One of the best things you can do to improve your teaching is to become a student. This is true whether you teach in a university or a primary school, online or face-to-face. Indeed, one of the first things I recommend to academic staff new to teaching online is to take an online course of some sort or another. The subject of the course doesn’t matter – nor, honestly, does whether or not they finish – but what matters is that they have the experience of engaging with teaching materials without having been the one to put them together. I can talk myself blue about the importance of clear instructions or logical course progression, but nothing is as effective in driving these points home as trying to complete a poorly-constructed assignment or navigate a confusing course layout.
Recently, I unexpectedly took my own advice and, unsurprisingly, being in the audience for a TEL presentation has taught me a lot about what does (and doesn’t work) in giving them. I was in Dublin for a workshop on Creating Flipped Classroom Podcasts delivered by Kevin O’Connor, a Learning Technologist with Trinity College Dublin’s Academic Practice and eLearning Team. It was a really smooth and well-constructed session and as I was familiar with the techniques Kevin was teaching, I was able to notice some small details in the presentation and organisation of the session which made it work so well. While I left the session with a long list of things to try in future presentations, two really stuck out:
Embedding a timer in the presentation
Most workshops – as well as many university class sessions – have both lecture-style content and group work. Which is great, but the combination can make it very hard to keep classes on schedule. I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at writing down when the “five minutes to work on the question” started so the group work and discussion periods tend to run much longer than intended.
In the session up at TCD, Kevin embedded countdown timers in his activity slides. This way, not only did everyone know how much time was left, but we could all double-check what we were supposed to be doing when we (inevitably) found ourselves on tangents. Even better, Powerpoint has a simple tool for embedding videos into slides (Windows-only, alas), so it’s a matter of moments to open the tool, search for a video, and insert the timer. So be prepared for better timekeeping at the next TEL Practical!
Screencasts with Live Narration
Another useful trick from the session included pre-recording a screencast of any software or website demonstrations, but narrating them live so things aren’t too stilted in the presentation. I really don’t like sitting and listening to a recording of myself during a presentation, but one of the most frustrating parts of training people to use technology is that you can never guarantee that things will work properly while you’re demonstrating them to the group. But at the same time, we really need to show people how to navigate programmes and websites so really can’t rely on static images. I usually script a live demonstration and hope for the best on the day, but have definitely had my share of disasters, so this will really come in handy!
If you’ve found a great way to improve your own presentations, let us know – we’re always looking for new ideas (and new people to write blog posts!)