This is a guest blog post by Marcus McDonald. Marcus says of himself: “I’m an aspiring educational technologist or is that a technology educationalist…I seek tools and frameworks to enhance the student experience in health care education.”
There is no denying that the use of PowerPoint in academia has taken some criticism over the years. In the overhead projector days it was reams (or sometimes a roll) of text filled acetate overhead projector sheets. When the presence of computers and projectors took over the lecture theatre, there was a lot of criticism that this same delivery practice flowed over into PowerPoint.
And it did. We have all sat in lectures where the person at the front flicks through and reads slide after slide of full text description, dot point after dot point outlining the agonising detail of some didactic diatribe…URGH. (Maybe we’ve sometimes even been that person. Just because we were out of time, no biggie…) A quick search for PowerPoint tips and tricks offers an ocean of information about how to make a presentation reader/listener/learner/audience friendly…BUT do we?
It is the kind of learner experience that I don’t want to sit through and that I don’t want my students to have to endure either.
Some of us do at least try to improve. We apply the guidelines and look for text to cut out, pare back, rephrase, but there always ends up being too much. Perhaps we do manage to cut it down to what we think is the absolute minimum. And then a year later we hit that point…Usually in midflow, the slide appears, you look at it and ask yourself “what did I mean by that?” It’s there. A dot point with a line of text or just a word and no context of how it relates, what story it tells or why it is even there. Meet the “orphaned information”. It sits there bereft of anyone to look after it. And if you’re the lecturer and intimately familiar with this content, imagine what kind of an experience your learners have when they revisit the slide deck in your learning management system.
So I attempted to set out and make right. Really invest in how I approached infomration presentation. Along the progression of my journey (and hopefully mitigating the orphaned information) to insert more images and less text into the slides, I ran into a new kid on the block, “infographics”. It looked like a slick, information rich, visually engaging utopian dream. So I embarked upon creating a set of infographics for a series of 1 hour lectures on less common syndromes of the low back. Brand new course content, a academic tabula rasa, what a great opportunity to take infographics for a spin.
I spent an inordinate amount of time looking up minute details. What felt like days in the pursuit of writing a small line of text, finding the right graphic or making my own. And I did it. I created a set of infographics that look great, all the information is there, most making it clear what they represent and they do so concisely. Although I did find I had to make compromises. The infographics don’t fit on to an A4 page for instance. Well they can, but they become unreadable. No problems, the learners will probably just use their tablets and laptops, I thought to myself.
And did my new approach improve the learner experience?
A resounding no. Reports in class and in the student surveying tool came back indicating they didn’t know what to do with my shiny infographics. They liked them IN class well enough, but when it came time to review, study or time shift the class they were lost and frustrated.They don’t enjoy the experience particularly pointing out that my infographics are difficult to annotate or review. It seems they have become hooked on what I have been trying to move away from, TEXTZILLA!!!
So, this is where I stand now. Having produced them, I am too attached to abandon them. But also feeling perhaps I had misjudged the students’ desire for rich visuals and best practice presentation. Perhaps the lesson is that having learned how to produce them, now my work starts on facilitating their use.