After 10 years, it was time. We could not sit through another bullet-ridden, brain-numbing student presentation. We interviewed the kids. For them it was just as bad.
They dreaded each others’ PowerPoints.
Though we’ve been using other tools for communication, sometimes the slideshow really seems the best choice.
We knew that presentation styles had changed. At conferences and on websites we’d seen so many effective examples.
But we knew that breaking 10 years of bad habits was going to be a process. And with PowerPoint so ingrained in our culture, we also expected a fight.
So, with Senior Seminar research presentations looming, about two months ago we began our focus on change.
Technology coach Ken Rodoff and I worked with classroom teachers to break bad habits. We worked with one English class preparing presentations on Ethan Frome and four Senior Seminar classes.
What we shared:
- We told the students to aim for no bullets. Aim for just one word or phrase on a slide.
- We told them to aim for one powerful image on a slide. That image could be accompanied by minimal text or no text at all.
- Clipart was banned. (Well, we tried.) Why should anyone use canned art in a landscape where the people of the world are generously sharing original media?
- We pointed students to our Copyright Friendly Images pathfinder, our Image Generator Pathfinder, and to Flickr’s Creative Commons Pool. We told them to search for images conceptually rather than literally. For interest, what images would photographers tag to represent "lonely"or "cold"? We also told them to create their own images.
- If they needed to include a quote, students were to look for the nugget within the quote. To shorten it as much as possible. To discover its essence.
- We told students that slides were cheap. In fact, they are free. Use as many as you need. Run through some quickly. Stay on some a while. Consider the pace required by the slide or the thought. We got rid of requirements like: include fifteen slides–one should be your introduction, one should include your thesis, five should include specific evidence, etc. (Works cited or credit slides were, of course, required.)
- We told students to be creative in grabbing and maintaining attention. There was no formula for presentation. Think outside the box.
- We echoed the words of one student from a class unit we piloted last year–"the slides are for the audience; they are not for me."
- We reminded students of rhetorical devices. One classroom teacher showed students exemplars of good speaking techniques using TED’s impressive archive of inspiring speeches.
What we discovered:
- On the whole, the students who listened to us did better presentations. Their slides looked way better. They looked modern–without the 90s digital accent. (With the exception of one dedicated WordArt fan.)
- Without their bullets, students were forced into storytelling. They connected with their audience.
- Those students who chose to ignore our advise and continued to use bullets, kept turning to look at their slides. When the audience saw a slide appear with five or six bullets, you could almost see them sigh. The presenter also appeared tired when faced with the prospect of covering all those bullets. You could also hear quiet snickers when a student chose to use clipart.
- The Ethan Frome group whined incessantly during our first lesson. They couldn’t believe we wanted them to lose the bullets. "How do you expect us to know what to say?" We recognized that we were breaking 10 years of bad habits. After a while, however, the students got involved with the aesthetics of their slides. Many of those slides convincingly evoked a cold New England winter.
- Students who weren’t prepared appeared less prepared. If they didn’t know their content, it was clear.
- Some students are better storytellers than others. It was clear.
- Some students got a little too involved in slide design. They kinda overlooked sharing their compelling thesis or their evidence.
- The students learned about communication and what makes an effective presentation. The presentations revealed both good and bad models and the student audience seemed to know the difference.
- Many students thought outside the box. The spoke to their audience. They used humor. They used rhetorical devices–quotes, metaphors, repetition, questions, etc. We saw audience engagement and we suspect that some of the presentations inspired learning.
- Many students appeared truly pleased with their new and improved products.
- We’ll know a little more as we interview the students and get more of their reactions. (More on this later.)
- We know we have much more work to do.
- We know we need to work further with teachers on what to value. We need new rubrics.
- The lesson was sticky. We could tell students will continue to use these new strategies.
Among the resources we used:
- Death by PowerPoint: And how to fight it
- Presentation Zen (Garr Reynolds)
- PowerPoint Extreme Makeover (Dean Shareski)
- Cliff Atkinson: Beyond Bullets
- Tom Peters on Presentation Excellence
- Gettysburg Address PowerPoint (What if Lincoln used PPT?)
- Stop Your Presentation Before it Kills Again (Kathy Sierra)