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July 31, 2007


Dean Shareski

The idea of constraints really has come through for me with the 140 limitation of a certain new app. I love the idea of telling stories, conveying messages and image in tight, confined spaces and limitation...Takes way more talent to tell a story in 5 frames/slides (see the flickr group dedicated to this) requires deep thinking and synthesis not often done in school. I like it.

Graham Wegner

Christian, your comment over at Dan's blog was interesting and provocative at the same time so here I am reading the full blown version in detail. I might do the reverse and comment first here and then blog it later. Firstly, what some business school does in terms of entry is of little interest to me but Dan's focus on the concept that "less is more" is what captured my thoughts. It struck me because I've been devouring his slide presentation tips and processes for most of this year and applying those ideas to my meager number of local presentations.

But the lense with which I want to examine your take comes from my own classroom and our "Personal Research Projects" program that I have led out alongside our middle school teachers. Using an inquiry-centred learning approach, my students developed presentations on a topic of their own choice over the course of two months. I blogged about the process recently so I won't go through the details here but I tended to err on the side of guidance rather than requirements. I wanted the students to find their own way through, be open to advice and be prepared to have their presentation critiqued by their peers. So I know that when you describe the "Death by Powerpoint" presentation classroom, it's not mine and I dare say there are many teachers like me where the end product is just the start of the conversation. With my students, we negotiated together what we believed good presentations to be about. We designed a rubric that the kids themselves would use during the presentations. I talked about the slides complementing their research, that clear well chosen images convey meaning that excessive text cannot, the importance of considering your audience's needs and how eye contact conveys respect to your audience.

You ask in your post "...are they really demonstrating anything that resembles learning?"

My oath, they were.

Yes, Powerpoint was the choice of every student (but not mandated by me) and as they watched each presentation, the learning was there in masses. It was there in the feedback that the students gave each other, scaffolded initially by me, but when students say comments like, "I wasn't interested in Roman History before your presentation but now I want to know more", it's paydirt. It happens when the students who can't resist the call of the animated bullet points, clicking through them furiously because they've just realised they don't add anything to their message. It happens when a student proclaims an animé drawing as their own work scanned into a slide but someone eagle eyed spots the plagiarism via a watermarked URL on the corner of the slide. It happens when a well intentioned student's presentation goes over the twenty minute mark because they didn't want to leave anything out only to realise that they've lost the interest of the class. Done tactfully, which is where teacher guidance is crucial, the conversation emanating from these presentations has initiated and cemented learning about the research process, the importance of citing sources, catering for your audience's learning needs and yes, learning that "less is more" when it comes to conveying meaning, ideas and information across to your peers.

Christian Long

Dean: You and I are in concert on the less-is-more mindset (although I must confess that my own blogging style runs counter to that, but I never admitted to being a 'talented' blogger).

Curious about the 5Slide Flickr sets. Can you send me the link? Tried to find it myself, but alas no luck.

Graham: The passion and intentionality of your approach with using PPt with your kids is to be commended on many levels. Best of all is your conviction that the 'process' itself was more powerful than the end result, and by process I mean in 'review' as much as in 'creation.'

Like you, Dan's posts/ruminations on the power of good design in teacher work has also compelled me to be far more intentional when working with PPt, etc. His expertise and passion for design/presentation may define his role in the larger edu-blogosphere for some time to come (in addition to his clear math'pertise).

All I will add to your original comment is that while 'process' is vital (and the 'discovery' that comes with it), the clear 'constraints' we put on the project offer significant value as well (and 'challenge'). If our kids think always in terms of audience (both in and out of the class, regardless of 'grades'), then the 'constraints' are tied to the audience's needs and willingness to pay attention/care. Yes, we want kids to co-create the process, but we also want them to know WHY they are doing what they are doing...and constraints give us a place to push against, as opposed to limits.

Cheers to you both! Christian

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