#WorstPractices in Presentation Delivery (or, The Hat Jugglers We Call Students)

It’s not that we, as humans, intend to screw things up. In fact, I’d wager that the vast majority of us spend exorbitant amounts of time trying to make sure that we don’t screw things up, doing an awkward tightrope balancing act with a big long balance pole that has an elephant on one side and a feather on the other, and it’s our job to keep everything perfectly still as we walk the wire to our destination and next, often more complex, challenge, complete with a heavier load and a thinner wire.  But, the reality is, everyone has the occasional ‘D’OH!’ moment now and again.  And that’s okay…  It’s all about how we recover from it that matters.

This morning, I got an e-mail from a student who was having issues accessing materials in her online course.  Turns out, the instructor uploaded .PPT files directly into the LMS, rather than putting them in Google Slides and embedding the presentation or simply converting the .PPT to a .PDF file.  Why is this so terrible?  Why would this prompt a rant on #WorstPractices?

This, in and of itself, is not bad per se (yes it is.  who am I kidding?).  Sure, students are being given access to the material, but this particular student didn’t have PowerPoint on her computer and even though I guided her through the process of installing the PowerPoint Viewer, this took up time that she’d initially intended to spend studying (which I’m sure we will all agree is a far more important exercise than wrestling with technology).  In fact, what I should have done at the outset (and what I eventually did do) is convert the .PPT files into .PDF format and e-mail copies of the .PDF files to the student.  But neither solution is the best answer. Either way, the student had to spend time contacting my office, waiting for a response, attempting a solution, and then moving forward to studying.  An hour or so of valuable study time was lost.

So what do we do?  How can we, as instructional technologists/designers/faculty make sure that we’re putting together presentations that work for all of our students?

First, as we design and develop materials, it’s critical that we think from the student perspective.

So, let’s play a game, shall we?  Put on your student hat.  Now, while wearing your student hat, also don your full-time employee hat.  (Go ahead, try and balance the full-time employee hat on top of the student hat.)  We’re not done yet.  On top of those hats, add another hat labelled “parent”, and another labelled “adult”, and one more called “human being”.

Now, with these five hats on your head, sit down in front of the computer, log in to your online course to do some homework, only to find that you can’t open the files inside your course.  You can get frustrated, but be careful, YOU CAN’T LET ANY HAT FALL OFF!!!  You contact the support folks and they help you with a workaround, but the clock was ticking that entire time, and in just a few minutes, the student hat has to be replaced by the full-time employee hat, which will be replaced by the parent hat later in the day, and the adult hat will have to come out sometime because the laundry doesn’t wash itself, and only then will the student hat be back on the head.  (And we’ve completely forgotten about the human being hat.  We’re so busy being humans doing that we forget that we are humans being, which will cause all sorts of trouble down the line, but we’re not there yet and don’t even have time to contemplate all that stuff.)

Those are our students.  This is our audience.

As we design and develop materials, we must bear all of that in mind.  It is incumbent upon us to recognize the limitations our students face and do our best to accommodate them.  (Sure, there are some who would argue otherwise and insist that their courses should be students’ only priorities, but that ain’t real life.)

So let’s consider our options for presentation delivery.  These options don’t even take into account that the materials are appropriately chunked for online delivery. (There should be no 75-slide presentations here.  Maybe 3 presentations with 25 slides apiece?  Better yet, 3 presentations with 15-20 slides apiece with all the fat trimmed out?  But I’m gonna let that slide for the moment.)

  • #AbsoluteWorstPractice: Provide students with no resources
  • #WorstPractice:  Upload a PowerPoint file into the LMS
  • #BadPractice: Convert PPT to PDF and upload PDF file into LMS
  • #PrettyGoodPractice: Upload PPT into Google Slides and include a link to ‘Printer Friendly Version’ so students can download PDF.
  • #GoodPractice: Provide PPT with embedded narration, plus printer-friendly version of presentation in PDF format
  • #BestPractice: Create interactive presentation with embedded narration, formative assessment activities, and printer-friendly version of presentation in .PDF format

Obviously, none of us have the time or resources available to create full-bore interactive presentations with narration and embedded formative assessment activities for every single lesson in the course.  That’s asking too much (we are walking tightropes, remember?).  But, what can we do that will improve on the model of uploading a PPT file into an LMS?  The #PrettyGoodPractice above is, in this edutech geek’s mind, probably the best solution in most cases.  Use Google Slides.  It is your friend, and an invaluable resource for education.

One of these days, I’ll blog on Google Slides and how it can totally change the way we design, develop, and deliver presentations for online courses  But for now, suffice it to say that it is one of the most important Instructional Technology tools to emerge in the past….. ever.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or (gentle) criticisms, don’t hesitate to reach out.
You can find me on The Twitter @rhargismccc




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