Ignorance is no longer bliss

This happened about a month back at my CIDTT class. We were given an activity to find out errors in different types of presentations. As my luck would have it, I received a PowerPoint slide to examine which looked something like this:

Photosynthesis?

Well… My question to the class was:

What’s right about this?

The entire group, including my instructor, was bewildered by my question. They said that there was nothing wrong with it. In fact they went on saying that it is an excellent presentation as it used a visual of a plant. Visuals are good… But not this one!

For the next 10 odd minutes, I explained to them as to how the slide would fail with the learners, with respect to the quality of the graphics, colour, placement, size, and typeface of the labels and the definition (in case you missed the definition, it is at the bottom right of the slide).

One of them (a teacher assistant) raised her hand and asked me whether all this is a real big deal. According to her, as long as the slide had the information in it, it must be effective with the learners. During tea break, I realized that a lot of other teachers in the group shared her view. Their collective questions were:

Do we really need to focus on the design a PowerPoint? Isn’t content more important?

Isn’t it enough if we just collect the information and pictures and display them to the learners? Isn’t that what PowerPoint is for?

We are going to explain all of it to them anyway right?

Well, my answer would be: If you don’t want to design them, get e-books. At least all the “information” you wish to convey is presented in a logical and a readable manner (to some extent, at least). For all those who disagree with me, I recommend you to read Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson and Slideology by Nancy Duarte. If you still disagree with me, feel free to post your views under the comments section.

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The Town Bus Ride

After my meeting with the kids at Thingaloor village (click here) and my visit to the Moon temple, I boarded the town bus to return to Kumbakonam town. I shared my seat with a couple of school kids (8th graders) in the bus.  After some casual talk, the kids began discussing the Japanese tsunami which had happened earlier that day. I was a little shocked to note that kids in these remote parts knew about it. When I inquired them as to how they knew about it, they told me that their school master gives them a piece of world news every day for discussion and thinking. They told me that their village schoolmaster has a television (that’s a luxury in their village) and would share important world happenings with them on a daily basis. They explained to me that the earthquake was very serious and was 8.9 on the Richter scale. They went on explaining what a Richter scale was and how it is related to a field called seismology. Great teachers do know their way of getting the students to go beyond their books and 4 walls and I can only curse my bad luck that I was unable to meet this teacher. I asked them as to what they would do to help them. They got thinking for a moment and replied that the Japanese are welcome to come over to their village and stay with their families until the water recedes there. When I asked them as to whether they would have the space to stay in their houses, they replied that they, along with their fathers can build new huts for them on a vacant patch of land in their village for them and would be glad to share their meal with them. They even offered to take the Japanese kids to their village school to study along with them so that they wouldn’t miss their lessons. The bus reached their village then and they had to get off the bus. That was one amazing Friday evening for me.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 19:55  Comments (1)  
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Importance of Ed Research – A New Hashtag?

Last night, I was participating at the weekly #gtchat convo where we were exchanging great information about best sites and tips on finding scholarly research online.

Current research, in my opinion, is our window to the world. We gain knowledge of what’s happening out there and what more could be done to improve things. Moreover, staying updated also saves time and prevents us from reinventing the wheel. I was glad to meet people who were passionate about keeping themselves updated with the current global scenario.

Twitter has always been my favorite place to learn and discuss various topics. Last night, I realized that there isn’t much discussion happening with respect to educational research. We share our views and experiences on twitter but what about all the research articles we read? Sharing and discussing research articles on twitter and on our blogs will, apart from enriching our knowledge, transform the social media into a rich source of credible information.

So here’s the deal. I propose a new twitter hashtag #edres where we can post research articles and have a discussion on them. If the topic gets too hot there, we can shift it to one of the regular ed hashtags for a full length discussion. #gtchat tweeps are already in action, considering the idea of a separate gifted research hashtag (#tdres or #gtres). What do you think? Please leave your views in the comments section.

Learning Objectives on Paper and in Practice

I have designed a number of e-learning modules for school kids and I usually devote special time and care in highlighting the learning objectives. I also had a chance to witness many presentations and the learning objectives slides are either skipped or they are read out to the learners in a rather listless manner. I was a little annoyed to see the slide which was written with so much care receiving so the little attention. My learning objectives slide looked something like this:

Learning objectives on paper

I discovered that my learning objectives looked as they are supposed to—on paper. These learning objectives appear to be more like instructions. This slide seems to have an element of restriction attached to it which automatically disconnects the learner from the topic.

I feel that such bulleted lists of learning objectives should be for the teachers’ eyes only. Using such bulleted lists in class not only wastes time, but also leave the students clueless of what they are about to encounter for the rest of the class.

Students can be presented with the same learning objectives in a different way such that this slide actually helps them to connect themselves with the presentation. Mind mapping is one of the techniques which I feel, is an excellent tool for presenting learning objectives. I have observed that these maps improve knowledge retention and promote appropriate recollection and application of the acquired knowledge. The advantage with mind mapping is that it can also be used in classrooms which lack technology. These maps can be sketched on flip charts, blackboards, etc. I have presented the same set of learning objectives as a mind map here:

Learning Objectives in Practice

Could you tell me something about it?

This is my favorite, and hence the first question I ask my students before getting on with the lesson. Prior knowledge of the subject is something which is very common with today’s students. The teacher no longer holds monopoly of facts in the classroom. Students have access to enormous amounts of facts and data with the click of a mouse. The teacher must utilize this in their favor in order to facilitate a constructive learning environment.

It is important for teachers to know what the students already know about the topic. This not only saves time, but also sustains the students’ interest in the class. Moreover it provides ample time for the lessons and a little more time for activities which enhance the learning experience for the students.

Another aspect of such pre-quizzes is that they help in clarifying the misconceptions the students might be having about the concepts in their lessons. Such sessions make the students not just answer the ‘what’ of it but also the ‘why’ of it. A pre-quiz not only grabs the students’ attention but also implants an element of curiosity in them which would insure better attention and consequent retention of the concepts.

The teacher, apart from conducting such pre-quizes, should insure proper motivation and appropriate feedback to the students. If done properly, such sessions would result in the voluntary effort by the students to read more about the topics after school and come up with more questions. This will ultimately lead to the stage where students begin to synthesize their own questions and answers, realizing inquiry based learning (Ah… That’s my favorite word!)

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 22:18  Comments (2)  
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Simple Testing Games for Young Learners

This post is dedicated to classrooms which are shielded from the influence of Web 2.0, technophobes, and those who want to take a break from the LCD screens.

I like these games in particular because they are very simple and moreover can be applied in any subject, ranging from mathematics to social sciences to languages. While theoretical subjects can capitalize on these games to improve the knowledge of the learners, languages can focus on the speaking skills, fluency and vocabulary aspects.

Although, I’m writing this with young learners in my mind, these games can also be used for adult learners. I’m listing some of my favourite games in this post.

Just a Minute (JAM)
In this game the learner is given a topic and a minute’s time to speak on it. During this one minute, the flow should be consistent and there must be no interruptions in the flow of ideas. The students can be allowed to choose the topic by drawing lots which makes it even more interesting. I would suggest reserving 5-6 minutes every class for such a session to recapitulate the day’s lessons.

Shipwrecked
This is one of my favourite role play games. In this game, the students are organized into pairs. The scene of this game is set on a sinking ship with just one life jacket. Each learner is given the role of a character/object. They must speak for a minute highlighting their positives and why they deserve the life jacket more than the other.

Word Tail
This is a class activity where the teacher initiates the word tail with one word and selects a student to say a couple of sentences about it. Following this, the student gets to extend the tail by selecting a related word and posing it to his/her classmate. The word tail can be extended as long as the teacher wishes to. I like this game because, it often goes beyond the realms of the textbook and you won’t believe the connections which the kids make with just a few words from their lessons.

What’s the Good Word?
The teacher thinks of a word and gives a clue. If the student guesses the answer with that clue, they get 3 points. If they don’t, the teacher gives a second clue and if the student gets it right, they get 2 points. If they don’t get it after the second clue, the teacher gives a third clue and if the student gets it right, they get 1 point. The rule is that only single words can be used as clues, unless you want to use a proper noun. When the student gets the answer, that student can think of another word and pose it to their classmates.

Wordfire
The teacher opens the game with a word and selects a student. The student must come up with a related word and point out to another student who must come up with another word that relates to the one said by the first student. This is a rapid fire game and each student gets a maximum of 5 seconds to come up with a word.

Got anymore games? Do share them with me!

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 22:28  Comments (3)  
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Teaching in the Student’s Language

About a couple of months back, I was teaching one of my GCSE students about the applications of electromagnetic radiations. However, the student was confused with the different types of electromagnetic radiations and their applications. He complained that the names were “too techy” for him to handle. That evening, I was chatting at my gaming alma mater and suddenly realized that I was talking about electromagnetic radiations without realizing it! In my subsequent class for that student, I opened the topic with a discussion of his favorite action game. He was excited and described his favorite game to me in great detail with all the cool gadgets that the hero had. I asked him to make a list of those on the board, following which I related them to electromagnetic radiations. Here is a part of that list:

  • Night vision goggles = Infra red radiations = Can see in the dark
  • Heat seeking missiles = Infra red radiations again = the heating effect results in heat signatures.
  • Biorifiles with green goo that kills the enemies = Radioactive gamma radiation (The green goes gamma!)
  • X-ray glasses = X-Rays = Has penetration power used for detecting broken bones
  • HQ communicator = Microwaves = For mobile phone communication
  • Radar = Radio waves = For radio wave communication

I even managed to get some gaming videos from YouTube and used them as a supporting material to explain how the electromagnetic radiations work.

He got an A in his subsequent test.

I’ve realized that teachers, apart from being creative in their approach, must also keep themselves updated with the current trends that interest the students. Their language changes almost every day and teachers must look to update themselves with the same. I’ve tried a lot of other methods too, including movies, songs, TV shows, etc. In the last two months, I was able to observe that this method not only helps them remember things, but also helps in developing a great rapport between the teachers and students.

Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 10:22  Comments (4)  
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Why Death by PowerPoint?

Throughout last week, I’ve been investigating on open source whiteboards. During this, I happened to do a lot of reading on presentations and happened to stumble upon the concept of death by PowerPoint. After a brief hunt, I was able to observe the amount of hue and cry made out of this issue (which I don’t blame). I was also able to observe a good number of my friends (online and offline), squirm at the mere mention of the word “PowerPoint”. We have seen and experienced the “how” of death by PowerPoint through our numerous bad experiences with terrible presentations. It’s high time we examine the “Why” of this issue.

In my opinion, the fault lies entirely with the presenter and not with the software. Some people have the notion that anything created with Flash, or some other rapid elearning tool,  can be extremely engaging. Although I appreciate the capabilities of these tools, I feel that the potential of PowerPoint is greatly understimated. Even the most advanced software can be used to create a miserable presentation. Hence it is entirely in the hands of the creator. We should hence look to correct our approach to the software. The software is a mere tool which gives us what we give it. If we feed it with nonsense, that’s precisely what we’ll get out of it.

This problem has another serious dimension when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Many teachers I’ve encountered favor the “traditional” approach to PowerPoint. When I asked them the reason for such an approach, one of them replied: “You have the boxes in PowerPoint, I just fill them up with pictures and text.” Basically, I don’t understand the logic behind calling this the “traditional approach.”  Rather than calling it traditional, it would be more appropriate to call it the “lazy approach.”

Another aspect that kills a PowerPoint presentation is the length. During my college days, I had the misfortune of attending a guest lecture by a doctor from a leading hospital in Chennai. His presentation was 165 slides long with 90% of it being bulleted text (about 10-12 points a slide)! The presentation (I would rather call it reading and skipping) went on for about a couple of hours and at the end of it, none of us had the clue of what hit us in those 120 minutes!

The concept of death by PowerPoint, in my opinion, can be zeroed down to two aspects:

  • Creativity
  • Presenter’s attitude

Presenters, more importantly teachers, must aspire to be more creative when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Before going on with a presentation, take a couple of minutes to think about the worst presentations which you have experienced and compare your creation with that.

A presentation by Karl Kapp, which can be seen here, has some excellent ideas for creating more engaging and useful content with PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slides are visual aids for the learners and not for the presenter!

Do you agree/disagree or have more points to add to what I’ve said, do leave your comment for this post.

Here is another interesting video on what not to do with PowerPoint:

Happy reading!

Punctuality – Then a Value, Now a Sin

Although I had something else in mind for my blog, I had to make it wait for a day. I wanted to share my views on punctuality and would like to have your suggestions in this regard.

When I enter my office each morning, I have this big poster on the wall which reads ”Being punctual not only saves your time but also that of others.” This is an absolutely inspirational message for a fresh morning. However, the effect of this quote seems to be waning as the day progresses.

Punctuality is one of the virtues which I value the most. Whenever I question people of their tardiness, all I get is “Hey… It’s just 15 minutes… No big deal!” Tardiness is now spreading like a virus from the adults to the younger generation. Many students, these days, turn up late for their classes and with their assignments. When questioned, all I get is a half hearted apology. The situation gets a lot more difficult and delicate in VLEs. I don’t believe in scolding and harsh punishments for students but would like to put an end to this.

Any suggestions?

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 19:48  Comments (2)  
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Online Tutoring from India Part-3

Hope you have enjoyed the first two posts in this series. If you haven’t read them, do look into them. I invite you to share your experience as an online tutor with me and do leave your comments on my posts. For aspiring online tutors from India/abroad, you can read the first and second parts of this series before this post and feel free ask me any questions that you have. You can reply to this post and I always make it a point to reply to every single post. If you would like to share this post with your friends, do tweet it using the tweet button at the end of this post.

I will be giving a brief overview on some of the platforms which are commonly used by online tutors in India for synchronous e-learning. Online tutoring can be done on numerous platforms. Like I had mentioned in my previous post, some are available for free and some on payment basis.

These are free!

There are loads of free stuff which can be used for online tutoring. I will give a brief account on some of them which I have used so far.

MSN Live, Google Talk, Y! Messenger, Skype: These are the most common chat software used all around the world. Anyone who uses the Internet will have a Gmail, Yahoo!, an MSN Live ID or a Skype ID, if not all. Interaction may be carried out through chats (text, voice and video). They work on a mode called VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). All these platforms offer free VoIP services. Since all these platforms also support file transfer, you can share documents, presentations and images which are relevant to the lessons. Yahoo Messenger has a theme known as Doodle, which even enables freehand writing on the chat window. A disadvantage with such chat software is the lack of real-time simultaneous view of documents (through file sharing) and discussing over it. This can be overcome by using whiteboard software.

Jabber: Jabber is an open source chat client. A jabber account also gives access to open source white boards like Coccinella.

Coccinella: It is a free chat software which also has an interactive whiteboard bundled with it. You would need a Jabber account (It’s free again!) to work with this. An interactive whiteboard is one upon which both the instructor and the student can write and share ideas. Cocinella features some of the basic functions of a whiteboard and is a pretty good place to start with.

Coccinella's Whiteboard

Vyew: It is another whiteboard software. Apart from the standard voice and video sharing along with an interactive whiteboard, it also allows desktop sharing, wherein the instructor/student can look into each other’s desktop real-time. Vyew has both free and premium versions. The free version has certain limitations with respect to the number of participants (not more than 20) and will have adverts in it. You would require to enable Java on your browser to use it.

Vyew's Whiteboard

Got the dough? You’ll need to pay for these!

Webex: This is, by far, the best web conferencing platform that I have used. It has everything in it from document sharing to chat, to video conferencing and lots more. You also have the facility to record the entire session and archive it. Webex does offer a fully functional free 14 day trial which will give you a feel of the interface.

Webex Whiteboard

Elluminate: Elluminate is another web conferencing platform which has a variety of capabilities loaded in it. It has several features similar to the Webex platform, including document sharing, voice and text chats, session recording and so on. Elluminate offers a fully functional trial account for 30 days and that is a good amount of time for you to learn and appreciate the worth of this platform.

Elluminate's Whiteboard

These are some of the platforms which I have used so far. There are many more such platforms offering such services. Do let me know if you find any other interesting platforms. Got any comments/questions for me? Just leave me a message under the comments section.

In my next post, I will be discussing about some of the tools and platforms that are available for asynchronous e-learning.

Happy reading!