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Powerpoints are not the only Route

July 13, 2012 8 comments

A4 laminated lecture notes

I was very surprised to be contacted recently by an experienced lecturer who seemed flustered at being asked to present at a professional body event. This was someone who lectures a lot at the university and even at professional conferences. But they had been given four constraints by the organisers for the 15 minute session: no powerpoint, no lectern, cabaret-style microphone, and the audience would be standing up.

The academic seemed excessively anxious, and maybe because of my background in the theatre, thought I would have some ideas. This also shows perhaps how dependent academics have become on lecterns and on powerpoint. In this case the academic was used to powerpoint as speaker support (i.e. as their own notes).

My immediate reaction was that if you have no lectern, and a microphone in one hand, you are really quite constrained on how to hold and use notes. My personal preference is to use a small pack of hole-punched index cards secured by a binding ring, but the academic thought this might seem a bit old-fashioned to a professional audience. So my next thought was to get it onto one single piece of paper, ideally A5.

The lecturer had already prepared four headlines for the organiser’s session summary, and had in Word produced bullet points for each headline. So we cut and pasted that into Powerpoint, as PPT gives much more control over layout than Word. We then printed it as a two to a page handout format, which is A5. All seemed well until it turned out there would also be 5 minutes questions. The lecturer was used to referring back within PPT to deal with questions, for example referring to a definition at the start of the presentation.

So I asked to see the PPT normally used by the academic for a one hour lecture on the topic. It had 43 slides! We went through this and picked out 8 slides that would support answers to the most likely questions. These were saved to .jpg and then brought in as small images to make a second slide to add to the bullet point one.

This was printed again two to a page handout style, this meant one A5 sheet with the bullet points, the lower sheet with the shrunken slides. But holding this with one hand meant the paper was floppy.  So we examined sticking onto card, making two sided again by sticking, but the better solution was to laminate the sheet.

I understand the presentation went well. And this has made me think back to my experience as an actor and also a presenter of live literature events. I’m pretty sure this lecturer could have done the presentation by memory, so in a sense the A5 sheet was a prop. I recall a very high profile poet who would always come on stage to read their work and spend the first five minutes shuffling their script, dropping several pages, then making a big issue of pouring out and drinking a glass of water. Yet they went on to read utterly confidently for 30 minutes completely by memory, and of course this ritual with papers and water was simply a way of calming their nerves.

On the other hand a well chosen prop such as described above, can serve to give the performer confidence (and lecturing involves performance skills). The important thing is not to have props that get between you and your audience, physically or mentally. A lectern or AV pod can be a physical barrier, and it can be tempting to tether yourself to it. A sheaf of notes can give the message that one is not totally on top of the material, and more importantly prevent you from making eye contact and engaging in a lively way with your audience.

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Module evaluation discussions

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

City introduced a policy earlier this year where there will be a more formal mechanism for tying in student module evaluations to staff appraisals.   In some cases, Heads of Department (or their nominees) may wish to discuss the results of student evaluations with staff and so the LDC drafted some guidance to support this and to offer some tips in terms of approach.  It should be noted that it is not the expectation that a meeting will take place, unless there are urgent issues. However, given that this is a new system, HoDs may well want to have meetings with staff to allay any concerns. Timings and frequency of meetings are up to individual HoDs to determine with academics. Although potentially a sensitive subject, these informal conversations should primarily be developmental in focus and be a celebration of teaching achievements and sharing of good practice.

  • These meetings provide a recognised opportunity for the academic to share their own reflections on their teaching.  All academic staff, to a greater or lesser degree, reflect on their teaching and now they have a more formal opportunity to do this informed by student module evaluations. By structuring the conversation around the individual academic’s own awareness of what they thought went well, what could have been improved and what they would work on in the future and how this triangulates with the student module evaluations, academic staff have the opportunity to share their own concerns and ideas about their teaching
  •  Taking a coaching style approach to the discussion will enable a fuller conversation and provide the individual academic with the chance to explore their own views of the module. This will also prevent defensiveness and potential conflict
  • At the end of the meeting, the academic will want to define some resulting actions from the feedback. These actions may be in relation to professional developmental or the introduction of new innovations or teaching approaches.  Such actions should be noted but also the HoD or nominee needs to ensure, particularly in the case of any professional development needs, that resources are given to the academic to pursue these
  • Many academics will be team teaching on modules and therefore the evaluations may not solely represent an individual performance.  Although discussions need to be had with individual academics, a full module team meeting where future actions can be shared would be beneficial to ensure a consistent approach to teaching on that particular module
  • Where issues are raised that are beyond the control of the individual academic, the HoD needs to ensure that these are raised by other formal means and via existing processes for example issues with estates/IT via APEs. Where response rates are particularly low any evaluation needs to be used with caution
  • Discretion should be used in relation to the experience and qualifications of the academics concerned.  Staff new to teaching or with particularly negative feedback may need a fuller conversation and a more developmental approach, whereas those staff that are performing consistently well should be encouraged to share their good practice more widely. The important thing is that the opportunity for self reflection, informed by evidence, is maintained and that the individual academic gains some benefit from considering the evaluations alongside their own perceptions of their teaching
  • The Learning Development Centre will provide support and guidance for staff in responding to module evaluations – both in terms of sharing good practice and meeting development needs.  HoDs are strongly encouraged to make academic staff aware of such support.

 

Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change

Peter Bregman (2007) Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change, Space for Change, New York

Point B book coverChange is notoriously difficult to manage.  This guide won’t make change easy or problem free but it will give great insight, tools and strategies that increase chances of success.

This guide refers to a big change but is relevant to all change on whatever scale.  It is a positive and practical book that focuses on inspiring, engaging and coaching people through change.  Apparently, ‘70% of all corporate change efforts fail’ p.5 because people resist change.  The book recognises that, ‘Change is primarily an emotional issue’ p.50.

Point B was a perspective shifting resource for me in leading institution-wide changes to learning technology as well as smaller projects and managing a team.  It gave me clarity in what my role should be and what skills I need to do this work.  In the current environment, being able to lead, support and manage change are essential capabilities for working in Higher Education.

This vignette provides five things it’s useful to know about leading and managing change according to Point B and a very brief example of the Point B model in action at City University:

Peter Bregman Point B Vignette

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