Focused Proposal, another Presentation

Posted: December 1, 2008 in Methods, School, writing

For those keeping score, I spent Thanksgiving break writing. I wrote a solid draft of both a paper on Artificial Authors (mainly on BRUTUS, the storytelling machine) and a research proposal. It is the latter that I want to talk about, because I will be doing a short presentation on it in a little more than an hour or so.

All semester, I’ve been trying to focus, to narrow down my topic as much as I possibly could. A few weeks ago, with the last presentation, I came up with something. The idea I am looking at, from the large view, is how new technologies are brought into the classroom. So I decided to take a single case and look at it. Specifically, I decided to take a technology that is used in classrooms, but hasn’t been for very long: PowerPoint.

I remember when PP first came into use. I was in college at the time, and slowly my professors shifted from overhead projections into computerized outlines. I have always thought that PowerPoint first came out around that time. Turns out, it’s been in existence since about 1986. But it first started moving into the public sphere heavily in around 1997 or so. So I was close enough.

What I’m proposing to study is two professors, of roughly the same age, teaching experience, and ‘success’ as teachers (to be measured by the entirely arbitrary student evaluations). One of those professors will be an Early Adopter, by which I am taking to mean began using PP in the classroom in or before 2000. The other will be a Late Adopter, by which I mean began using PP as recently as possible, but no less recently than 2006. I’ll watch 3 presentations of each (so as to be sure I’m not witnessing a fluke), then interview them about their experiences with the program.

My hypothesis is that the early adopter will use PP to better effect and in more complex ways, while the late adopter will use PP that is closer to a high tech overhead projector.

Sounds to me like a workable idea. The only problem (and this is minor) is that I need to do a whole lot of research into the fields of PowerPoint and Early/Late Adopters. So a pretty hefty discourse analysis will have to be done before I even get to start the case studies. Even still, it seems like a workable idea.

  1. Beagle says:

    Wow! What a coincidence…I just finished writing a paper on PowerPoint pedagogy in technical communication!

  2. mlw107 says:

    I think power point can be a useful tool in the classroom, unless all the instructor does is read the thing. Instead of wasting valuable o2, why not stand there and run through them silently, then answer any questions in the meanwhile? I have seen our local newscasters do the weather with pp and t pretty much is a waste. Any ideas on how to combat redundancy in the use of said tools?

  3. cogitas says:

    interesting! I’d be really curious to talk about it if you want. I ended up moving the focus to blogs rather than PP, but I’m still very interested.

  4. cogitas says:

    I’m definitely not an expert in the field, but there is a lot of literature about how to effectively use PP. The basics I have gleaned from this research is this:
    1. Do not read your slides.
    2. Less text is better.
    3. Slides are meant to support your talk, not the other way around.
    4. Fewer slides is better (an hour long presentation should be under 20 slides on the high side).

    I’m still aiming someday to do a PP presentation that does not use any text whatsoever.

  5. Beagle says:

    Yes, there’s definitely a lot of information out there about PP (and I could really go on and on about this). If you look on the TED Web site, you’ll see that most of those presenters use PP (or Keynote, which serves the same function). The reason why they are effective is because there’s very little text (e.g., Lessig likes to display keywords), and they are mostly visuals (e.g., Al Gore’s presentation).

    My research paper was about how to effectively teach this tool in a technical communication classroom. Most TC instructors ignore this because they either figure students will learn it on their own (which doesn’t always happen), or that it is evil (because Tufte said so). I think it is important to teach it because technical communicators are out there using this to present important information, without knowing how to use it properly. I based this on the example in Tufte’s book (Columbia accident).

  6. cogitas says:

    I absolutely agree that it’s a skill that needs to be taught. I know I feel like a hypocrite when I don’t use it (which tends to be virtually always), but I also know it hurts me to see a pp presentation done poorly.

    I don’t think pp is evil: used properly, it can be very effective and make a presentation much, much more interesting. But used improperly it can kill a presentation. So it makes sense to teach people how to do the former and avoid the latter.

    I may have to sit in on your class when you go over this stuff.

  7. Michelle says:

    OK, I’ll definitely give the techies credit for bringing conversations like this to the forefront. I had been reading CBD’s blog for about a year before I really “got” where his line of research fits into th English and Journalism Dept, but now I know that proper use is a huge deal and people DO need that instruction.

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