Tying it All Together

This next week marks the end of a year long project for me.  Last year, around this time, I decided that I wanted to present at Learning 2.0 in Bangkok. I knew that I wanted it to be focused on pedagogy, on big ideas, and not just on the latest Chrome or iPad apps, Google tricks, or software tool. That was when I decided to focus on the idea of education based not on knowledge or skills, but on authentic problems. I’ve blogged about this a fair bit before: about why teachers choose to adopt technology (or not), about the evolution of my presentation, and about my video adaptation of the presentation as my final project for Course 3 in COETAIL. If you missed it before, here’s the 5 min video version:



In all of this, I’ve found myself ranging these ideas from the extremes of open-ended conversation and discussion to lecture style presentation and digital storytelling. I don’t think I have many more answers than I did when I began, but I certainly have many more questions.

If we are trying to model pedagogy that goes beyond ‘sit and get’, what do we do to prepare for a simple presentation? We may create the most stunning presentation, but how do we use images and media that support a conversation rather than lecture? If we don’t know where things might go, which possibilities do we prepare for?

It reminds me a little bit of an experience that I had during my student teaching. My mentor, Sallyann Murphey, was teaching a class called The American Century.  She asked me to do a single lesson, 80 minutes, on the rise of jazz in the 1920s and 1930s.  I thought a great deal about how to go about it, and realized quickly that a linear, PowerPoint style presentation would be the antithesis of the spirit of jazz. I needed to improvise it.

And yet, the jazz of the 1920s was not an open improvisation. Tunes had melodies, chord changes, and idiosyncrasies that everyone knew. To get ready for my presentation, I outlined the history that I wanted to touch on, edited more than a dozen clips from Ken Burns’ Jazz series that illustrated various points, and then wove them together into a story that was improvised based on my read of the students and the dynamic in the class.

But even an improvisation such as this was still somewhat one-directional (as are most jazz performances). Miles Davis never asked the audience to join in a tune with him – he improvised with players that he knew and trusted. Constructivist pedagogy asks us to do more, to build powerful, meaningful experiences with the class, not for the class.

Into all of these questions enter the lessons and principles of good design that we studied in Course 3. How do we use text, typography, layout, images, sounds, and music to build powerful learning experiences with people we’ve never met before in one hour?

One of the most important lessons in all of this is simplicity. Most of us are aware that people are only able to focusing on 1 cognitively demanding task at a time. Beyond that, things get put on the back-burner and we just check them from time to time. No audience member is able to read text on a slide and listen to a person speak at the same time. In fact, we aren’t even really able to look closely at a photo and still listen; the photo usually functions more as a filter or illustration of the narration rather than as the central focus.

silver falls 21 by Robert Emperley Licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

This Saturday I’ll be presenting “21st Century Problems” one last time (this year, anyway). Although I still plan to use a slide deck and keep a narrative arc to it, my goal is to encourage exploration as we walk along that path.  This will be the fifth time I’ve led the presentation, and each time I think it’s gotten a bit more to what I would like it to be. Although it’s taken over a year and things still aren’t what I’d like them to be, I wouldn’t have it any other way.