples provided on the Prezi website.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Prezi Logo from http://prezi.com/

 

 

Polishing your PowerPoints

You’ve rebooted your syllabus, now it’s time to take a serious look at your PowerPoint/Keynote presentations. We all know that nothing is more deadly to an audience than a speaker who presents by reading from his/her text-covered slides. And yet, when it comes to preparing lecture slides for our students, we are sometimes hard pressed to come up with alternatives. For one, there is the idea that the slides are serving a double purpose – first there is the lecture, and second, the slides, packaged for distribution on a course website, present a review of the material covered. The Innovative Instructor is here to tell you that this is poor pedagogy and offer better practices.

Roadside billboard with message "your (brief) message here" displayed.For starters, when your slides are playing a dual role, neither objective is well-served. Create review sheets or outlines for your students as a component separate from your lecture slides. Rather than repeating the information you are giving in the lecture, use the opportunity to create a set of questions that your students should be able to answer after the lecture. This will help prepare them for exams by making them think about the material and identifying areas of weak understanding.

As for the in-class presentation, those slides with dozens of bullet points and incomprehensible charts and graphs need a makeover. An book by Nancy Duarte called Slide:ology – offers a quick read and great tips. [Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology,  O’Reilly Media, Inc., 2008] Duarte reports on research showing that listening and reading are conflicting cognitive processes, meaning that your audience can either read your slides or listen to you; they cannot do both at the same time. However, our brains can handle simultaneous listening to a speaker and seeing relevant visual material.

Duarte contends that if you have more than 75 words on a slide, it is serving as a document. Your students can’t even see the text when it is projected, so the information is lost. With around 50 words a slide acts as a teleprompter. The default method for the instructor is to turn his or her back to the audience and recite from the words on the slide while the students are reading along, usually faster than the speaker is speaking. The best presentations use minimal text on the slide. The slides act as visual aids, reinforcing your message and allowing the students to concentrate on what you are saying.

Ideally your students should be able to process the message on your slide within 3 seconds. Think of it as a billboard. As a driver, you only have a few seconds to read a billboard as you drive past, so the message must be compelling and to the point. The three second rule works because it puts the focus on what you, the instructor, are saying. Remember, your students can’t read and listen simultaneously. The ideal slide will be a short sentence or phrase summarizing the main point you are making, or an image that reinforces your message. Each slide should have only one point.

Data slides should also be rethought. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I know you can’t really see this, but….”? Stop right there. If the chart, graph, table, or diagram isn’t readable, don’t show it. The fact is that presentation slides are not a good medium for displaying complex data. If it is really important that your students examine your data details closely, then you should think about creating a handout and allowing for consideration of that information apart from your slide presentation. Otherwise, consider that the data slide should not be about the data display but about the meaning of the data. What is the point you want to make? Do you need a chart or graph to make that point? If the answer is yes, then simplify. Keep your data points to a minimum, eliminate chart clutter such as unnecessary labels and lines, and spread the information over several slides if you are making more than one point about the data.

Duarte provides lots of information on colors and fonts. The essential take-away is to keep it basic. Black text on a plain white background will work in any situation. San-serif fonts such as Arial or Verdana, are easiest to read. Keep the font size large (not a problem when you aren’t trying to cram so much text on each slide) and in no case should it be less than 24 points.

It doesn’t take much work to clean up your slides and become a power presenter. And your students will thank you.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art edited by Macie Hall

Microlectures

You may have heard some buzz recently about microlectures or mini-lectures. Here’s The Innovative Instructor’s scoop on the topic.

Microlectures are just what they sound like – short, focused discourses on specific topics. If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, you’ve experienced a microlecture. The classic TED talk is 18 minutes or shorter, and the speaker concentrates on developing a single big idea.  Another example of the microlecture can be found in the Khan Academy model. The Khan Academy website boasts a library of videos covering “…K-12 math, science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and …humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is a digestible chunk, approximately 10 minutes long, and especially purposed for viewing on the computer.”

Students in class room raising hands.

What does this have to do with you and your teaching approach? Research has shown that a student’s attention span during lectures decreases after fifteen minutes [Wankat, P., The Effective Efficient Professor: Teaching, Scholarship and Service, Allyn and Bacon: Boston, MA, 2002]. Once you lecture past that time, students retain significantly less information. [Hartley, J., and Davies, I., “Note Taking: A Critical Review,” Programmed Learning and Educational Technology, 1978, Vol. 15, pp. 207–224.] Hartley and Davies suggested that breaking up a lecture into smaller segments could help keep students engaged.

One way to integrate microlectures into your face-to-face teaching is to intersperse short periods of lecturing  with active learning activities. These exercises will reinforce the material you’ve just presented.

Even if you have a large enrollment for your course, it is possible to implement active learning strategies. A quick method is “Pair-Share.” After presenting in a microlecture format, have your students pair off and discuss a question you pose to test their comprehension of the material just covered. Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, has written and presented (see his talk, Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative 2012 Symposium on Teaching Excellence in the Sciences) on using active learning, and pair-share exercises, in large courses.

The Educause Learning Initiative recently published a short tip sheet on microlectures that are recorded for students to use outside of the classroom: 7 Things You Should Know about Microlectures.  This two page PDF document addresses recording microlectures for hybrid or “flipped” class settings (where the recorded lecture is viewed by students outside of regular class time), but contains advice that will be useful in fully face-to-face learning environments as well.

If you are interested in learning more about active learning strategies and how you can integrate these into your teaching, perhaps in conjunction with microlectures, you can get a jump start by reading the article, Active Learning: An Introduction [Felder, R.M. and Brent, R., 2009, ASQ Higher Education Brief, 2(4), 1-5].  This is an introduction to active learning that includes frequently asked questions about what you can do and what you can get your students to do.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

VoiceThread – “Conversations in the Cloud”

VoiceThread is web-based presentation application that allows users to create and share interactive multimedia slideshows. VoiceThread presentations are used to showcase audio, video, images, and documents while allowing users to comment on them in a variety of different ways. Comments can be made using a microphone, a webcam, uploading a prerecorded audio file, using a phone, or by simply typing text. There is also a “doodle” tool which can be used to annotate presentations with digital overlay while leaving a comment.  The result is an ongoing, asynchronous, digital conversation that can be easily shared with individuals, groups, and/or embedded into different websites, including Blackboard.

Image for VoiceThread application. Conversations in the Cloud.

Originally developed at the University of North Carolina, VoiceThread has been used at  the Johns Hopkins Schools of Nursing and Public Health for several years. IT@JH recently obtained a university-wide license for all members of the Hopkins community; instructors and students from all JHU schools now have the ability to access VoiceThread free of charge.

At JHU and other institutions, instructors and students have been very creative in the ways they are using VoiceThread. Here are some examples of how this tool is being used:

  • Student presentation tool – Students can use VoiceThread to create individual or group presentations on any number of topics, which can then be shared with the class.  An added advantage – students can watch and comment on each other’s presentations outside of class, freeing up valuable class time.
  • Online lecture tool – Instructors can use VoiceThread to create online lectures for fully online classes or as a supplement to face-to-face classes.
  • Peer assessment – Students can use VoiceThread to share assignments (papers, images, audio, video clips, etc.) with their peers for comments and critique.
  • Foreign language assessment – VoiceThread is especially useful to foreign language instructors who would like to hear their students speak. Instructors can create a presentation (upload an audio recording, image, video clip, etc.) which students then have to translate, describe, or narrate, for example.
  •  Brainstorming session – Students and instructors can use VoiceThread to brainstorm ideas for project topics, group presentation strategies, etc.
  • Digital storytelling – In groups or independently, students can use VoiceThread to create interactive digital stories using various media artifacts (audio, images, etc.).
  • Review Session – Students can use VoiceThread to record a content review session in preparation for a test or exam.
  • Facilitate Discussions – Students can present a topic and then facilitate a class discussion in VoiceThread about the topic.
  • Student Introductions – Especially helpful in a fully online environment, students and instructors can use VoiceThread to introduce themselves, helping to build a sense of community.

JHU instructors and students can go to http://jhu.voicethread.com and login with their JHED ID and password.  All users are automatically set up with a ‘Basic’ account that they can begin using immediately. There is no software to download as all VoiceThread presentations are created and stored in the “cloud.”

Additional Resources
VoiceThread Overview: https://www.voicethread.com/about/features/
VoiceThread ‘How-To’ Basics: https://www.voicethread.com/support/howto/Basics/
JHSPH VT Site: https://sites.google.com/site/ctltteachingtoolkit/resources/voicethread

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: VoiceThread image [http://d25wzyo6b5ic8t.cloudfront.net/rev/c32981bd/media/custom/www/banner_cloud.jpg] edited by Macie Hall