Presentation Then (and now)

After a bit of thought I’m finding that the topic of using new visual techniques in my presentations is a tough idea for me to wrap my head around. So as usual I’ll just start writing and see what happens.

I’m constantly displaying and discussing images and videos in class (see previous post), but I don’t assemble “presentations” very much any more, in the sense of something that I’ve put together in advance to be looked at as a self-contained viewing experience. What I’ve been assembling this past year or two, as a teacher, tends more to be a text list of bookmarks or links to visual experiences elsewhere. And more often than not, when I lecture in class now I tend to work my way down that list of bookmarks or call up examples on the fly by searching for accompanying visual material.

Maybe that’s a technique in itself? Real-time assembly of a series of appropriate images for a lecture? Teaching as a sort of multimedia performance art? When I do Google searches for images in class it adds the constant element of danger that something distracting will pop up (thank goodness for the “freeze” button on the projector remote) but at the same time it does (I hope) authentically model the search and selection skills I want students to use. Grabbing images from online rather than showing a “fossilized” presentation also allows me to incorporate answers to student questions and choose images or videos that I know will connect to that particular class at that time.

In fact lately if something exists as a fossilized presentation or list of bullet points already – the daily morning announcements for example – I can barely bring myself to stick to the “script” because of the superfluity of standing in front of an audience pointing at points. To continue with the example of the morning announcements – almost every day I find myself making the experience more interesting for myself by treating it the text as a jumping-off point for connections and extensions. Hopefully this frankly selfish conduct is also occasionally edifying for the students.

I’ll pick an odd word like “foyer” (which we see almost every morning) and explain its origin, or I’ll try to notice places where the announcements accidentally rhyme or alliterate and make an absurd little song out of those lines. A couple days ago there was an announcement about the weather, and a minute later when the bell rang we were watching Native American rain dances on YouTube while I was asking students how supplications for good crop-growing weather might fit with the religious investigations they’re working on in our Ancient Civilizations unit in Humanities class. I don’t only do this with presentations that others have created – when I revisit anything I’ve created in the past I can’t bear to teach it the same way more than once. There are always new connections to make and new extensions to explore, because each class is different and has a different set of shared experiences, ability levels, interests, etc.

I have the most fun teaching this way, and while I think there are times when it risks confusing students by switching rapidly between sites and sources rather than sticking to pointing with a stick at bullet points, I do always try to display and refer back to a “skeleton” agenda or daily lesson outline for these flights of fancy.

So I think that’s my favorite way to “present” visual content and material given the tools I am lucky enough to have in my classroom (projector, laptop, reliable internet access). I genuinely think it’s a good visual presentation style for teaching because it’s not static, it’s infinitely flexible and adaptable, it’s modern (in the sense of using the latest online tools but also in that it results in a sort of collage / remix environment rather than monolithically imposing the teacher’s visual aesthetic like PowerPoints can), and it authentically models the process of inquiry and research on the teacher’s part rather than regurgitation. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s really fun.

PS: Back to the original topic – if I did have to compose a traditional slideshow “presentation” for some reason, for example if I were forced to do a Pecha Kucha presentation or something, I would try to aim for an uncluttered, text-light Presentation Zen style, which is something I have some experience with because Kim is an expert. If a presentation is going to be static, at the very least it should have great pictures and consist of more than a series of bullet points and clip art.

PPS: Yes, I have noticed that this post contains not a single hyperlink or visual image, in complete contradiction with everything we’re supposed to be doing here. I’ll try to add some later. Maybe… it was a philosophical choice to be minimalist, and you should treat it as a small oasis in the web’s bombarding ocean of visual information? No? OK, I’ll add some pictures later, I promise.

PPPS: I notice that “oasis in an ocean” in the previous paragraph is probably the stupidest mixed metaphor that I could have possibly written. Instead of editing it I’ll leave it as a monument to my preferred presentation style. If I were looking at this together with a class, it could be a “teachable moment”. What is a mixed metaphor? Why is this a good example of one? etc. I like to call them “teachable moments” instead of “times your teacher is an idiot”. Has a nicer ring to it.

One thought on “Presentation Then (and now)

  1. Alex,
    I like how you want to show your students authenticity when searching for a site, with secondary students and a freeze button that works well. I don’t use powerpoint presentations with my 2nd graders. We do use the projector and computers a lot and I’m learning a lot about dos and don’ts. I had put together a slide presentation for parents and then one of our tech guys looked at it and I simplified it quite a bit. Now I need to learn how to do a podcast so I can have it available for those who didn’t come but would like to see it. Simple is good, but there are always so many other new things to learn. I really did enjoy this post without photos or links.

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