Creating Curious Presentations: the medium is not the message

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It’s probably fair to say that when it comes to PowerPoint Presentations the crowd is divided:

On the one hand it can be a very powerful teaching tool with a relatively low learning curve that makes it easy to pick up and produce Presentations without having to wade through pages of instructions or endless “How to” YouTube videos…

On the other, the fact it’s so simple to use makes it easy to produce Presentations that are, with the best will in the world, a little dull because they do little more than repeat whatever a teacher is telling their audience.

The question for me, therefore, is how to take advantage of PowerPoint’s presentational strengths without reducing your audience to passive submission?

And the answer, to contradict Marshall McLuhan, is not to use the medium as the message.

Just because PowerPoint makes it easy to present information in a simple, linear, uncritical way doesn’t mean you have to. PowerPoint also makes it possible to present information in ways that enhance, rather than detract from, the message. And while this is relatively easy in principle, it can be a lot harder in practice (which is probably why so few teachers do it).

Creating Curiosity

The easy bit is to use PowerPoint to present information that exploits your students’ curiosity.

Rather than just presenting a bulleted list of points, try presenting information in such a way that the point (pun intended, in case there was any doubt) of what you’re talking about is gradually revealed – preferably by the students themselves (with a little help and prompting if necessary). This technique not only makes your audience more active, it also challenges them to think about, reflect on and understand the context in which information is being presented.

The harder bit is developing Presentations that hold your students’ attention by exploiting their curiosity. And while how this is accomplished is ultimately going to be down to individual teachers – because no two teachers are ever going to present information in the same way for the same reasons or the same purpose – a more interesting, satisfying and educationally valid way of presenting information is to arouse the curiosity of your students by withholding and gradually revealing information.

This can be achieved through student input – asking them questions, for example – or simply through slowly revealing more complex ideas and information rather than hitting them with everything all at once.

To demonstrate this idea I’ve put together a very simple Presentation based around the idea of introducing Semiology in a way that demonstrates, I hope, how to get the basic idea across…

Update: Creating Better Memories

A further aspect to the general idea of trying to stimulate your students curiosity is that there’s increasing evidence to show that a closely-related idea – encouraging your students to predict the information you haven’t yet provided based on the information you have provided – is an incredibly powerful way of creating better memories. This technique is, in other words, a really useful form of revision.

Update: MRI Scanning

If you’re even more…errm… curious about the power of curiosity, Gruber et al (2014) concluded:

In both immediate and one-day-delayed memory tests, participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity“.

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