Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

Thoughts and deeds

Making presentations about e-learning – the rhetoric and the reality

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Returned from holiday to see there was a new Routledge book out, Giving a Lecture: From Presenting to Teaching, 2nd Edition by Kate Exley and Reg Dennick “addressing a number of rapid developments that have occurred since its first publication in 2004”. From this I deduce it’s more tooled up. On a similar theme, I also started reading Kay and LeSage’s recent paper Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature (Computers & Education;53(3):819-827), which includes the section Challenges to using ARS (we call this ‘Personal Response Systems’ or ‘clickers’).

How can different technologies improve the existing lecture or presentation format towards a better learning experience? And – given that not everything that works is good – are the improvements consonant with a better teaching experience?

Before my holiday, I’d posted (at his request) a question I asked keynote speaker John Connell at Brunel’s e-Learning 2.0 conference earlier in July.

“The vision of your presentation is far reaching and yet here we all are, sitting in rows facing the authority figure at the front, silent for an hour. It’s like the photo of the 1960s primary school in one of your slides. The difference between rhetoric and reality is stark. So my question is this. If all the constraints (about which we are all aware and understanding) were removed, would you change this presentation? If so, how? Is there anything you would try to preserve, and why?”

John paraphrased the question as “how do we square the rhetoric of ‘Learning 2.0′ with the ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy that is still the basic format of so many such events?” and solicited responses from his readers, which you can read below his post.

I wasn’t trying to make a point with the question – I found John Connell’s keynote pertinent and engaging and, in fact, all a keynote should be. When he asked me at lunchtime what I would have changed, I basically replied “Nothing”.

I agreed with the third commenter Greg Cruey when he wrote:

“…while it shouldn’t be the only tool you have, I really don’t feel badly about standing in front of a group of mature, skillful, willing, self-motivated learners and talking to them – especially with the help of a good slide presentation, especially if some discussion is allowed. This is particularly true if my goal is change the way they think about something or to persuade them of something. It is less true if I’m trying to impart a skill.”

But while I agree with John (different John) when he says (#7):

“Your audience will have come up through ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy successfully. They may be more comfortable with this than ‘learning 2.0′ experience.”

On the other hand, commenter Ruby:

“I often get “accused” of wanting to change everything to bring in new technology, but in fact I don’t have a problem with re-assessing what we already do and then deciding what is the best way, given the huge variety of possibilities now available.”

Other pointers – commenter Michelle Selinger links to the AACE online conference Spaces of Interaction which was about transforming the way conferences are run. See the conference archive for audio, slides and the archived (fossilised!) real-time discussion in text-chat form.

The best a presenter can achieve is to create the circumstances under which their audience can do the work of testing the logic of their arguments and thinking through the implications – “How does this fit with what I know already?” and “If that is the case then what else is true?” This is one perspective from which to evaluate potentially transformative technologies.

As a learning technologist with a practical as well as scholarly remit, the least I can do is try out promising new types of experience, shine a light on them and attempt to persuade colleagues to do the same.

It seems to me to follow from this that it would be helpful if e-learning conferences were supported to be experimental events, for the following reasons:

  • The organisers can be pretty confident that the audience comprises enthusiasts who will be understanding about cock-ups.
  • The presenters are sufficiently educationally aware to safeguard the learning experience of their audience, to avoid them being overwhelmed
  • I think it’s important – for the sake of empathy and (self-)credibility – that those of us who urge or welcome experimentation become proof of concept by experimenting ourselves in higher-stakes settings, with all the aptitudes, contingency design and potential pratfalls this implies.
  • We’d see new tools showcased by people invited for their vision and ideas, and it would be dynamite
  • We’d appreciate the barriers between how presenters do things now and how they might do things if we were unrestricted; it’s helpful to reveal the ducks legs paddling furiously.

I’m far from the first person to have formed this opinion, but again the reality is very different. Certainly, conservative expectations discourage experimentation, as John Connell implied in a further post triggered by an account, by another keynote speaker, of how he somewhat aggravated his audience by addressing them from the seating area instead of the stage.

There’s more to that but time’s up for me so I have to leave it dangling.

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Written by Mira Vogel

July 27, 2009 at 14:23

Posted in change, event, technologies

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