To feed or lead class?

I read Judy O’Connell’s post in which she describes a colleague who is giving a lecture on the use of Powerpoint in order to give students more than a summary of important points in serial delivery. Judy references the Chronical of Higher Education on the topic. I am not sure it can be removed without leaving a stain. In another recent article, Micheal de Percy talked about the drivers that often promote ‘service and delivery’ at University. I made me wonder about the dilemma teachers between feeding the class verses leading it, and a strategy to over come it.

It doesnt wash off, but washes over.

It doesn't wash off, but washes over.

Educators face a bloated syllabus (which are a summary consensus view of the discipline). Students often say they want revision notes and powerpoint summaries (it sustains their often successful surface learning strategy). External exams are designed in ways that teachers can almost predict questions and game the system focused on results and competitive performance. They provide students with model answers and strategies to pass the test. It happens and we’ve all seen it. “If you want to access the band 6 marks, this is what you need to include and how to do it”. Enquiry gives way to rote learning, which is why enquiry and group work is often afforded lower percentage points in summative assessment. This will be perpetuated as governments insist on drawing up league tables. Yes we have ‘in-course assessments’, but these are usually  internally designed and marked; unlike the almighty HSC exam – everyone knows the exam is the deal breaker here; and powerpoint is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

Teaching is an essential input to a product (the qualification). It is not simply a service. Qualifications issued by universities are supposed to indicate the capabilities of graduates. Over-relying on student satisfaction (as the main indicator of quality) encourages a service culture which is not entirely appropriate to the teaching role. Michael de Percy (ABC News)

Leading the class is much more of an ideological challenge than a technical one. Many teachers use a very limited toolset. Summising of content in powerpoint is perhaps 50% of their ability – and is often cited as a ‘desirable’ when it comes to student satisfaction. Yet Powerpoint was designed for techies to give summaries to marketing people back in the day. They wanted to spend least amount of time and effort explaining key things, so made Powerpoint. It was not a ‘learning tool’ – but a presentation tool. Over the years it just got more bloated, but still does what it was designed to do. I’m not even getting into BAD Powerpoint; simply by recognising it’s purpose is to talk, not listen – then we can start to think more about developing two-way engagements with learners.

Should we abandon powerpoint, or equivalent Web2.0 slidedeck application entirely?

If we actually want present a summary, then use it. If we want to lead students to deeper or wider thinking, not just remembering, no – dump it. – To lead learning at a deeper level, we should present a range of possibilities and influencers, not a summary. We can still use something visually impacting, aligning with the outcome intended, but we MUST avoid drawing a line between the resource itself and the summation of knowledge. That is what powerpoint is spectacularly good it. We are often so poor at formative assessment strategy that we give students no chance to make that connection – as the summary is on the powerpoint – we draw the line – asking the question and then giving the answer moments later.

I maintain that you can transform learning and teaching using a very limited number of tools. I return over an over to Diigo as the edu-webs killer application.

What is an alternative strategy?

Adapting an aggregator and using in a familiar teaching mode – using Diigo. Diigo provides a way to provide lecturers and teachers with the powerpoint backdrop to present ideas and components of the discipline, but does it in a way that discourages reading dot points. How so? by using Diigo’s list feature and tagging content. The lecturer can collect a mass of content and tag it to represent syllabus content – what is it I want them to know (the outcome). They can reference their own resource or those of others directly. This compiled list is then presented as a webcast in Diigo (example: here). It allows the lecturer to move between areas (links), and encourages them to talk about, not read them. Students no longer receive a 20 page powerpoint to remember, but 20 links, related to the discipline that they have to constructively align to the outcomes though guided enquiry (the activity).

We know if they are learning though assessment. Students need to be asked questions about the discipline and to use the Diigo List as the learning pathway. They can reference that content; or better still – use Diigo to comment directly on the page. Diigo of course allows teachers to set up a ‘class’ account and envoke collaboration. In effect, they draw all over the pseudo-powerpoint! – involved at a meta cognitive level almost immediately – and exploring, comparing, negotiating – as well as remembering. A massive shift in pedagogy, using a very simple tool.

Consider the two options presented – and decide – adapt of ignore. Try or deny.

One option is to provide 1000 students with a summary in powerpoint; the other is to provide interactive content that allows a 1000 students to socially construct a shared, consensus view. The problem is not which is better learning – but which do students see as more effective at getting the qualification. The former. I think convincing students is just as important as convincing lecturers of the perils of powerpoint. This plays out is student satisfaction surveys – ‘a good powerpoint is like gold’.

How do we encourage a change in behaviour?

But we must be cautious of the quantitatively-driven concept of student-centeredness where it detracts from the quality of the qualifications – in essence, the outputs which university teaching creates. Michael de Percy (ABC News)

Through educational leadership at the policy level. The job of education leaders is not to do easy things like buy IWBs and Netbooks (thats a purchasing officer), but to transform the standards of education sufficiently that teachers feel confident to stop feeding and learn new ways to lead. Equally students know why this is important to their attainment, and are not simply buying a service. Teachers and students can’t climb the learning ladder, unless leaders allow and encourage it to be extended. Powerpoint or otherwise – and right now the oppositional polarity being demonstrated by political policy is not exactly helpful to this change process in my view. Regrettebly, most leaders get their key-facts and briefings from powerpoint. We create out own reality.