Thursday, 26 November 2015

Slides and learning

Thoughts provoked by: "To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance"

A link to this article was recently posted in Twitter the day after I tried to add an Apple Keynote slide-show to the VLE for my online work-based undergraduate course for the first time in 17 years.

Firstly I was rather suspicious of the pedagogy given the use of "instructor provided' in the title. After reading the article it does sound like the slides they were talking about were used in the chalk and talk type approach with tutor instructing rather than facilitating learning. 

One of the problems seems to be tutors worried about sharing their resources with students. I thought that concern had disappeared long ago; open access gifting information to students and beyond seems a far better way to spread knowledge than exposing resources only during a lecture. I can't see why a competent tutor would want to restrict access to knowledge unless they are sharing information about research that is still in progress, is not fully verified and that they have not yet formally published or other information that has strong ethical or commercial reasons for confidentiality to be maintained. 

The article does not discuss slide-show design in much detail, reading between the lines there were either the poor practice type slides where a tutor reads loads of text, and often bullet points, off each slide while students try and absorb content while scribbling notes. There were some trials of more minimalist slides and slides with missing information. 

I did not see any reference to using media in the slides - an audio track with each slide and only key words, phrases or images on the visual part of the slide is a good strategy Lot's of folk seem to treat this kind of presentation software akin to chalk on a blackboard or the old acetate OHP approach where a visual element accompanies a talk about the visual content. 

Slide-show apps are presentation software; don't treat them as visual content display software. 

 Should a lecture really just be tutor talking to students about stuff on a screen with students then missing some of what is said while scribbling notes during the event? Seeing reams of text on screen, hearing it read out while simultaneously having to take notes about it is not a great pedagogical approach. I meet that approach time and time again in conferences I have to pay a lot of money to attend.

An audio track for each slide can mean that the dominant content is not the visual element. All sorts of media can be embedded, the one I will use this Saturday is only the second ever slide-show I have made, it has a short embedded video clip of a resource I will talk about, the post event version will have an audio explanation to accompany each slide.

Slides with audio or video from the tutor that are posted in a VLE can be opened then paused and replayed so allowing students to take more detailed notes and to check that their notes are accurate. Hearing the vocal cues in a tutors voice helps interpret conviction, uncertainty, and many other aspects that are not always clear in a text only resource.

Most universities now have some sort of digital learning environment with discussion tools often referred to as a Virtual Learning Environment - I think Digital Learning Environment or Online Learning Environment would be better as it is a very real place where real learning takes place, perhaps the "Virtual" element subliminally reduces perceptions about the potential value, however that is another argument for another post.

Using the 'VLE" rather than slide-shows during a lecture can be a useful way to increase student engagement in the VLE . Lectures are a very small amount of their learning time compared with the hours tagged for autonomous student led learning. A typical undergraduate 30 credit module might have 40 hours of tutor managed learning and 260 hours of independent study. If tutors can develop habits where students spend some of their independent study time in the VLE, and encourage the gift society kind of ethos, we have the chance of developing strong communities of practice. The sharing of professional/scholarly social media or website sources and good literature finds along with peer discussion about those and peer review of draft work can provoke deeper learning and trust and bonding within student groups. 

 Is it not better for students to do preparatory work in advance and to then be able to contribute to the lecture in which the tutor can then engage in academic / scholarly discussion about what they have learned, what sense making they are doing and what meaning they are constructing? Perhaps the term "lecture" needs to be committed to the archives of history as it does provoke perceptions about instructional gatekeeper of knowledge approaches.

Slide-shows that explain learning activities linked to assignment learning outcomes and provide links to published papers or online social media, websites, embedded YouTube or TED talks videos etc. can be useful if shared in advance with the expectation that students will access and review the content and be ready to discuss what they have uncovered/discovered during the subsequent lecture.

Lecture capture can avoid the distraction of note-taking during an event and enable deep focused concentration and interacting in the event. Students watching a video of a captured lecture retrospectively have time to make notes, to reflect on content and extend their conceptualisation of the learning. Such approaches can also help students understand good ways to make use of their independent study time. Students who do not deploy effective learning strategies during independent study time are unlikely to thrive.

I wonder whether it is the poor pedagogical practice that leads to weak learning rather than the use of a particular kind of software. I was about to say something about 'perhaps some innovative use of the software would help' but what I have discussed above is far from innovative it is just common sense. 

One problem I have to acknowledge is the time tutors have in which to work on preparation of resources. As education at all levels has been increasingly financially squeezed over the decades the potential of digital technologies has increased as has the expectations of the extent to which they are used. The relatively recent addition of a layer of email engagement on top of a working day with no extra time given in which to deal with it is a particular problem that that been well covered in publications re;eating to education and to the commercial sector. There is less time available to explore the potential of emerging and established digital tools and to create what is needed for delivering outstanding student experiences.

A timely Tweet was aimed at me from Steve Turnbull just as I published this post:

Steve went on to mention that when he started using slides he used lots of bullet points then realised why the audience looked bored. As I implied above - working out what not to do is just a matter of common sense, try something, reflect on it and improve.

A good how not to do slideshows video: 

A picky aside:
The article consistently uses "PPT" for the registered trade name 'PowerPoint®' I have little faith in peer reviewers and am not surprised they did not pick that one up, although I have to say I often leave the ® symbol off trade names in informal communications #blush.

"When referring to Microsoft software and products, apply the appropriate trademark symbols in accordance with the list of current Microsoft trademarks. View the Microsoft Trademarks list."

Worthington, D.L. and Levasseur, D.G.2015. To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance. Computers & Education.Volume 85, July 2015, Pages 14–22 [Online] Accessed 26 Nov. 2015

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