Designing a Presentation

For almost a year now, I’ve been working on a presentation focused on 21st Century Problems. The premise is simple: we spend a tremendous amount of time analyzing, articulating, and standardizing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for students today, what many call “21st Century Skills”. However, all of these tools are valued not for their own sake but because they are helpful in solving current, 21st Century Problems. What if instead of focusing on the skills, we sought out authentic, engaging problems for students to help solve? What if, instead of treating students like problems that we need to solve, we treated them as people who are able to solve problems?

The inspiration for this presentation came from a number of conversations and workshops I attended last year, most notably workshops at ASB Unplugged on the Maker movement, gamification, flat classrooms/connections, and SAMR. It came more into focus when I decided to apply to present at Learning 2.0 in Bangkok and I decided that I wanted my presentation to be more focused on big, pedagogical ideas rather than specific tools like Google Drive or Twitter.

As I worked on my first run of the presentation, I found myself using design techniques that I had used previously, when teaching history. As I noted in my previous blog-post, I used to make slideshows that were designed to be able to stand alone, just in case a student missed class and needed to catch up with their notes. With this one, I began to break away from that a bit, though in retrospect not enough. Here’s the version of my presentation from Learning 2.0:

In addition to presenting at Learning 2.0, I also applied to do a presentation on the same topic at 21st Century Learning in Hong Kong. As that conference drew closer, I tried to correct as many of the mistakes that I found in the first run as possible. I also consciously styled my presentation on a TED talk rather than a classroom teaching, and to that end I stripped down several of the examples and clutter and tried to keep it as simple as I could. Here is the version from 21st Century Learning:

At that point, I felt like I finally had the presentation part of it down. What was missing, though, was the interaction. Although I had modeled my talk on a TED style presentation, the format wasn’t a 18 minute presentation; it was a one hour workshop. When I presented in Bangkok, I had an activity scheduled for the end of the presentation. The participants were to start work on designing a lesson that focused on an authentic problem. The difficulty was that most participants were struggling simply to articulate an authentic problem for their lessons, let alone create a lesson focused on that problem.

To solve this one, I turned to Design Thinking. Inspired by a workshop by John Nash, an education professor at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, I put together a design thinking protocol to help teachers identify contexts for their topic, characters within those contexts, and problems that the characters might have. Here’s the short version:

Now, I’m preparing to do this presentation for a third conference: EARCOS. My main dilemma now is how to make the presentation more hands-on, more engaging, while still keeping the power of the narrative arc in the presentation. Slide design, at this point, is just a small part of the bigger picture. As engaging as TED talks are, by their very format they are designed for a passive audience. A good presentation is more than simply telling a good story – it’s about bringing the audience into the story itself.