Monday, March 4, 2019

ExplainEverything Tips for Live Presentation

This post accompanies a workshop that I am leading on March 9, 2019 at California State University,  Fresno which is hosting the annual California State University Symposium on Teaching and Learning. A recording of the presentation will also be posted at my YouTube channel.

I have recently written on the use of the Stealth Zoom tool in the ExplainEverything app to create dynamic presentations with animation. The basic idea is that only part of the ExplainEverything digital whiteboard (which I'll call the "active area") on a mobile device screen is projected via video to an audience. Every digital object (text, photo, etc.) located on what other programs would call the pasteboard (the area outside of the working area) is visible and able to be manipulated by the presenter, but the audience doesn't see this. Thus, as the presenter drags an object from the pasteboard into the active area, the projection shows the object appearing from the edge of the screen. Objects can be moved by the presenter, and these motions are projected in real time, which can give the impression of a basic animation. My video tutorial here demonstrates this process.

My initial ExplainEverything presentation file

Today, I'm sharing more "best practices" for using ExplainEverything to conduct improv presentations, where graphic elements (photos, cartoons, drawings, graphs and charts, etc.) are added to a presentation depending on the direction that a conversation or classroom session goes, based on audience (or student) questions and comments. Above, you can see the ExplainEverything presentation I am using in my workshop: the white area in the center is the region that is projected to the audience. So, when I navigate to this slide in the presentation, the audience will initially see a plain white slide. Depending on what has happened previously in the workshop, I'll add one or a few graphics by dragging them into the white area.

Here's the genius part: my entire presentation will be based on just this one slide (and its surrounding pasteboard, to which I've already added all of the images I think I might need). So, if I need to call on a graphic, I don't have to spend time adding it from my Camera Roll (or from Google Drive, etc.), which takes a few "clicks" and thus can cause a brief but unnecessary disruption in presentation (see below image, which is a screen shot of part of the process of adding an existing image from my Camera Roll). In sum: I spend time before the presentation importing all of the graphics that I might use, so that the actual live presentation runs more efficiently.

Part of the process of adding existing photos from my Camera Roll

As a brief aside: for those of you who prefer not to pre-load graphics, as I did above, I suggest creating a new photo album (folder) to house only the images that you intend to use during your presentation. That way, when you are selecting an image to add (the process of which is projected to the audience), they only see all the thumbnails of images you want them to see (e.g. not also personal photographs of the family members at your cousin's birthday dinner last weekend).

The Album I created to contain only graphics to be used in my presentation

The other "Best Practice" I want to share today is how to leverage the graphic content of the pasteboard across your entire presentation. As I mentioned, the pasteboard (see below image) contains all of the graphics I think I will want to use in my entire half-hour workshop. I won't use all of these images on a single slide, but at the same time, I'm not sure in advance which combinations of graphics I might want to put together on a slide. That's the blessing and the curse of improv presentations!

Dealing with this issue is simple in ExplainEverything: instead of pre-making a series of slides with different pasteboard content, I just load all of the graphics I think I will use, and then I just duplicate that slide (which also duplicates the entire pasteboard) every time I want to add a new slide to the presentation. There's just one trick here: if I load the white (active) area of the slide below with some of my graphics at the start of my presentation, and then I duplicate the slide when I want to move on, then I wind up having a slide that already has content on it! So, here's the workaround: before you present, make a duplicate of your blank slide + all of the pasteboard content. This will become your "template" (untouched) slide for future use.

First, here's how to duplicate your slide. Select the slide button in the lower-right corner of the screen:

Step 1 of slide duplication

Then select the slide you want to duplicate (the slide icon will color, and a check-mark will appear) and the select the x2 button just to the top-left of the slide icon:

Step 2 of slide duplication

and now you have two copies of your blank slide + pasteboard content:

The final step of slide duplication

Now, the presentation proceeds thus: you start the presentation on the first slide, adding graphics as necessary using Stealth Zoom. Then, when you're ready for a new slide, you advance to the second slide. Now, before you start using the second slide, make a duplicate of it (generating slide 3)! Then you continue your presentation on slide 2 - with the new slide 3, still blank, being your new template for additional use. Continue making duplicates of your last (template) slide as needed, so that you always have one clean version of your original slide.

Of course, you could make lots of duplicate blank slides before you start a presentation, and that works just fine - as long as you have a good idea of how many slides you think you'll need! But that sort of diminishes the purpose of conducting an improv presentation, doesn't it?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Animation in Live Presentation

I'm an academic who teaches (and performs research!) at a university. Like me, more often than not, everybody who stayed in academia to be a professor experienced numerous lecture-style classes as an undergraduate student (and beyond…) and:

  • 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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 fly

I 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 Zoom

Here'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
When I first learned about Stealth Zoom, I was encouraged to use it to make videos that exhibited the types of simple animations you saw in the video linked above. However, my spin on this technique is that we can present Stealth Zoom-based animations live, during class, to hopefully make a more engaging and dynamic live presentation for our students.

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!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Class meeting 1: taking risks to improve student engagement and mindset


In years past, this was the scene: a graduate journal club course with first-year Masters students. They have read a primary (peer-reviewed, journal-published) research article in biology, and now the students must lead a discussion in the interpretation and critical analysis of the data and its interpretation. They have little experience reading six to ten pages of dense scientific prose with five to eight data-laden figures and tables.

This is daunting even to the best-prepared. When I was a first-year grad student, this type of class gave me hours of pre-class sweats. I read each paper over and over, making detailed notes, so that if I happened to be called on by the professor to present one of the figures from the manuscript, I would be able to give a thorough description of the motivation of the experiment, the methods used to collect the data, how those data were analyzed, and how the authors interpreted the relevance of the outcome to their overall hypothesis. God forbid I would then be asked a more critical question, like to evaluate the choice of method the authors used (what would have been alternative approaches? why did they choose this approach?), whether I thought that all appropriate control experiments had been performed, whether the replication of the experiment was rigorous… and I was being judged, live, in real time, in front of my peers. This was high stakes.


While there may be value in such a "sink or swim" approach, I've lately become familiar with the idea that it can be beneficial to help students, especially those from the latest generations, develop a growth mindset. We do them (and society) a great service by helping them realize that it takes diligence and practice to become proficient at valuable skills, like being a critical thinker.

At the same time, I do spend more time than I probably should preparing class materials. Much has been written over how not to overprepare for class. There are several reasons for this, including:

In other words,
  • effective pedagogy does not necessarily demand a greater time investment
  • it is beneficial to student mindset to see that perfection takes work, and that faculty members do struggle to learn and to prepare to help their students learn
  • "underpreparing" can be an impactful technique

Separately, I've also written about the benefits of less-linear and more spontaneous class preparation, which leads to an implementation I call "lecture improv." Positive outcomes of this approach include:
  • reduced nonattendance from students who already have my lecture slides (because they're created and elaborated upon during class)
  • more flexibility to follow student interests during class (likewise, feeling less rigid about following a pre-prepared class outline, which also leads to…)
  • the ability to entertain student questions skyrockets. Without prepared lecture notes, they don't know where the class period is meant to go (in their vernacular: "what content we're supposed to cover"). In my hands, at least, lecture improv has led to vast increases in student question-asking and thus to student engagement.


While preparing my journal club class for the new semester, a thought struck me. What if I could accomplish these three things on the first day of class?
  • to humanize myself, "The Professor," to my students by demonstrating how I cope with unfamiliar content in my discipline
  • to simultaneously support student growth mindset
  • (incidentally) to reduce the amount of time I spend preparing for class


Here's how I decided to try achieving these aims, and how it all turned out.

I thought it could be an effective practice for me to perform some scientific improv on the first day of class.

What's scientific improv? Aren't those mutually exclusive terms? Yes, until recently…

I asked each student to bring with them, to the first day of class, a PDF file of a manuscript related to their Masters thesis research. After I had introduced myself and performed my duty of talking about the class syllabus, we took a brief bathroom break (this is a three-hour-long class). Just before the break, I asked each student to e-mail me their article; I then asked the class to pick a number (the first respondent chose "1"). So, I told them, while they were having a five-minute break, I was going to load the figures from the 1st manuscript that had arrived in my inbox into my presentation software. When they returned, I would present, to the best of my totally unprepared ability, one of the figures from that manuscript. Scientific improv.

During my five minutes of break time, I imported the PDF of the manuscript into my class presentation. When the students returned, I then spent about 45 minutes demonstrating, in real time, how I read and analyzed this example of primary research literature. This process included my looking up unfamiliar acronyms and techniques using web search engines and seeking out details about experimental replication by referring to the Materials and Methods section of the manuscript.

In other words, I gave a very long and very explicit, totally unprepared, presentation of one figure from the manuscript. To reiterate, my main goal in doing this was to show students a step-by-step example of how an experienced scientist might go about learning new scientific information. I was hoping that this would help improve student growth mindset and also would be an engaging student experience for the first day of class.


At the end of class, I (as usual) anonymously polled the students to solicit feedback. Among other questions, I asked them:
  • to rate, using a Likert scale, the utility of observing "the process of somebody else reading, analyzing and presenting a figure from a manuscript," and then (if responding positively),
  • to "explain why it was useful"

Of 15 students, 12 responded. Of respondents, 8 (66%) indicated strong agreement with the utility of scientific improv, 3 (25%) indicated agreement, and 1 responded "neutral." None responded with "disagree" or "strongly disagree." A skeptic, as scientists should be, might conclude that the 3 students who did not respond might have done so because they strongly disagreed and did not want even an anonymous response recorded as such. Even in such a circumstance, I feel buoyed by the number of students responding positively. The sole "neutral" respondent indicated that the amount of time I spent on this exercise diminished their evaluation of the exercise. As you might be able to tell by now, I do like to talk (and write…)

The students' qualitative responses to the prompt can be categorized into three general explanations for the utility of the "scientific improv" approach. It:
1. exposed students to a different perspective on how to go about evaluating scientific data
2. emphasized the need for skepticism in the critical analysis of data and its interpretation
3. improved student feelings of self-efficacy: the ability for novices to learn new content on their own


In sum, I'm happy about the initial outcomes of this exploration of faculty risk-taking during class by performing on-the-spot interpretation of a manuscript that I had never seen before. Initial student responses suggest that I'm advancing my intended goals, and this is a potentially powerful technique that I'll continue to refine and adapt in future!