How to gamify PowerPoint and save the audience

This post is about why and how to gamify a traditional lecture. It’s more of a structure than a game, but let me first explain what’s wrong with lectures to a generation familiar with games.

Games are educational. We have to learn to play, and in that learn the patterns and rules of play. Good games make people work harder. There contain a set of goals and rules – there’s no negotiation or waffling – the designer’s goals for the player are achieved by developing ever more sophisticated understanding of the patterns and schemes presented towards conclusions – be they game or user decided. For example some games end when you die, others go on and on like World of Warcraft, where you end the game at a point that is semi-suitable at the time (dang, time for work, must log off).

Unlike common-or-garden educational lecturing, games teach by avoiding the play the “guess what I’m thinking, guess what the answer I like best is” rubbish with the player. That makes a game un-fun as the game-designer would be the only one who ever really knew the solution. Surely lectures are not about perpetuating that –  or are they? – hmmm.

Games make it clear how you will know you will achieved something and what the reward will be – at the beginningYou might think,  “This is a lot like writing learn about and learn to on the board”  –  but it’s not, because “learning” is not in itself the reward students want. Its what teachers call it.

Students want (need) the paperwork that gets them to the next stage of their lives – so learning is more like being on a bad chain-quest most of the time. One bad thing after another, with the occasional win. Of course some students are more philosophical and care little for qualifications, but for most students and parents whom invest heavily in paperwork and make personal sacrifices, learning not some grandiose-enlightenment activity for junior members of their social-class. Going to University is not like taking the grand tour.

Look at conferences right now, people line up to be lectured about why lecturing is rubbish (brain-missing). Most lectures lack any sense of rhythm or timing, feel totally abstract to some and old news to others. A University lecture has the edge over a professional-development one, as generally experts doing go to under grad lectures, however I swear there are plenty of people in audiences I’ve stood before, whom I know are experts in the field, so it’s great to think they come to hear me talk – but then I get annoyed when at the end they vanish and I don’t get the conversation I could have had.

We have lectures at conferences because they are EASY, nothing else. Speakers make easy money, it’s easy to put lots of customers in a room, simple to organise – and people have been trained from the age of 5 to behave exactly the way the organiser wants. Yes, there are some naughty people on a back-channel passing notes between the rows – but essentially, we all hate this format, but play along. The best part of the conference is the fun with friends and muffins – where we could gamify presentations, we make them edu-tainment – and we totally love it. Some people spend their entire lives going to them, organising them. It’s like being able to have all your favourite musicians come around to your house, yet you never learn to play.

If we are not going to be rid of them, maybe we should gamify them

A lecture should, in my view be broken up into three acts with a final cut scene. When the student leaves, they should be charged with actually doing something with that information. Of course they can only do that, if the hour was spent wisely. Sadly most are little more than content dumps in PowerPoint so that later, when the student fails, the teacher can declare – but I told you that. People tell me all sorts of things, sadly they do not always make a PowerPoint, so I generally have to use my natural sensory skills to pay attention.  I guess you could use this in a “Flipped Classroom” – but I’m not convinced that’s trend is a productive use of most people’s time. Most teachers I know don’t have the time to run YouTube channels.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Dean_Groom

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Dean_Groom

Games take responsibility for killing you unlike PowerPoint

They tell you enough to barely survive the next puzzle or onslaught – but they have brilliant timing of their acts and always let you try again. Except they don’t, they are just great at making you believe that, to keep you on the line between possible/impossible. They do it is very subtle ways using all the media they can muster. They don’t wait several weeks and send you a piece of paper saying “you died, pay us again” – they animate, tell jokes, give you a clue and so on. In short, as they teach you by making it ever harder to win, they also let you off the hook and allow you to retry or better still, go backwards to re-do parts of the story.

A lecture is a performance story. When it involves technology, it is augmented reality. It might not be requires special glasses, but none the less it requires the brain to learn in un-natural and artificial ways. The sad thing is that most people think it should a mix of information and entertainment – where as the brain would pay a lot more interest if it was horror/beauty, good/evil and so on. If you are lucky you’ll live through the hour of what someone else thinks is entertaining because that’s easy.

So before we get excited about alternatives to Powerpoint, then I think it’s worth thinking how to make a lecture into a game and keep PowerPoint. After all everyone can use it, so why get excited because you can make a zoomy powerpoint on the cloud. Why not just make PowerPoint like a game.

Rethinking how we serve up presentations … Lunchlady2.0

This weekend, I took time off from gaming, and decided to see if I could use iPhone/iPad in different ways to present media to big TVs and projectors. I am wondering how to escape the traditional lecture, and if an iPad can be used a little like a server or an audience feedback system. For example, can I show a diagram on projector, allow others to see it on their iPad, and then to see if they can annotate it in some way and share it back. Next, can I ask a question, then allow the audience to watch videos or other content on their iPad as they need it.

I was specifically trying not using AppleTV which is tied to iTunes (booo) and using it in ways that full-mirroring won’t accomplish. Plenty of people bought iPad One. It seems the ‘magic’ didn’t extend very well to video-out, as full mirroring was never included, leading to plenty of ‘apps’ being developed to try and do it. There are plenty of useless ones, that crash or do nothing — WebShow I’m talking about you. This post is about how to create a cheap-media server from your Mac – and use it to stream video and images to projectors, and allow other people to pull them from you to their own devices – via local, wifi and 3G networks.

Air Video works and is rather clever. Anyone who has tried to load movies in to iTunes knows how Apple’s magic won’t extend to formats that Apple doesn’t see as white, but black magic, such as dot avi. The work around has been to use Handbrake to convert your rogue file to a format iTunes does like, and I have to say, Handbrake does an excellent job, but of course takes time, and locks your video into your iTunes account as is the way with the Colditz of digital rights management.

So Air Play is more a media server. You install the server add-in on a Mac and you are all set for wifi-streaming. Install the Air Play App on your iPad, find the folder of media you want to share stream it to your iPad. An excellent solution for those who are thinking about having video-resources and believe that people are mobile, not desk-bound. Air Video works over local network and over internet (including 3G). There is a free version, which would be fine for ‘consumption’, and a cheap paid version that does the conversion stuff. Air Video also works with your iPhone.

Best of all it  supports live conversion and offline conversion where the entire file is converted upfront. It lets you customize the conversion settings, zoom and crop the video. This means you can create or scrape video from the internet using popular tools such as iShowYou ($20 screen capture, which I use all the time) or KeepVid, which allows you to back up your YouTube videos to MP-whatever.

Now if you also want to push this media to a projector, not just an iPhone or iPad, then just spend $20 on an RGB out connector and a 3.5mm audio line to your speakers and off you go to the big-screen. This is kind of cool, especially as you can stream things over 3G and over distance. No more file conversion, no more having to keep videos on public servers – for under $50.00 you have your own media streaming rig and file conversion toolbox.  Although the iPad One has to await iOS5 to get full mirroring, to use all the apps in video out mode, I was more interested here in thinking how to use a desktop Mac as a media server, and then how to use that to allow ad-hock use of video files. Air Video achieves that, not least in the fact it would be entirely possible to use iShowYou to record a lecture or a lesson activity and then to have the immediately available.

In addition to this, I played with ImageBank ($0.99) which also has a basic server rig, so allows you stream photos to your iPad. Now if you just want to make still slides, this thing will allow you to present a set of images. On the desktop, you set a folder for your image set (which you can also password protect). It has an autoplay mode, shuffle and manual controls, which will allow you to flick back and forth between images – and send them out to your projector. Another option is Cinq which again has a iPhone/iPad client and a server rig. This one also allows you to pull images from your network in Facebook.  Cinq will pull images from iPhoto, but also manages to deal with a remote folder on your ‘home mac’ so if you are taking images with your iPhone or iPad Two, you can send these directly to your iPhoto or other folder via wifi or 3G, and of course anyone with access to that can immediately collect them. In the version I have, it refused to work with Twitter, and I’m not sure the ($2.99) asking price for ‘ad-free’ was worth it – perhaps if it pushed images to Facebook or Twitter, but as it is, it worked like ImageBank for free.


Use your back channel

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I read Mike Bogle’s post about Holistic Blogging today, where he talks about writing from the social, emotional and intellectual perspective. In it he says ” Exploring and cultivating network connections is a holistic activity that should encompass all three spheres“. In higher education, we seem so focused on references and evidence – getting the essay technically ‘right’ and balanced, that students often struggle with social and emotional perspectives in formal writing. I was then thinking about ‘the lecture’ and ‘the tutorial’ and wondered if some simple tools can provide that holistic link, and allow students to engage and reflect better and promote, as Mike says “potential growth of the network, and the activities that may be engaged in by or with peers”

Many lecturers choose to stand behind the lectern and talk to students, some will use a clicker for power point or overhead projector (I swear acetate has a half-life akin to toxic waste) or write on the board. A stint in high school, gives most young people that ‘dead pan’ look needed to be invisible, so looking at them is no real measure of engagement or understanding. Most are busy writing it down in case they need some day, and too absorbed in note-taking to respond with more than a smile as glance up from the jotter for a second. It is usually a small few that engage in open discussion and really hard to then take that limited discussion online to include students who are not actually in the lecture or tutorial. We archive lectures, and are a long way from ‘live’ broadcasting (mentally speaking, technically its a piece of cake).  There is often little opportunity for socially constructed meaning, though discussion though emotional, social and intellect in the lecture format.

Embrace your back channel, with simple tools.


One way to be more ‘holistic’ is to say you are going to be! Don’t assume students will pick up on subltle suggestion. Be explicit. This can be achieved is to publicise that you want it ‘live’ participants – and that your presentation is not just a ‘lecture’ – which by it’s implication is not a two way interchange – but offers a ‘back channel’ of lively discussion. This not only works for lectures, but can be employed in the staff meetings, tutorials and workshops – no everyone will use it, but that is not reason not to give it a go, remember most people ‘spectate’ in social networks – but they are engaging with the content.

Todays Meeting  (

Embrace the back-channel. A quick, easy and really useful technology that anyone with proficiency in using car door handles can use. They say “Encourage the room to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and use that feedback to tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs.” This is light enough in data to operate via a mobile phone too.

TinyChat (

Yes it’s a chat room, but as it generates a random URL and moderated by YOU it’s hardly an viable avenue for stalkers or identity thieves. The slick part of this fast application, is it’s ability to SAVE the chat. Yes, seem obvious, but not all include this.

Chatzy (

Popular with the ‘old school’, this again allows quick and easy communication. It also have ‘virtual’ rooms – where more ‘lock down’ invites/passwords can be employed to enter.

Youth Online have grown up on chat channels and will allow them to ‘talk’ about you – the back-channel – and allow you to talk back in real time. It is not distracting, but enriching – as now you have a two way interchange and connection. Most of those who don’t like the idea, really just prefer to dump content and run – this is engagement, and a skill well worth learning.

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They are just not that into you
Image via Wikipedia

More ‘yeah buts’ … and more solutions.

“I’d love to give students more personal feedback, but it’s impossible! I have 900 students!” … “there’s no way I could deal with 900 students in on online discussion!” … “if I put my lecture online, half the students stop showing up!”. So, here we go, let’s find some solutions …

Student concerns about linear learning approaches

From the student perspective, they are often critical of the ‘entry’ event into learning – too much information, too little information, lack of consistency etc., and just as critical of the exit point – lack of feedback – “I put my heart into the essay and all I got was a grade, not even a comment!”, “I don’t know what I need to do to get a better grade?”,”why is this 18/20 not 19/20?”.

Technology as the middle ground

I have to think that what happens in the middle is best supported by a discourse community, and in fact attaining large numbers of participants is a great thing, not a bad one. We all know that group activities suffer the long-tail. In a group of 900 students, realistically 90 will be active voices. Not all of them will be ‘creators’ of conversations, some will join existing ones, some will be critics – the vast majority will be spectators – they will read lots, but often contribute almost nothing. They are however influenced by the behaviors and views of the group.

Renewing Motivation and Participation in learning

It all comes down to motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic, whether they are interested in deep or surface learning in the context of the topic. So in reality a teacher will not be dealing with 900 individual conversations, more like 10% of that, and not at the same time, nor do all posts and replies need addressing. The teacher is a mediator who threads together ideas that steer students in the right direction and occasionally ‘jump start’ the conversations. The value of participation is in the feedback and shared learning experiences of the community itself, not because that is where the ‘answer’ is.

Renewing Pedagogy

Imagine a year 12 HSC Advanced Mathematics class, with 24 students and 1 teacher. They are successful learners, deep knowledge seekers, intrinsically motivated and hungry to solve advanced problems to attain sufficient knowledge to ‘ace’ the exam. Now imagine the same class – but with 240 students and 10 experienced mathematicians. The class has a set of problems to solve and can do so whenever they feel like it. They can work with each other, or work alone – but whatever they do, they solve it in an open space online. Does each teacher need to spend as much time ‘teaching’, will more students mean less or more learning? Can students learn – without the presence of a teacher? Can they learn from more than one teacher after the end of the school day? Would they want to?

The point to me is that it is not a 900:1 ratio unless that is how you perceive it. Lectures could be more engaging on the personal level if some of the ideas the discourse community generates are addressed. If a lecture is merely a monologue, then I have to say, I probably would not show up either. What if a lecture was a hybrid – live conversation and online discussion? What if it was perfectly acceptable to do both. What if the lecture was ‘live blogged’ – and driving questions asked online and in the theatre.

Renewing Delivery

Web2.0 makes it easy to deliver a lecture online – live. Let’s say there is an hour ‘lecture’. Rather than present yet another killer PowerPoint (which is debate in itself), break up the time into delivery, challenge and reflection. Bring in the ‘online’ learners – allow them (and encourage them) to form sub-groups to answer questions and drive further discussion online later or at the time. Get a volunteer to ‘live blog’ the hour with a laptop.

Renewing Work Practices

The idea that there are tutorial discussions, lecture monologues and ‘online’ is not the preference of many students. By being flexible in delivery and support, we can accommodate students better. Sure it means changing the way, when and where we work, but not necessarily how long or how hard. Going ‘digital’ does not mean ‘more work’ at all – yet this is a continual argument to avoid change.

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Who was Ray Martin?

Ray Martin, delivered the 13th 2008 Andrew Olle media lecture, which is available on iView. Mr Martin is a journalist of Australian legend, old school and part of the mass media establishment, presenting on the Australian 60 Minutes – a show which personally I find a little hard to digest, but then I don’t watch much TV.

Lots of very rich people from the 20th Century mass media culture, all listening to the current issues – as he sees them.

Well, I’m no one, let alone a journalist, but I did take notice when he commented –  ‘content is king, and always has been … and always will be’ – in reference to the quality of Australian journalism.

He went on to talk about the lack of investment in journalism generally, the cutting of staff, and lacking media networked TV shows on topics such as finance.

What I found really interesting was the off the cuff swipes at ‘internet content’. I am sure he is an amazing journalist and has changed the landscape blah blah … of old school ideas of media and content creation, but omitted to identify the power of the read/write web.

There was no mention of the way in which the internet is changing content itself, and that must hurt the ‘moguls’ as he called them – given that every media outlet now has a ‘blog’ feature or a ‘comment’ feature in it’s attempt to get some form of fractured conversation.

I think its still significant that shows like 60 minutes offer some ‘after show’ chat room – which is heavily moderated. Again, in todays ‘conversation’ – the mass media is still anything but democratic when it comes to voices. The chat room, was just a reaction to the internet several years ago, and hasn’t really moved on from that as it has never really understood it.

In the book – Now is gone: A Primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs (Bartleby Press, 2007), Geoff Livingston says that

There is no more ‘audience.’ There are, instead, communities. By participating in online communities communicators can learn what the community wants and likes, and can create content that’s most valuable to it. The take away from this book: build value for your community, and work for them.

I think that the audience at the lecture is not understanding that, or perhaps is hoping that it’s not true. In another book, Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies Charlene Li and John Bernoff (2008), they say “People are getting more things they need from each other, and less from traditional institutions and corporations.” and more significantly they talk about define six kinds of online consumer behaviors.

Learning which types best define your audience (or clients, or communities, or target groups) is the first step in any strategy you take to reach them. The Creators are those who publish a blog or article online, maintain a web page, or upload videos at least monthly. Critics post comments on blogs or forums, post ratings or reviews, or edit wikis. Collectors save URLs and tags on a social-bookmarking service, vote for sites on a service like Digg, or use RSS feed aggregators. Joiners maintain profiles on a social networking site like MySpace. Spectators consume what the rest produce. Inactives—nonparticipants—still remain.

Unfortunately for the ‘moguls’ – there is now significant market research – being pushed to commercial organisations to suggest that technology has in fact re-classified the notion of ‘consumers’. Both in terms of product and information, we can’t classify them as we have for the decades in which Ray Martin has been pushing information into lounge rooms all over Australia.

We used to need to get our ‘niche’ culture fix from magazines and information was limited, that is no longer true. As a kid, I read Shoot – I used to race to the shops to get it – and find out about the soccer stars of the day – hoping it ‘might’ contain something about my local club’s hero’s. How different is that to today.

This article from 1993 in the New York Times is a good contrast between how the media used to classify us, and now how we classify us. But there internet has packed with ‘advertising demographic profile data’ in the last decade, so a Google Search is testiment to how much effort went into predicting what ‘we would want’ in the 1990s.

But now we decide what we want and when we want it. We also want to create it. Its not that the ‘moguls’ are right or wrong, just that we don’t need them as aggregators of ‘quality information and reporting’. We self regulate, self edit and sell organise in places such as Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the place I go to read the news because its created, edited and maintained by all of us, not some of them.

Why worry about what Ray thinks? – Well  people listen to Ray and know of Ray – if they are over 40.

He’s the spokesman for the Baby Boomers. This is why students don’t listen to Ray. He is irrelevant as an aggregator of information for the teen generation. He is talking to the ‘spectators and inactives’.

Changing media delivery reaction

We see TV being ‘fast tracked’ from the USA – simply because the tech savvy can get it anyway. So it’s not just teens – its 20-30 somethings too – the peak TV ratings crowd that they are ‘worried about’. Let’s not forget that the media-rich are interested in commercial gain, not public service.

Content is king – user generated content! – if you are in elementary, high school – and university.

We are simply not listening to Ray. We are listening to each other – and that is what we need to do in the classroom. We have to recognise that kids are not reading magazines as the once did, they can get their ‘pop culture’ fix from any number of sources – digital sources.

They would rather spend their money on mobile phone credit than paper.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of kids in the playground, discussing an article in a magazine. I am sure some do, but the first thing they do after school, is turn their phone back on, and plug back into the ‘live’ world.

Repacked Heroes

Soccer has become a product, not ‘just’ a sport. Magazines are ‘lifestyle’ driven and media-moguls have resorted to ‘glamor’ images to sell their advertising space, appealing not to ‘soccer fans’ but to the spectators and the brands that want to sell to them.

As most of the ‘heroes’ are themselves a product, the image of the player is a brand to sell product – not soccer, the magazines are often aimed at ‘aspirational male targets’ than soccer fans. In many cases, the media is out of ideas, and the content of some magazines is little more than recounts of more timely amateur content.

I see these ‘inputs’ into the popular culture of students as a significant challenge to teacher’s attempting to provide students with ‘engaging’ content.

In effect, the massive amounts of images, video and text offered, is pushing the ‘mass media’ into diluting it’s 20t century quality journalism mantra into titillation, shock and expose tat. As Mr Martin retires from the field, he is perhaps symbolic of the end of mass media, as it has been since the the invention of the ‘web press’ (ironic name).

They can’t deliver ‘direct news’ in as fast as ‘us’ so then the focus has on more social attractors – body image, status and popular culture semantics are needed to survive. This creates a whole new discourse about social change in the media, and the expansion of what we allow as ‘acceptable images’.

If we are to understand how to deliver ‘content’ to students, then we need to understand how they collect it.They are motivated by peer recommendation, peer pressure and peer generated content. If we harness that, and allow them to use that approach in classrooms, then they will be more likely to ‘listen’ to teachers. Teachers need to re-pack it. This is not optional, this is critical.

We cannot continue to present ‘content’ in the way the Ray Martin was suggesting – as expert, experienced and singularly authoritarian.

If we see ourselves as the ‘elite’ content providers, as the media-rich do, then we can’t be too surprised if students see it as ‘old’. The ‘yeah but’ here is … but it’s on the test, so they have to. They don’t. The test is not longer the ‘end game’ or the measure of a student’s worth. It’s what Dan Pink calls ‘Right Brain Rising’ in his book ‘whole new mind’ where creativity and more artisan skills are now highly valued by major companies. We have to accept that students can get ‘facts’ through technology at virtually no cost.

We need to be more able to design ways in which they can collect, criticize, create and join together to demonstrate their comprehension of ‘facts’ in a context that is relevant to them in spaces that are relevant – such as Skype, Second Life, Adobe Connect and Forums.

Ray Martin’s lecture was probably challenging and relevant to the media-rich he was speaking too, but given number of teachers who are ‘baby boomers’ and that there are significant issues in their retirement and the general exit from schools, then Ray is not talking to ‘us’ – as Stephen Heppell says.

Unfortunately, new teachers are appraised by ‘time served’ as it has always been. So under the ‘baby boomer’ watch, I don’t find it at all surprising that younger teachers (and some older ones) feel frustrated and powerless to get past the wall of ‘yeah buts’ that are in the generations above them in management structures that are there to create tiers of authority and lines of management.

Even Gen X or Gen Y teachers, are using the Baby Boomer (and their 20th Century Learning Models) as their point of reference.

I think that it’s very important that all teachers listen to Stephen Heppell’s k12 Online Keynote – when perhaps they are only listening to media-rich spokesmen.

But how many staff would get time off in lieu to attend this online? – recognized by the ‘administration’ as professional development. Very few.

We need to get rid of the myth that it’s Gen Y mavericks wanting to get WoW into the classroom as some sort of fad, but that all sectors and generations are recognising that we are past the ‘information age’ and being good at maths, science and english is not enough. Students need to be creators, editors, remixers, critics, collectors and sharer’s of knowledge too – by understanding where students prefer to go for information.

The problem is, there are more Spectators and Inactives in education … but just like any new ‘technology’ – the connected ‘usness’ as Stephen calls is, is growing at exponential rates, and as teachers retire, Ray Martin retires – there is a gap that we must fill – as students can’t wait for the last baby boomer to get on the bus

I’m sure Ray would have made a better job of this post.