Thursday, October 04, 2007

Online Presentation Ideas

As there are plans to teach a new course offering, Business 101, in blended format and because we are doing a pilot with Adobe Connect, the eLearning Team in the College has been playing with Adobe Presenter, a complementary application. Here are some observations about online presentations based on that experience.

Self-Tests within the Presentation

My office mate, Norma, liked the look and feel of a Presentation done with Adobe Presenter – it does have a clean look where one can readily see the slide titles and timings fore each slide, along with a search capability as another way to get random access to the content. But I was intrigued to learn that you can intersperse quizzes that are “graded” within the presentation – the viewer gets immediate feedback.

The use of this seems manifold. The WebCT Vista course management system that my campus supports does not have a self-test feature within a quiz that is for credit. It only has a stand along self-test. So to deliver the requisite functionality within a quiz for credit, one could put in “hint links” to self-tests in Adobe Presenter. That should work fine.

A different use would be for mini-lectures delivered online. As a way to chunk the content there could be short quizzes that are really there to let the viewer ask the question: “Am I getting this stuff?” Also, the quiz allows some planned pause time for reflection before going on with the presentation. This post from the Tomorrow’s Professor blog makes it clear that breaking up presentation in this way is quite effective.

Do note that the quiz questions must be text-based, no multimedia, and there is a limited range of question types. But one might go reasonably far with what is there.

Examples: Audio Only or Talking Head Video?

Here are two different versions of a similar presentation. The audio only version has the dual virtues that it is very easy to make – the audio can be recorded directly in Adobe Presenter – and it launches quite quickly even though in this case this is on a regular Web server, not a Flash streaming server. The talking head video version takes longer to make, because the video must be recorded outside of Adobe Presenter and then brought in, slide by slide. For viewing it takes some time to buffer the video content, even with a good network connection. And relative to how the videos looked before they were inserted into Adobe Presenter, which resized them to fit into the presenter box, they are kind of grainy here. But might the viewers prefer this mode anyway because it seems more personal? Perhaps the answer depends on the context. Both versions are available so you can make your own judgment.

Moving away from the PowerPoint Style?

Folks who are used to presenting with PowerPoint likely will be comfortable with Adobe Presenter. But do note there are other ways to go and once you start to think about that, other possibilities will suggest themselves. Here is an archive of all the videos that were made for the previous presentation along with two some additional clips, one by me on hyperinflation of college tuition, the other joint with Norma. I think the joint stuff is much more compelling to the viewer. In any event, the video can be delivered on its own via the archive, or a clip can readily be embedded in a Web page such as a blog. One loses the interactive quiz function this way, but there might be other activities which would be more meaningful for the students than quizzes while still achieving the desired chunking of the presentation. For example, perhaps they should do some quick writing in private reflection, or instead make a post to a discussion board with questions they have. Moreover, if there is interest in getting the content out to others, it is an interesting thought that the above mentioned archive is on Google Video, it is readily discoverable by a search there. (Such a search also searches for video content in YouTube, but not vice versa.)

Screen Capture Video

Talking head video has its place, and the interview style makes for interesting viewing, but in many cases it will just be the instructor doing the presentation. Consequently, the instructor will want to look for other ways to spice things up. Several people on campus are already using Jing. This quick demo looks indistinct from a capture done with Jing’s cousin, Camtasia, but it is made much more quickly, and Jing is free. (One suspects there might be a charge in the future. If not a direct charge, TechSmith, the company that makes Jing, will need to find some other way to generate revenue for the service.) Short captures can add spice and they really are easy to make. Further, file size is typically small so Jing movies can be sent out via email if that is preferred to putting them on a Web site.

One thing Jing can’t do is to make a second pass at the recording. I’ve found making my own screen captures that if I talk and capture at the same time then I tend to ramble and the entire thing becomes too long. One needs to be merciful to viewer of these things – get in, say your piece, and get out, quickly. So I do better by doing the screen capture on first pass and then doing voice over onto the previously recorded screen capture. This makes the process more elaborate but gets a better end result. If you’re making movies of 5 minutes or more, I’d recommend being more elaborate in this way. If your entire movie is under a minute, Jing is fantastic.

Modeling for Student Presentations

Instructors will first think of this as a lecture alternative for themselves, but one of the nice things about all of these approaches is that students can use them too. So an instructor might want to embrace an approach that is not just suitable for herself but which also make sense for her students and then try to envision her own presentations as giving her students tips on how to do their presentations.

Getting Students IntoYour Presentations

If your presentation is mainly response to questions that students pose, it will be more compelling to watch. You might elicit questions from the students in advance so you base your presentation around those questions. Or, better still, you might invite the students to participate in Q&A that you record. Podcasting (audio only recording) is quite easy to do this way. Talking head video is only a little bit harder. Also, you can add slides or screen movies to the recorded audio content afterwards if you think it will benefit the students.

Writing versus Presentation

Once the presentation moves online another consideration is what to deliver as written text, for example in a blog post, and what to deliver as presentation. My own view is to mix and match. Highly technical content probably can be delivered more effectively in presentation style (I’m thinking about economics with a lot of graphs and equations) so the students get both the visual information and the audio explanation. But otherwise, I’m guessing that what is best is what is most comfortable for the instructor – if the instructor likes to write…

Do Some Assessment

Given multiple possibilities in method of delivery, it doesn’t hurt to try a few different approaches and then ask the students which they prefer (and why).


Online presentations can be used again. Realistically their half-life can’t be too long because the technology changes and they begin to look dated and the content itself may also lose its freshness. But certainly some re-use is likely. This should encourage the instructors to think of what they want to do up front not being determined solely by the time it takes to produce the stuff. There will be some time savings down the road.

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