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.


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.

Adminstrative Changes at PACE

PACE has introduced two administrative changes, one impacting all courses and one impacting full time courses.

For full time courses, beginning with this Fall’s programs, attendance will be tracked on Nexus. This change is for full time courses only.

It will allow students the benefit to see their attendance live, without needing any assistance, and will allow instructors to see, live, how a student is doing around meeting class commitments as well.

Instructions on how to do attendance  in Nexus are in the Nexus Instructor Communication Portal, under Content – Full Time Programs.

The other change applies to all PACE courses: first class registers are no longer required. Effectively August 25, first class registers are no longer required.


Changes to Nexus

Our online learning management system, Nexus, took on a new look today.  Your log in credentials remain the same.

The visual presentation will strike you as different as soon as you log in; the system has a new colour scheme and different feel.  While all of the functionality remains the same, some portions have moved and a few renamed.

For example:

-course list now uses picture icons instead of hypertext links

-the course drop down list has moved location

-Dropboxes have been renamed to Assignments

Be sure to check it out!

Course Evaluations

Course evaluations are a part of every PACE class. They can be both a valuable insight for instructors, and a source of stress.  Knowing how to look at them takes some forethought and practice.

All instructors are asked to provide time in the last class for students to complete evaluations. In the full time programs, evaluations are completed online.  Students have a link from Nexus to the evaluation page which they can complete for each course in the program.  In part time classes, students complete the evaluations in hardcopy; best practice for these paper forms is to designate one student to collect then and return them to the PACE Registration office or drop box.

To encourage completion, it is best practice not to do them as the last item of the day or before lunch; students tend to just get up and leave. A better practice is to ask students to complete them right after coming back from a break or at the start of class to encourage better completion rates.  It’s also a good idea to remind students that the evaluations are anonymous and shared with instructors only after grades are turned in.

When you go to review course evaluations, it’s is best to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind. If you are unhappy, you are going to fixate on the negative comments, which is unfair to you and your next group of students.  (A tip I picked up listening to the podcast Teaching in Higher Ed, episode 165: http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/teaching-lessons-course-evaluations/)

As you review the evaluations, keep in mind the population you are teaching. Some students are going to love you no matter what, some students will hate you no matter what; throw out the top comment and the bottom comment.  You are teaching to the students in the middle, pay attention to what they have to say.

Looking at those comments from the middle, remember why you reading these: to learn and improve yourself. Look at comments that provide some insight beyond just “this was good” or “I liked it”.  In some cases, you may need to remind yourself about why certain points are in the materials.  I have seen comments where students question the material being taught; I always revisit why it is present and confirm that the material is valid.  Students are not necessarily in the best place to judge why material is included, but they can certainly provide insight into how material is being received.

Take the feedback to heart, identify something that you will do differently next time and make notes right away so you don’t forget. No one is perfect, so taking the time to look at small ways to improve our content and our delivery is always a good idea.   With a little bit of practice on how to read them, feedback can be an invaluable part of growing as an instructor.

Teaching Aids

Every presenter uses teaching aids of some sort, using them effectively takes forethought. Teaching aids can cover everything from PowerPoint slides, to overheads, using the whiteboard, having handouts, or physical items.  How you use them becomes the key part of their presence in your teaching.

Selecting teaching aids should be done with the purpose of helping the students to learn the material; hence being called ‘aids’. Learning is done through the senses: seeing, hearing, touching.  The training aid provides that connection beyond just hearing the speaker.  It provides a visual connection, or physical in the case of an item the student holds, that allows other senses to become involved in the learning experience.

Some people may have a preference over how they learn: visual versus auditory. Having an item for students to look at and see helps to appeal to the different learning styles and involve them in the presentation.

Care has to be taken that the training aid does not become a distraction. Whether it is a slide with text that swirls and dances as it comes on the screen, or a hand held item that beeps and flashes, if the teaching aid is distracting, it is not helping.  Selecting the training aid has to be done with the idea that the item will help the students learn, not distract from the learning.

When to use them also becomes a matter for consideration.  Displaying the training aid at the beginning of the class may itself be a distraction as students wonder what the item is and why it is there.  But taking a large or complicated item out during a lecture can be distracting by losing time, which may impact student attention. Similarly, handing an item around the room also takes time.  Do you continue to talk while the item is making it’s way around the class?  Or do you wait?

Overuse can also dull the audience, and care should be taken not to over do the use of any aid. In designing your lecture, think about what aids you want to use and when.  Practice with them and ensure that they work and you know how you want to show them.

During your presentation, ensure that everyone can see your aids. It sounds simple, but don’t stand in front of the slides or white board, write large enough for everyone to see, have enough handouts for everyone, etc..

Incorporating training aids into a presentation takes forethought. Ensure that you know what you want to accomplish by having an aid and then select an aid that adds to your presentation without being distracting. Make your selection with your audience in mind, the goal is always to help the student to learn, understand, and remember the material.

Asking Questions

Have you ever thought about what it takes to ask students a question in the classroom? It is not as simple as it seems.

Asking a question is a little like being a good comedian, it takes timing. Ask the question, pause, restate the question, then call on someone to answer.  The pause is the key piece to asking questions effectively.

Giving a pause after asking a question allows students to think of the answer. Everyone will be processing at different times, at different speeds.  If you are fan of the oral communication models, recall that some students may have barriers that mean decoding your statement takes time: some students may not know the material as well, others may have to translate your words out of English, then interpret their answer back into English before they can answer.

Restating the question helps with that pause. It gives everyone a chance to catch up; it also gives students a different interpretation of the question in case they were struggling.

Calling on students also involves some thought. Do you call students out by name?  Do you only pick volunteers?  That’s a decision that you have to make as an instructor.  It can be difficult: someone who doesn’t raise their hand but is asked anyway and truly doesn’t know may be embarrassed and become resentful. Only asking the student who raises their hand may get you the ‘eager beaver’ and leave everyone else out.  (I use a combination, sometimes drawing in that student who isn’t always verbal, and other times using the student with their hand up.)

What if the student gets it wrong? I try to help the student achieve the right answer; not give them the answer, but lead them to it.  Another tip for this that I’ve heard but not used is to have another student give the answer, then return to the original student and have them repeat or paraphrase to ensure they now understand that.  (I’ve always checked back for a confirmation but never asked for a repeat back as I didn’t want to embarrass the student)

Always repeat the answer though, ensure that everyone heard it, and heard the correct response.

But let’s back up: why ask questions? Asking questions serves two purposes, both around feedback.  Asking questions provides feedback to the student: do they understand the material correctly? It’s also feedback to the instructor: am I teaching the material correctly?  If students are getting questions wrong, it is an opportunity to revisit the material before moving on, correcting any issues.

Asking questions is not as simple as it seems, but they are invaluable part of teaching.