It Could Be Beautiful: Aspirational vs Operational EdTech

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ellyjonez1

This is a bit of brainstorming for a presentation I’m doing in a few months. It’s a bit of a remix of some stuff I’ve highlighted before but there are a few new examples in the mix (bolded below). I think they’re well worth looking at more deeply- especially Math Box and Keshif.

I like Math Box because it tightens up the equation/interactive visualization connection in math. It’s one of the reasons I love Fluid Math. Math Box is not for the faint of heart (javascript library) but it starts to lead towards different expectations around how we might see and interact with math concepts.

Keshif incorporates many of the elements that have had me chasing Simile Exhibit and FacetWP. It does it in a really slick visual package that enables some really interesting options. I really believe there’s depth to the different kind of understandings we can come to when data can be quickly sifted and sorted. It is interactive data visualization that can change the kinds of questions we ask.

Have better examples? Am I getting too flaky? Throw some feedback my way in the comments or write in the document.2

A great deal of energy and attention has been focused on using technology to automatically grade quizzes, to “capture” lectures, to make the most massive MOOC . . . to McDonaldize education. There is another path. Technology can humanize. It can augment, extend, and empower. There is real transformative power for students and instructors when they interact and build with these tools. The ability to make useful products, to unite the abstract and concrete, to compress action/feedback cycles, to allow for fluid and interactive presentation of data towards new and deeper understandings – this is where technology starts to matter.

These are new possibilities that should not be ignored. We can rethink what we see as educational, consider how interaction shapes understanding, and take advantage of new ways to build what we really want. The work and worth of the academy can be more visible and powerful than ever before.

A few of the sites/resources/tools/communities that will be highlighted include-

1 Thanks to Alan for making the Flickr attribution helper which is really slick in all sorts of ways. I finally got around to reinstalling it.

2 Seriously. Write in the document.

Squirrels In My Pants

I did a presentation the other day on how one might use the Promethean software to do some interesting things with video. I don’t think the software is essential to do any of this but it did make it pretty easy and we already have it on all our computers and all our student computers. In any case, I used the video above to demo a few easy things for kids to do using screenshots from virtually any video.

Yes, it did make my kids’ day to use a Fineas and Ferb song about squirrels in someone’s pants. I’m not sure what the teachers thought of it but sometimes you have to amuse yourself.

Simplest- Visual Answers

Take video screenshots to answer questions. Easy but a different level of involvement with the video. Depending on the questions this could be low level stuff or something more sophisticated.

You could do simple things like ID the protagonist. Or you could ask harder questions like- Capture the most dramatic frame in the video.

Summarize or Cartoonize

Using simple screenshots you can add word balloons to summarize the video or just use the frame captures as fodder for comics in general. You can make it more complex by adding restrictions (see below) – things like you have to summarize the video in only four frames and 6 lines of poetry. Stuff like that. It can make things more interesting and done with the right examples it could even be at least amusing.

Scary Mary Plot Reversal

The still picture version of a Scary Mary type plot reversal. Simple stuff, I know.

Time Intervals

This is a rough and dirty way to do something similar to what Dan Meyer did with the basketball shot image (at least for the still portion). Essentially, you just hit the frame capture tool at semi-regular intervals and then lay the images over the top and mess with the transparency some. Not super, but really easy and all done in one program that we have and people use.

My example used Angry Birds. I don’t think it was the best choice. I think the basketball shot Dan uses is more interesting to most students- especially if you are the one taking the shot.


Once again, I’m just trying to find ways for teachers/students to mimic stuff Dan Meyer is doing but with as little tech knowledge as possible. I saw his use of an embedded timer in his falling rocks series. That is one nice aspect of the way the Promethean software works. I can add all sorts of useful objects from a built in library- the timer being one, grid overlays are another (it’ll default underneath objects, you can set it to the topmost level under object properties).

The main goal with all this is just to show that it doesn’t have to be hard. We can use simple software and simple ideas to do some pretty interesting things with students. All of our students have this software yet usage still tends to focus on duplicating things you might as well do in PPT.

Introducing Randomness


I had a great time at UMW’s Faculty Academy. Got to meet a number of people face to face for the first time which is always interesting.

I was lucky enough to be able to present as a plenary speaker1 as well. After being repeatedly told to “bring my A game” I had completely psyched myself out. In direct retaliation I decided to introduce as many elements of “randomness” as I could into this presentation.2 I’m not necessarily arguing that all three made the presentation better but it did make it more interesting to me and I think they did add some interesting elements for the audience.

Element One

The day before the presentation I had already come up with two slide decks with two very different themes. One, had tattoos as the visual element because I thought the idea of things people were willing to have jabbed into their skin with needles made for an interesting visual theme. The other presentation was based around the danse macbre woodcuts from the Black Plague. Neither one did quite what I wanted and the macabre one was too depressing even for me.

So I decided to do a version of Deck Wars/Battle Decks. Essentially, I sent out an open call to Twitter requesting images.

Punish me. Send me url to any image & i will use in presentation tomorrow at #umw #masochist #ds106 #begging

The idea was to have no control over which images were chosen and then to use all of the images in the presentation. I did get a variety of very odd images but did not manage to use every one. A PDF of the presentation with some rough notes is here. The notes may have something to do with what I said but, then again, they may not.

Some facts about the images-

  • 24 of 36 submitted images were used
  • 1 image advocated snorting cocaine
  • 1 image discouraged snorting bacon salt (not submitted by the same people oddly enough)
  • 2 images had profanity (1 was used in the presentation)
  • 28% of the images included animals
  • 47% of the images included humans

Element Two

I didn’t present until 2:00 so I went around in the morning and interviewed a few people. I then cut up the video to include in the presentation. This worked out pretty well and I like the end result, audio aside3. I think this kind of tight turn around using people known to the audience can be a unique and powerful way to snapshot certain conversations. I believe the immediacy makes the end product seem more pertinent and I hope it inspires some people to realize they can make video less of a monumental task while still being able to use it in a powerful way.

Element Three

I had the groups talk in groups at the table and then had the tables submit the top 3 ways that student skills seemed to be deteriorating via a Google Form. My plan was then to put this into a word cloud and break down what aspects of the standardized testing mentality created these issues. Part one and two worked well but for some reason my end goal slipped my mind and I didn’t explain how we got to those problems at all. I think in part because I didn’t ask people to stick to short phrases and the tag cloud ended up being messier than I would have liked. I should have used something from ManyEyes and done something more sophisticated (like what I embedded below). This should have been the best and most important element had I not botched it. Basically, I ended up doing what I had intended to do here in the workshop on the next day.

If you share my masochistic tendencies, the full presentation is below. I’ll warn you I start off rough but do improve some.

Watch live video from umwnewmedia on

1 I had to look it up. It’s Higher Ed speak for “Second Tier Keynoter.”

2 Amateur psychologists please feel free to run with what that indicates about my personality.

3 Reasonable, non-frightening mic will be ordered soon. Recommendations for a DSLR mic?

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Picking Up Gauntlets is Heavy Work

So Dan threw down a challenge as he tends to do. I did the easy part but also felt I should do some critiquing to maintain some credibility in my own mind.

I’m taking a shot at how I might change Ms. Mercer’s Powerpoint presentation. The main thing that made this difficult is I don’t know what she says during this presentation and that stops me from really considering how I might change things more fundamentally. So the following is given in the hope of providing helpful and positive feedback for Ms. Mercer. Please excuse any mistakes I make while attempting to determine intent.


Here are the two title slides. Ms. Mercer’s slide will always be on top.

I found that slide to be a little heavy and dark for my tastes and wanted to go with something similarly humorous but a little cleaner. I found a warning slide about killer electricity and dropped the background in Keynote using the Alpha Channel tool1


Here I’m just simplifying. If I’m going to be out there talking, I don’t feel I need any more specifics than this. I might drop the slide altogether.

I’d probably use this slide to get the audience talking about why they use presentations. Get some top answers and then move on with what I’d bill as pedagogically and brain based rationales for using presentation software2


I’m sure Ms. Mercer has a story to go with the chair image but I couldn’t figure it out (which might be a good thing). I like the chairs- the colors are interesting. I’m not sure the rationale for having the flickr rating in the image.

I opted for these crazy looking poodles. I might opt to make this an animation slide starting with a small picture of an innocent looking poodle and mentioning that I’m terrified of poodles. I’d ask the room who else might be scared of poodles then switch to these crazy looking animals and say that visual support is often essential to proving one’s point.

I like the image because it’s dramatic and with or without the story it’s fairly humorous to see poodles as scary (at least to me).


The kids are cute but the image is blurry. I’m not sure it gets to the point I’m guessing is being made- which is that PPT is a good way record pair shares and story talks.

I went with something fairly simple. Mic = record. I didn’t really even want to limit it to pair shares and story talks but just emphasize that the software does a good job recording things in various ways. The image is mine and was used partially out of laziness and partially because it was in the image bank in my head as something that would fit. It’s not bad, but there are better ones out there.


Ms. Mercer now had a few slides in a row of ways to use this to capture and display student work.

I opted for the idea of presentation as refrigerator. You know, the place you put up the great work your kids bring home. You could also use it as a digital bulletin board. That type of thing. I might show some pieces of student work. I’m not solidly sold on this concept as I’m interpreting it but, once again, I don’t have the full story.


Here the idea is that to make good presentations you need a solid, recognizable goal. I didn’t like this shot because the goal was kind of hard to make out and I am in VA so a hockey goal would be somewhat confusing3. The blur and the brightness of the background didn’t help things but that may be my wannabe photographer self coming out.

I’m not sure I’d keep the text here or in the previous slide but I left it in to keep things a little more in line with what Ms. Mercer’s original line of thought appeared to be. Once again, this is one of my own shots chosen out of semi-laziness. I just wanted a clear, fairly plain picture of a goal. That’s all.


I was fine with this picture. I don’t love it but I’ve got no issues.

I ended up just putting up the word plan. I initially had blueprints. I then went with a picture of Hannibal from the A-Team4 and then finally I did a hand made drawing with the vector stuff in Keynote to do a bunch of loops ending in a red X. I didn’t like any of them that much so I just went with plain. It’s ok.

This was another decent picture and I liked the goal. I just found the scaffolding harder to make out because of the color and pixelation of the image.

I went with something I felt was a little more dramatic. I like how this image allowed you to clearly see what the scaffolding was supporting. The imagine did not initially fill the page, so I took a quick screen shot of the outter left edge and copy/pasted it until it filled in with the solid gray that it now has.


Here I felt the Bloom’s diagram was too complex for people to get anything out of it. I’d include it on a hand out if I felt it was key to the final understanding. I figure the main point is to talk about higher order thinking skills . . . so I used the mountain shot. I played around with some meditation shots and probably would have used one if it had been decent. I was going to make it look like the kid was hovering a good bit off the ground but the shots all would have taken a fair amount of work to crop out the background and I am doing this for free in spare time after all.


From here on I skipped around a bit and went to slides I felt a little more strongly about redesigning. Doing this, especially this way, takes some serious time and effort. Seriously.

So the first image didn’t really say feedback to me. It looked more like a teacher telling students stuff but that could be because of my own deeply buried educational baggage.

I thought about it for a while and decided a Post-it style note symbolized feedback to me. To get this I used the note feature in Keynote and then just took a screenshot of it and put it in as an image. Simple, easy, quick. Fairly acceptable visual result.


Here’s one where I think what I did actually makes something of a difference. Ms. Mercer is talking about quality vs quantity. She uses the rose as her analogy which I think works for some but not all. My bet is that everyone can relate to cupcakes. So here is one small, beautiful cupcake sitting in lonely isolation. It is clearly a work of art. That’s also probably what I’d say when showing the slide.

It was set small and isolated on purpose. It’s meant to be. If you made it larger you’d be ruining the point. This is one small, exquisitely crafted thing.


The problem Ms. Mercer was having was that some people were saying they liked this yard better than the rose. So I’m working the inner guilt path. Even if someone would rather eat the 15 or so odd horrific looking snack cakes here, they know that the quality of the single cupcake is superior and a better choice. The few who will definitely say they prefer the mass of junk will really only reinforce the point- it’s better to have students work on making superior products than to have them churn out masses of garbage.


I think the marine guy would be usable if you had him on video saying something nice but in a drill sergeant’s voice. The text gets too confusing as it is with the other competing visual elements.

I changed the statement to some extent to reflect the way I see visual design. It is what you’re saying and how you say it. This would give me a brief chance to talk about color and font. I don’t know if I’d have to be this heavy handed. It actually hurt me to make this slide but anything in the name of ending the scourge of bad fonts.


I changed Ms. Mercer’s original photo so the top one is one I put back roughly the way it was. I’d use the fact that it doesn’t initially follow the rule of thirds and just show how you can enlarge and shift it some so that it becomes a stronger photo. Looking at it now, I might even move it farther to the left.

If the people know you I’d keep this for sure. If not, I’d probably go with another photo or mention that it’s your son explicitly and that you took the photo to get that emotional linkage going. Photo wise, it looks like the background is actually in focus and your son is slightly out of focus.

So there’s my $1.50 worth of comments and at least a few alternate ways of looking at the presentation visually. My guesses could be way off but they were done with a pure heart and for the good of the cause. Hope they do something good for you and maybe for someone else out there.

1 This aspect of Keynote alone makes me so happy it’s hard to verbalize. Sad but true.

2 I do some stuff on neuroscience and presentation so that’s probably why I want to go into that channel so readily.

3 That is opposed to my hometown of Hunstville, AL- the hockey capital of the south (really).

4 The “I love it when a plan comes together” guy. I have to keep a close watch on my own odd sense of humor in most of my presentation.

Information Fluency Presentation-Old Skills, New Applications – Part 1

We’ve been working a lot with 21st century skills and trying to figure out how to make them make sense to ourselves and to teachers in the classroom. It’s been interesting in some ways and incredibly frustrating as well.

Here’s part one 1 my best shot at explaining how both the rate and the way information is created and published changes what we need to teach our students. No doubt some of you will find this rather obvious and boring but it was meant to be presented to teachers as way to encourage reflection in a non-intimidating way and to get a conversation going. By the way, I tend to freestyle my presentations based on audience reaction and interest so the text is just a rough attempt at getting the gist of each slide.

image source
To get anywhere with intelligence you have to know two things. Where you are and where you want to go.
Let’s take a minute and look at where we are when it comes to our world and information.
Question to the audience- How has the way you have to deal with information changed in the last ten years? Talk to your partner, you’ve got 2 minutes to come up with ans many differences as you can. I’d then call for volunteers to talk about their more interesting examples.

image source
We are living in a world built on and around information. A world where information is available faster and faster in larger and larger quantities. There’s good and bad in that.
Schools have always been based on information, but the way we have to deal with information has fundamentally changed.

I’m going to start off talking to you about two facts and their educational repercussions.
1. Information is being published in increasing amounts and with increasing speed.
2. The barriers to publishing to a world wide audience and the vetting necessary before reaching that audience have both dropped to near zero.

image source
Let’s talk about information creation first, but I want to do it in a way that makes it make sense. (possible aside – we are now routinely dealing with such enormous numbers our brains can’t process them so they just get lumped into the “really big” pile, coming up with ways to make them more concrete is important)

This is an image of the Library of Congress. It has about 650 miles of bookshelves and 32 million books. That’s enough bookshelves to get us from Richmond to near Daytona Beach. That’s a lot of information.


Now let’s take 2002. I know it’s ancient history but it’s the most recent date we’ve got decent information on. It takes a while to figure all this stuff out.

Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll pretend the Library of Congress is a cup (a big cup, capable of holding 650 miles of bookshelves).

Now we’ve got a coffee pot. A really big coffee pot and in this pot is all the NEW information created way back in 2002.

My question is this. How many times can we refill our LOC cup before we run out of new information? 1 time, 10 times, 100 times. Keep in mind this is just new information we’re talking about. In the presentation, clicking will reveal the 37,000 times number. Pause for a minute. Just think about this. That was way back in 2002.

image source
Ok, so we know we created a huge amount of new information back in 2002. 5 exabytes worth (now you know why I went with the LOC metaphor). What percent of that new information do you think was printed on paper? Think about all the books, newspapers and magazines printed in the world. What percent of new information waaaaay back in 2002 was printed on paper? Get some guesses and then reveal .01% with click.

image source
While that’s going on 92% of new information is on some form of magnetic media – like the hard drive you see here. Do these facts change how we need to think about how students will interact with information? If so, how does it change the skills students will need?

I’ll do some more of this tomorrow. Even if it’s useless to others, it helps me further refine the ideas and I’ll take any constructive criticism anyone wants to share. The facts here are from the How Much Information? 2003 study out of Berkeley and the LOC stuff is straight from their page.

I did this presentation with Adam Garry for an ISTE School 2.0 workshop not too long ago and was semi-happy with how it went. The audience was fairly diverse and there were about 70 people present.

1 it’s late and it’s taking forever to write this in a readable form, I had planned on doing the whole thing tonight

A Blogging Bestiary

Soooo, I had to do another presentation on blogging and “Bob on Blogs” wasn’t really the style I wanted for the UR crowd. Time for something new. This is my basic thought process in case it might interest someone.

Concept (learning objective): There are two key things I want viewers to come away with

  1. A blog is just an easy way to get content (multimedia and otherwise) on the Internet and you don’t have to do commenting, regular posts, etc.
  2. There are lots of interesting ways to use blogs in education

The problem I ran into was that I had lots of blog examples but when I started trying to break things down to show the flexibility it got way too complex. I was initially trying to show things like:

  • Group blog, with comments, using text and images
  • Single user blog, without comments, using text
  • Group blog, aggregating via RSS, with comments using text, video and images

So, instead I divided the presentation into two parts. The first portion would be a more traditional presentation with slides to add some humor and associate some interesting visuals with the relatively dry topic of the conceptual use of blogs, their limitations etc. I really wanted to keep the audience engaged and thinking about things in terms that made sense to them.

The second portion ended up being built with Exhibit so that users could select the design elements they wanted and then be linked to an a blog with those elements. I got the idea from this Exhibit page that allows you to select a variety of political positions and end up with the presidential candidate you should vote for. The nice thing is if I felt others would contribute interesting blogs, I could have them submit via google forms.

Now I had to come up with something that visually and thematically/spiritually carried across my point. I thought about lots of things but eventually settled on the idea of the medieval bestiary.

My rationale was pretty simple. The pictures are really interesting and unusual- and likely to stick with people. The dichotomy between using medieval illustrations to talk about blogs also appealed to me. Finally, using these images helped frame my presentation. I could parallel the strange/mythical animals to the way people are describing new web applications (like blogs) today. The monks who related the “facts” in the bestiary are about as accurate as modern day people who define blogs as “online journals.”

I’ll walk you through the presentation slide by slide below.
Intro Slide for the Bloging Bestiary
I like to have something fairly interesting to start things off that hints at what’s to come without making too much sense. I want to create a sense of intrigue. This image is put up as people come it so they, hopefully, begin to think and wonder about how in the world this weird guy is going to make a relationship between a bestiary and a blog.

This slide is my background as I describe a little of who I am and what I plan to do.
Fancy B Blogging
Now I mention there are many animals in the Bestiary of Electronic Creatures but today we’ll be discussing the blog. I make a joke about being sure there’s a B in there somewhere and start asking a few questions. Who has used a blog? Mastered one? etc. Depending on the audience knowledge I might ask for a definition.
Which one do you choose?
Here I ask the audience to decide which of these three animals a blog is most like. I encouraged them to talk to their neighbor etc. but I don’t think anyone did. I next asked the group what they choose- rhino? octopus? or hydra (which I called a many-headed-thing-a-ma-jig as a joke which didn’t work with one of the librarians in the crowd who volunteered the official name)? After giving them a short amount of time to talk (I only had 30 minutes) I asked if anyone wanted to volunteer their rationale. That worked pretty well.

Old woman fights a dog
This where I compared html etc. to being a lot like an old woman fighting a dog- no one enjoys it. I think I related the story of how I used to do what is essentially a blog by hand and how miserable that was. A need existed for a quicker easier way.

The next point was that all these “experts” defining blogs often were like the monks of old- they only had second hand information about a new animal and their writings often had motives beyond presenting simple facts. They changed or added facts to make their descriptions more interesting or to make them fit allegories.

a bonnacon spewing fiery manure over 3 acres
As Jim Groom related not too long ago, I did use a bonnacon as a comparison to the way a lot of people described blogs- namely that they were for spewing acres of fiery manure. My point was both that this didn’t have to be the case and that colorful “reporting” resulted in this stereotype.

I actually used a animated transition here. My rationale being that I wanted the bonnacon to be mysterious and then I transitioned it in with fire to emphasize the fiery nature of the bonnacon feces. And I’d always wanted to use that transition.

Blogging evolutionary tree
Now it was time to show how blogs had changed over time. I used Alan Levine’scat diaries” analogy as the origin of blogs- namely boring stuff put up sequentially that only you would be interested in.

Then things got really exciting and you could put up pictures to go with your cat diary. That’s where most of the blogs were today with a few also doing cat videos. However, there were two important divergent evolutionary paths- the multimedia publishing octopus and the static priest. These were the two offshoots that we were going to examine.
Bear licking offspring into shape
This seems slightly awkward here but it seemed to work during the presentation. I think I’d move it were I to do this again. The story is that medieval people believed that bears gave birth to shapeless blobs of flesh in the winter and the mother bear had to lick that shapeless lump into a bear cub. I paralleled to it to the author’s ability to “lick” the blog into any shape they desired. It’s just a way to get stuff on the Internet, you can make it what you want.

solo author vs group author
Now we get into the defining characteristics of blogs and why you might want to go certain ways. Solo vs group for instance. I talked about keeping the voice pure, different reasons you might want the content to just represent you, the options for multiple blogs, ways to control other users that you might want making content but not fully trust, ways to pipe in other people’s blog content via category/keyword – that type of thing. That covered the next four slides or so.

Multimedia octopus
Then I got into all the ways that blogs played nicely with multimedia (pictures, video, text, file downloads, etc.) and ways to integrate that into teaching. There was emphasis put on how easy it was.
carven monk update style
Then I got into how update styles are not set in stone. While blogs are seen as content that’s added sequentially over time, they don’t have to be. They can be set up and used as webpages very easily. This type of use cuts down on expensive software, html or WYSIWYG webpage learning curves and lets the author take advantage of lots of free design templates.

There were a couple of other images indicating a more stately update style (chameleon) and a faster frantic update choice (lots of fleas).

Security rhino
So I wrapped it up with some discussions on how and why you might want to restrict access to your blog (copyright, sensitive information, more open communication of sensitive topics). I discussed the levels of restriction. Starting with no one else can even see it and going down to anyone can comment while trying to cover the risks/benefits of each option.

In the end I compare the blog to an octopus for several reasons that I backed up with video at the very end after my two guest professors spoke.

  1. The octopus can change color to blend into any environment (blog themes)
  2. The octopus is fast and agile (like blogs but not like chameleons who are sloooowww)
  3. The octopus is flexible/malleable and really smart (my whole point about blogs- starts about 1:45 in with some wild shots of an octopus crawling through a clear plastic maze)

I was lucky enough to have Dr. Darell Walden (Accounting) and Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt (Education- really nice podcasts for elem. teachers) talk about their experience using blogs in the classroom.

Anna C has a pretty good write up of the content minus my stupider jokes if you’re interested. She did a much better job over the whole conference taking notes than I did.

The images, plus a few I didn’t use, are up on flickr.

The Keynote is here.

BattleDecks- Presentation Ninjitsu

I found these beautiful notes from SXSW via Boing Boing where I saw Battledecks which led to this summary.

SXSW Notes via Flickr
credit Mike Rohde

Powerpoint meets Karaoke in this battle of wits. Watch your favorite speakers craft an off-the-cuff presentation using slides they’ve never seen before. Eight competitors will have five minutes to complete their presentation. Three judges will score the participants based on their use of jargon, gesturing and credibility. Who will take home the trophy and who will totally choke? Come see for yourself!

Two things came to mind for me.

1. Battledecks with your class. You set up a serious of slides that deal with your topic. Divide the class into groups and give out the deck. They’ve got X minutes to come up with the content to match the slides. Points are awarded for relevancy, creativity/entertainment, jargon etc.

For English, this could get really creative. It’d be an awesome way to do work with vocabulary words or story structure. They could pitch a story Hollywood style using as many vocabulary words as possible while working the story through the basic steps (rising action, etc). You could add difficulty by forcing genres on the students (nice way to review those elements as well).

Now, this won’t work at all if you’re giving them traditional bullet point slide decks to deal with. That will result in a massive amount of suck. You’ll get bored students giving you boring presentations and everyone will be unhappy. To do this right you’ll need creative images and it’ll probably help if you’ve been presenting to them in this style otherwise the jump may be too much.

Keep in mind you’ve got lots of ways to mix this up. You could –

  • mix the order of the slides
  • add X number of wild card slides of their own choosing
  • add wild card slides with a points penalty per addition
  • change the time for preparing up or down
  • require certain sentences/references/etc

2. Art Notes- if I’ve got students who are artistic (even just one or two) I might have them create visual versions of the class content. That might be a daily, weekly thing. It’d be interesting to see what that might do for visual learners not to mention the internalization that’d go on with the student creating the art notes.

You’ve also got something interesting to put on the wall or on the web. If you’re really impressed with them, work their drawings into your tests, reviews etc.

Feel Like Going to TED?

There’s a TED Conference pass for sale on EBay. It’s now at $32,000 (starting price was $10,000 and it’s gone up $9,000 since I looked last night). Bidding ends on February 3rd so you’ve still got time.


If you haven’t watched the TED conferences they are up for free on iTunes (video or audio) or the TED site.

I’d check them out for three reasons.

  1. There are some great talks relating directly to education
  2. There are tons of options to pull these videos into class to introduce or enrich any subject you can think of
  3. This is a perfect chance to watch some really spectacular presentations and look for ways to use their techniques and style in your delivery

Design and Story

I’m bouncing Dan’s post about design and storytelling in my head. His basic message is that it’s all about the story and design is just a tool to convey the story. If two people are telling the same story, the one who knows when and how long to pause, when to raise their voice, when to whisper will seem to tell a much better story. Visual design works the same way. And you get better at it by paying attention to people who are good and then analyzing your own work. Reflection on what you do that works is a key component of design (and just about anything else). It’s a lot like what D’Arcy says here about photography (just replace photography with design).

And there’s no easy answer. There isn’t a simple recipe, where if followed dutifully, a person will be transformed into a better photographer. There are two separate but related aspects to photography – the technical, and the aesthetic. I believe that the technical side can be relatively easily addressed – read some books, maybe take a course or two, rtfm, and practice.

It’s the aesthetic side of photography that is harder to develop. There isn’t an easy process to do that. Some sense of aesthetics will develop as you shoot more photographs – whether through trial and error, mimicking other photographs that you like, or through deliberate composition. The most effective, long term strategy that I’ve found to improve my sense of aesthetics has been through what I call “mindful seeing.” I don’t mean in a spiritual sense, although there might be a spiritual aspect to it – mindfulness is a strong component of eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. I mean the act and process of being deliberately thoughtful about what you are seeing. To see what you are looking at. It’s something that doesn’t happen automatically – we go through life filtering what we see, reducing input and stimulus to the point that we aren’t as distracted by visual stimuli. Mindful seeing is the process of turning off the filters, of seeing your surroundings unfettered and unobstructed.

If you pay attention to design, in everything, it will impact how you design things. So pay attention.

I’m going to show how I think about design/storytelling with this before and after slide. It’s no big deal and I certainly am not claiming design perfection with it but it does show two different ways of thinking about the story.


Sherman v1
There’s nothing wrong with this slide. It’s a fairly normal Powerpoint slide. That being said here’s what hurts it for me.

  1. You’ve got two distinct images that don’t really mesh with one another – one really modern, one really old. I see them as two distinct chunks of data.
  2. The map also has lots of text detailing Sherman’s march to the sea. It’s really too small and complex for the viewer to absorb as we talk- or if they do they won’t hear anything we’re saying (the important part right?).
  3. Then you’ve got two chunks of text. I’ve got a feeling that both these things will be said during the presentation- so why write them on the slide? That’s especially true for the caption under the Sherman image.
  4. The title and two pictures are all essentially on the same level. The slide is telling you that all three of these items are of equal importance.


Sherman v2
I’m not entirely satisfied with this (some minor image clean up to do still) but it’s an improvement in my mind and I’ll explain why.

  1. The images are more unified. There are three separate images here but they’re blended into one which I think makes things less segmented and easier to process.
  2. The image is a lot more dramatic. It tells you a story here. Looking at this picture you know Sherman was a tough, scary looking man who burned up the South. It makes the story more personal by attaching it to a real human face.
  3. I’ve also created some levels of importance. Sherman is the most important part of the story. That’s why he’s the largest image and in the foreground. I upped the contrast of the photo to increase the appearance of severity.

    Secondly, I want them to know what he did (burn everything). That puts the fire image next in line. The color also helps liven up the slide. As both of the other pictures are black and white the fire is even more dramatic. I did have to make the fire semi-opaque to keep it from taking too much attention away from Sherman.

    Finally, I’d like them to have a rough idea where Sherman did this but I’m not worried about details (that would be a different story medium). I just want them to have a general feel for the movement. That’s why the image is in the background and obscured by the two other images.

  4. Negatives- I think the map may still be too much distraction. When presenting I’d probably guide the students through the image. When the slide came up I’d say something like “Sherman. . . . Who wants him for a teacher?” That’d get them focused on the man right away. You get them thinking about him as a real person as well and can then get into what his personality was like etc. Then after discussing the fire tactic I’d exaggerate the complexity of the map and then focus them on what my point is- that Sherman moved through the South devastating huge areas of it. Exactly where is not that important to me.

So that’s my thought process anyway. I have no design training other than looking at things and reading stuff on the Internet and a few books. Feel free to throw your two cents in. Are there issues with my slide? Let me know.