July 09, 2007

In case I sounded xenophobic...

To redress the balance a bit... I attended 7 presentations. Two were very good.

One was the account of the new software to teach large Accounting classes, which I wrote about before. His presentation came right after an awful one which was so full of jargon that no-one else understood it, either. He started out slowly, taking time to relate his subject to knowledge we already knew*, situating it in context. His slides were simple, had (relatively) less text, and were more focussed - having one key point (mostly). He kept good eye contact, and generally gave the impression he knew that he was talking to real, live people. He used some humour. He seemed relaxed and not in a big hurry (most of the others were just so obviously in a race against the clock).

The other good presenter started off in the same way: nice and slow with lots of background. All the presentations were limited to just under 20 minutes, with a bell sounding after 5, then after 10, etc. I remember being surprised, and a little anxious on behalf of the two "good" presenters, when the 5-minute bell rang and they were just coming to the close of their introduction, yet neither of them seemed perturbed or concerned: all was obviously going to plan.

So, lots of background and in the process, giving the audience time to relate what was being said to their own knowledge and experience. The second presenter also used self-deprecating humour, which showed maturity and confidence. The second presenter did not use powerpoint (tho I can't be sure): they didn't look like Powerpoint slides, but more like simple screenshots of his own website (which was the subject of the presentation). Each slide was focussed and contained just the info the speaker wanted to illustrate, and no more. There were graphics, sparingly and tastefully used and always to illustrate (sorry!) the point being made, never to "jazz up" the presentation. Colour was used, in the same way. The colours and images helped reduce the domination of text, which, as a non-native speaker of Japanese, I greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, there was a blemish: this second presenter, along with just about everyone else, had the "kids these days" habit. The main point of the presentation was handouts and using a website as a resource for students and as a tool of professional development (giving yourself a web profile). The presenter pointed out how handouts had evolved over the years, and that "kids these days" could not tolerate text-only handouts, or only paper handouts: they needed stuff in colour, they needed graphics, they needed digital content (and, yes, I'm afraid he threw in the old chestnut about diminishing attention spans).

It wasn't his fault, of course, but his timing was terrible: I'd just read Atherton on handouts, you see, so I was an expert (I actually had Atherton in my bag at the time: he was very good and did not utter a peep, you'll be glad to know):
The Internet and Virtual Learning Environment may or may not radically change teaching, but the technology which has probably made most difference in the past fifty years has been cheap, on-site, duplicating copying and printing. Among other things, it has radically changed student expectations — and the more conversant teachers become with computers and printing, the higher the expectations get.
So, nyah: students' demands and expectations might be about more than the inherent mental and physical shortcomings of today's "yoof".

*"the most important determinant of learning is what the learner already knows" (David Ausubel, quoted in Atherton [ATHERTON J S (2005) Teaching and Learning: Advance Organisers [On-line] UK: Available: http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/advance_organisers.htm Accessed: 9 July 2007]

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