Can we help our students blaze new trails?


Are we challenging our students enough when it comes to design?   A recent article in Library Media Collection by Joyce Valenza, led me to consider how we need to take more leadership to help students improve their presentation skills.   

With great thanks to Joyce–whose links led me to other links( in the random, yet not so random way that happens online)–I’m sharing some hints and tools that can help students be more innovative and effective presenters.

Dean Shareski’s helpful “Powerpoint Extreme Makeover” presentation is one that could be easily shared with teachers and they can watch it on their own or it could be used in a presentation.  He taps into the frustrations that probably many teachers are aware of with using the tool and offers some helpful suggestions.   I think a fun take off of this would be to have STUDENTS design a presentation on how to improve powerpoint presentations (as I am sure they have also sat through many poor ones!)

By following some links to Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen’s website, I found a wealth of ideas (of course–love his site) about different methods for teaching presentation design to students.  For example, Reynolds shares:

–Guy Kawasaki’s method of presenting 10 simple slides each with one key point.  Reynolds explains that “His talks usually evolve around ten key points, no matter the topic. His visuals, then, will consist of ten slides each with one key message spelled out. That’s it. Simple. The visuals keep Guy on track and help him tell his story and give a strong feeling of organization to the tone of the talk.”

Imagine scaffolding this for students. Assign them ten slides.  Each with one key message.  How would that change their approach to their presentation?

Reynolds also shared:

The Takahashi Method–Masayoshi Takahashi created a style of presenting slides with only text–but the difference is that he uses GIANT text, and tries to simplify by having a few key words(in Japanese) on each slide.  According to Reynolds this style has become so popular in Japan that it has been named the Takahashi method.  Lawrence Lessig has similarly pioneered the use of just text, black and white, to convey ideas simply and at a very rapid presentation pace.

Again, imagine the student assignment.   “Your presentation can only be done with one GIANT word per slide, but must convey the key ideas.  You do the talking.  The slides convey what’s important.”

I found more presentation links via this site which  led me to an excellent presentation by Dick Hardt, CEO of Sxip.  (Click on one of the versions of his presentation to see its simplicity combined with his clever delivery.)

One thing that Guy Kawasaki points out, according to Reynolds, is that for a presentation to be really good, if you are using just images or simple text, you really have to be prepared.  You have to “know” the information.  How often do we have students begin with the design and the content is just the add-on, rather than the design growing out of the content, or the content being the real focus?    If we don’t want students to just read off of the screen, they have to have been focused on the content and also the presentation of that content.

The Challenge

Another really playful use of powerpoint I discovered was musician’s David Byrne’s artful attempt to play havoc with powerpoint, as he explains here.  Why don’t we ask our students to stand the software on end and play with its boundaries?   Challenge them to shake it up a little?  And to venture outside the templates, and design art to appear on their own slides.

Seth Godin talks about the idea of an “idea virus” which spreads rapidly by word of mouth.  So maybe what we need to do is unleash an idea virus that student presentations can be dazzling, and continue as Joyce Valenza and Dean Shareski have done so well to share with teachers and students the creative approaches they can take to these tools, and then watch it spread by example and word of mouth?

We need to throw the gauntlet down, and part of that is expecting more from our students.  We should ask them to dazzle us.   Challenge them to step out of their powerpoint rut, and show us what visuals mean.  

How can we help students convey their messages better, and “make them stick”?

3 thoughts on “Can we help our students blaze new trails?

  1. Carolyn,

    At the risk of sounding like a sycophant, I love this post. I was listening to a teacher speak about how unbelievably boring his student Ppt. presentations were and that he was thinking of scrapping the whole idea together. Personally, I would too, if not for the idea that presentation is less about what’s on the screen than what’s in your head and your ability to convey it to the audience.

    I agree 100% that we need to hone our students presentation skills. One thing I hear often from teachers is that by letting our students use digital tools and online environments, we are eliminating necessary social skills. You advocate for one of the ultimate, necessary skills here: relationship. How can you be successful presenting without establishing a relationship with your audience first?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *