Clayton Lorraine, an instructor at the Language Training Centre, spent many an hour teaching his ESL students the finer points of PowerPoint to prepare them for their first live presentation in his language class. And he spent many an hour being disappointed in the results.
“I could teach all the tips and tricks, font size and style, not too much text on slides, etc., but then often the students would make those mistakes anyway," he explained. So, he decided to take a different approach.
Instead of doing all the teaching up front to prepare the students for the high-stakes experience of a live presentation in front of their peers, Clayton put the students into learning groups, assigned topics and set them free to learn about presenting with PowerPoint by exploring for themselves.
“Each week, one group would present, and then the class brainstormed what was good and what could be improved," said Clayton. “We used a shared document in Word 365 (via a link posted to LEARN) in which everyone entered their ideas and suggestions. They covered design, delivery and content with their comments."
The students came to their own realizations about best practices with PowerPoint; for example, images are important, weird fonts are terrible, etc.
Clayton transformed a high-stakes graded assignment into an experiential learning activity with the focus on learning rather than marks. “Taking the pressure off the presenting part of the activity made it possible for the students to focus more on their delivery, the structure of the presentation, and the dynamics of their group," said Clayton. “Flipping the responsibility onto them to notice what's effective and what isn't draws the information out of them. The other way is too directive, and they don't explore."
Clayton has been teaching presentations this way for over two years and is transferring this learner-centered approach to other topics, including email writing. “Knowing something doesn't necessarily lead to application of that knowledge," he said. “Nudging them to notice what could be improved translates to meaningful learning for them."
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