Sunday, July 27, 2008

Doing it Right by Doing it All Wrong

In the past couple of posts regarding use of presentation software (PowerPoint, Impress, and so on) in the classroom, I've talked about the proper way to do presentations so that audiences aren't bored, and that the value of the presentation lies in the speaker, rather than the slide-show.

Today, I'll talk about breaking all those conventions to create presentations which can be used differently in the classroom.

In a conventional presentation, a speaker who knows what they're doing puts little depth of information into their slides, keeping himself as the font of knowledge on the topic. In this way, questions are directed to them, rather than by referencing the slides, and the speaker establishes himself as the expert who can be called back for more speaking engagements. If you put too much information on the slides, you essentially give away the goose with the golden eggs.

However, another approach is to create presentations formatted as tutorials. In the tutorial scheme, the author doesn't expect to be "presenting" the slide-show in front of an audience. Rather, the tutorial will be made available online for students to go through individually. This turns the design objectives upside down, because in the tutorial one wants to convey lots of information in lieu of a live speaker.

Teachers may choose to create tutorials rather than presentations as an alternative means of interacting with students. Since live speaking engagements outside one's own classroom aren't typical, for a teacher who wants to share their knowledge with a wide base of other teachers and students, the tutorial offers a means of sharing a more comprehensive set of knowledge.

Other teachers will benefit greatly from this, because a tutorial style presentation offers a turn-key solution to knowledge transmission, which doesn't require the other teachers to be able to speak confidently on a topic they might not know much about. For students, a tutorial can offer a multimedia learning experience which they can go through at their own pace. With students working independently, the teacher can focus on helping students who are having trouble understanding the material. The tutorial is student-paced and student-focused learning, whereas the presentation is teacher-paced and teacher-focused.

Teachers, of course, benefit from sharing their work even when they give it away for free (such as when using a Creative Commons license). To begin with, other teachers share their work in return. Further, if one's work is of exceptional quality, one can begin to build a positive reputation which can translate into different career growth opportunities presenting themselves, whether it be speaking engagements, being used as a consultant, being paid to have some work published, or even getting more work as an occasional teacher because you're respected within your profession.

Presentations created in a tutorial style allow presentations to be used in a different fashion in the classroom than presentations where it's expected that there will be a speaker presenting. To make a good tutorial, though, you'll have to break all the rules and make something that would be just terrible if it was intended to be presented by a live person lecturing a group.

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