- we already excelled at learning by listening and taking notes, or
- we learned how to excel in this style of learning environment
This isn't the best way to ensure high-quality and engaging experiences for all learners. However, given increases (at least in my department and university) in the number of students enrolling, and given the lack in funding for infrastructure upgrades (read: new rooms with more seats), we face the same issue we teachers always seem to face: larger enrollments in our classes.
Instead of complaining about situations that are usually perceived as sub-optimal (putting it mildly), I always prefer to take an optimistic view. I see rising course enrollments as an opportunity and a challenge to innovate how I teach. I will still make the best of the time I have with my students.
Today, I'm thinking about a topic that I've been thinking (and writing) about quite a bit recently: how to perform engaging lectures. Now, that concept will sound like a contradiction to many of you. Additionally, many of us already think we present the most engaging lectures already. Nevertheless, I hope you'll read a bit more for what I hope will be a new(-to-you) spin on one technique that might help you help students understand concepts in your discipline that involve processes, flowcharts, networks, and the like.
A brief tangent (or not…)In the past, my posts on the topic of creating an engaging classroom have focused on a few observations I've made:
- When students have your "lecture slides" (if you pre-prepare them), then they know what content you expect to cover for the class period, and so they don't ask as many questions because they know you want to finish that content before the end of class
- I spend waaaaaay too much time "preening" my lecture slides to make them as awesome (I think) as possible before class - I could be doing other, professionally-useful, things with that time
With these two points in mind, I realize now that making a set of class slides in advance subconsciously limited me. I felt like I had spent so much time perfecting the presentation already, when I got to class, I really resisted deviating from all of the great things I (thought I had) prepared for my students. In retrospect, this limited me from following avenues of exploration and discussion that might have been more pertinent (and engaging) to my class populace. These, which some might call tangents, might be the opportunities we all should seize!
Thus, I've written about "lecture improv" and the ability to use mobile technology to assemble digital content on the fly to create more dynamic and (I think) engaging in-class experiences:
TL/DR: the basic tenet of the above posts is that we educators should definitely prepare for class, but not by preparing lecture slides. Instead, we could spent that prep time assembling and curating digital resources (e.g. pictures, data, diagrams…) that we can draw on during class to support the learning objective(s) of the day. By not presenting them to students, in advance, in a strict order, I've since found that students are more willing to ask questions and to suggest new avenues of discussion.
A great tool for making engaging visual presentations on the flyI love using the ExplainEverything app to present visual material during class. I've written extensively about this app, most notably:
After I wrote that post (five years ago now), ExplainEverything added a feature that I only began to appreciate in the last few weeks: Stealth Zoom. I learned about this tool when I became an Apple Distinguished Educator and attended a workshop hosted by the creator of ExplainEverything. That was over two years ago, but still I only just last week used it for the first time!
Brief background on this app: ExplainEverything lets you use a mobile device as a digital whiteboard. You can draw on your device and have that projected so that the entire class can see it. You can import existing graphics (e.g. photos, PowerPoint slides, PDF files) and annotate them. Meanwhile, the app can record the audio and video so that you can share a video file of your presentation afterward.
Stealth ZoomHere's the concept for using ExplainEverything for dynamic in-class presentations: you can pre-load graphics you think students might ask about, or that you think might help you explain a complicated process/diagram/pipeline/analysis. In the app, while projecting your device to the class, you can drag-and-drop these items (and move them around).
A picture is worth 1,000 words, so this video explanation (5 1/2 minutes long) might be worth a million! Here, I show an example of what this type of presentation looks like, and I show a primer of how to accomplish this type of animation:
In short, I like using Stealth Zoom in ExplainEverything because I can explicitly demonstrate decision trees, logic, and processes, so that students can start to understand the types of analyses and techniques that I use in my discipline. Further, I can change the graphics on the slide in a very dynamic fashion in response to student questions and to changes in the direction of conversation. This approach can be employed in any discipline. For example:
- Linguistics/foreign language: diagramming sentences / sentence structure
- Engineering: electrical circuit design
- Computer science: loop logic, syntax
- History: timelines
I'd love to hear how you think you could use the Stealth Zoom technique in your discipline - please leave a comment below!
To the doubters: why not try a more dynamic approach to teaching?Many of my colleagues really don't like to improvise during class because they're more likely to make a mistake, have a technology disaster, or encounter a student question they don't know the answer to. I've also written previously about this issue before:
but, again (TL/DR): let's embrace such experiences as teaching opportunities that show that even faculty don't know all of the answers, and we're not experts in everything. It is great for student growth mindset to have their faculty model how to make a mistake and then correct it! Make it a teachable moment, which humanizes you and makes a huge (positive) impact on students!