PowerPoint: Who is it for?

There’s an often heard expression: death by PowerPoint. It’s use in the classroom can bore students, become distracting, or, hopefully, enhance the teaching.  “Enhance” is the goal of any training aid.  Regardless if it is a case study, a white board exercise, a handout, or a physical item, any training aid should be brought in for the purpose of improving the lesson.  If the aid is a distraction, it shouldn’t be there.  PowerPoint is the same way, so who is it there for?

Ideally, PowerPoint should be designed with small amounts of text, presented in sufficient size to be clearly seen by everyone in the class. The text colour should stand out from the background.  Where appropriate, an image can be added to enhance the message.

Who that content is for depends on your perspective. That content may be displayed for the instructor, the student, or both.

For the instructor, the use of PowerPoint can be a prompt on what words to say or point to make to the class. The PowerPoint is being used almost as speaking notes, and allows the instructor to engage directly with the students without having to look down or shuffle papers about.  In that case, instructors should take care not to read the slides to the students verbatim, or to fill the slides with too much text.

When used for the students, PowerPoint is often used as an aid in taking notes. It may be displayed as headings or points to help students with structure for their note taking. Or it may be handed out for that purpose, in which case, care should be taken not to give the students copies of every point or every slide.  If the idea is for the student to make notes, which is a good method of helping students who learn through note taking or being tactile, be sure to leave off some content.  If students are given full copies of all slides, why come to class?

Don’t feel obligated to share slides with the class. Be up front though if you won’t be sharing slides, and be sure to adjust your teaching to allow students to make notes.  This is especially true when using publisher’s slides.  They are often full of information that is contained in the textbook, and are overwhelming in many cases, with too much text and too much content.

When teaching a new concept or a new word, having the PowerPoint is a good addition to the instructor’s speaking. Students who may be building their English language skills get to both hear the word and see it in writing.

In building PowerPoint, don’t rely on gimmicks or tricks to move the slides, text, or images around. These are easily overdone and become distracting.   Learn too how to blend the use of other training aids into your classroom so that there is variety.  Turning off the PowerPoint is often a good way to emphasize the content and have discussion; pressing the B key during the presentation projects a black screen and hides the slide until you hit B again.

When using PowerPoint, be clear on your mind why it is in the classroom. Build your lesson first, and use the PowerPoint as an aid once you are sure of your content and objectives for the day.

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Begin with the end in mind

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he lists “Begin with the end in mind”. Not only is this good advice for life in general, but it is also the approach to take in teaching, whether you are planning for a program, a course, or a day’s lecture.  Knowing where you want to be at the end is the key to creating your material.

When you plan a road trip, you look at your destination and plan how to get from where you are to where you want to be. A course is a similar journey.  The learning outcomes tell you where you want to be at the end of the training, then you look at how you are going to get there.

Linking each day to the learning outcomes allows you to plan the end of the day: what is the goal for the end of each day that allows for building to the final outcome? Then each portion of the day can be built around that day’s objective.

Planning a whole day (or a whole course) can look daunting! By looking at the day in terms of where I want to be at the end and working backwards allows for planning out a 6 hour class: if the end of the day is point X, where do I need the class to be in the afternoon?  As we break for lunch?  As we take the morning break?  It makes the day into smaller pieces that are easier to envision, and provides a goal for each part that links to the overall objective.  Taking this approach allows me to think of each day in ‘chunks’, and look at where I want the class to be at the end of each ‘chunk’.

These pieces build together, stacking up like Lego blocks, to meet the day’s outcome. Each day’s outcome builds together to meet the course outcome.  Those course outcomes stack up to meet the program outcomes, all by looking at where the end is first.

The fall brings lots of changes everywhere, not the least at PACE. We have had four new program groups start: Human Resources, Network Security, Public Relations, and Project Management.  At the same time, we introduced some changes on the administrative side, and on the teaching side.

If you’ve been away from the university for the last week, remember that the wireless password has changed. Before you come down, log into Nexus or Webadvisor to get the new password.  If you get down here and forgot, the students will tell you or stop by the office.

We have also made some changes on the administrative side. First class registers are no longer required for PACE courses.  For the full time programs starting in the fall of 2017 and going forward, attendance tracking is now done on Nexus.  It is found under the Assessments tab inside the program folder; instructions were sent out through the program managers and also posted to the Nexus Instructor Communication Portal.

For the students, changes were made for the fall programs with the introduction of an orientation program. Five days long, these presentations were built around the theme of giving students skills to survive and do better in their studies.  Each group received an orientation to the university, including the library, a study skills workshop, an exposure to cultural differences and issues, and a Total SDI introduction covering their motivational background and conflict approaches.

As instructors come into contact with the fall groups, it would be worthwhile to look back at the skills in their toolbox and build on them. The Total SDI piece connects with anyone who has a conflict topic in their course, group work, or oral communication piece.  While the concept is bigger than can be covered off here, one stand out piece is the idea that communication has to be tailored to the recipient’s motivators and approaches in order to be heard.  A point that will come up time and again as our students begin to work in groups!

As we move into fall, we will be again having professional development sessions for instructors. Be sure to pass along any ideas you may have, or reach out to myself or the program manager with any concerns.