Friday, February 09, 2007

Technology for All Learners
Part 1: Presentation in the Diversified Environment

It's a given in education today that project-based learning is one of the best ways for students to engage with, learn, and ultimately retain concepts and skills. But preparing students to learn in a project-based learning environent still involves modeling, direct instruction, and peer presentations. And in all such cases, there will always be a need for direct presentation.

Applying our increasingly familiar diversified instructional strategies isn't always obvious or intuitive when we use presentation media. Videos move along at their own pace; Powerpoint presentations feel so much like performance, it's easy to forget that it's still important to adapt our pacing to the learning needs of our students, even if this means sacrificing some of the theatricality.

But front-of-the-room presentation presents difficulties for many types of students, and keeping an eye on such students can be especially difficult in a darkened room. Some students cannot easily watch and listen at the same time. Many students don't learn well from passive listening, even when such presentation is coupled with visual aids.

Today, some quick tips and tricks for using PowerPoint, video, and other "front of the room" presentation tools more effectively.

1. Set the stage

It's not news than many students benefit from concept previewing -- that is, from an overview of what they are about to see before they see it. Many of us do this already, but it never hurts to reinforce: students should know what they need to watch for before you turn off the lights.

2. Create a focused environment

The human eye is attracted to light. When designing PowerPoint slides, this means light text on a dark background is more effective. When presenting with a projector, turning out all or most of the lights helps students stay focused on the projected image.

Size matters, too. Use big fonts, and less words. If you're projecting something from the web, consider changing the default font size on your browser so that students in the back of the room don't have to strain their eyes to see what's going on. (To do this, just change the text size in the view menu to largest.)

3. Break down the information flow

For decades, media literacy components have advocated showing movies in small "bites", stopping often to answer questions and reinforce classroom and content connections. In a DI environment, such stop-and-start strategies are all the more important, as breaking down the a/v materials both makes the material more manageable...and the frequent pauses provide the extra time needed for students to absorb and consider the material itself before moving on.

Don't let the video be the teacher! Stop often to ask and answer questions, add value, help students catch up and catch on, or just take a quick "absorption break". Other possibilities here include talking over/with the video as it plays -- as an added bonus, creating a dialogue between yourself and the video content models better critical thinking skills for a generation which struggles with ownership of an increasingly mediated world.

Although it may seem that PowerPoint addresses this breakdown by its very nature, the relentless slide-by-slide march of PowerPoint can actually lead students to think that, if it's not on the screen, it's not important enough to matter. Leaving a slide on the screen while you check in with your students can divide their attention -- even if nothing new has shown up on the screen, the light remains attractive. One strategy to address this is to keep a piece of cardboard or paper handy, and use it periodically to block the slide projector lens, reclaiming student attention away from the presentation while you ask them to think about the content for a minute before moving on. (If you do this, make sure you keep the cardboard from touching the lens -- there's nothing like a fire drill for pulling students out of the moment!)

4. Prepare and provide "read-along" accommodations

Studies show that students absorb 25% less material when they see it on a screen. From a distance, student ownership of material is even trickier. As such, although a few of our students are eligible for read-along accommodations, a significant percentage of our students might actually benefit from having an outline or script in front of them when watching a presentation.

There are several variants of handouts which we can prepare, from outlines to full page-by-page paper copies of your slides themselves; you might choose to give them out as read-along copies, or provide them to students who might learn better if they highlight as they go along. (Highlighting a script or printed slide is especially useful for students who might benefit from "extra time" with your multimedia presentation) Each way of providing a presentation handout supports a different relationship between the information on the screen and the students ability to own and learn that information.

Not all students benefit from or need paper during a presentation, of course, and preparing low-resolution read-along "classroom copies" of your powerpoint presentation does use paper and ink, but having a few copies of both types of handout ready to give to students who might benefit from them is worth doing if you think it will make a difference.

Such printed documents also benefit students who are being asked to read off individual workstation screens, of course. In both cases, we're happy to prepare outlines or slideshow handouts for you in the labs before your visit or classroom activity.

5. Consider making the video or presentation available outside of class

Just like any text, your presentation or video is important to your curriculum. But where having a student review that text with you on your afterschool day is intuitive and easy, providing an opportunity for that same student to review video or PowerPoint presentations is not. Similarly, where we often copy texts to send home for students who have been absent, legal issues and our rental contract with Blockbuster can confound any attempt to give that same student access to multimedia texts outside of the classroom.

Printing out the materials can help, of course -- when the materials exist in a printable form, that is. But if the print-out were an effective replacement for the multimedia -- that is, if the written word offered the same chance for comprehension and retention -- you'd have used that for all your students in the first place, right?

Luckily, many of the texts we use, from United Streaming materials to our own PowerPoint presentations, can be legally re-distributed through our network -- making them available for students to review after school via the homework center or lab. Additionally, in most cases, fair use laws and accommodations standards allow us to show videos a second time to students outside of the classroom, assuming that video has already been shown to the class as part of the same unit. To get assistance in navigating the legal and technical issues involved in "re-covering" such multimedia materials, please see Mr. F in the lab.

Need some help planning your use of multimedia in your next classroom unit? Want to develop some great read-along handouts for your inclusion blocks? Ready to reserve that projector? Got a great teaching with technology strategy to share? Stop by the lab anytime!

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