I am teaching a new course this spring - the economics of organizations. It is intended as an upper level undergraduate class. In trying to think through what I'd do for the class and how to approach it pedagogically, I thought of the debrief I had with students at the conclusion of a behavioral economics class I taught last spring. One comment that stuck with me, several students echoed the thought, was that they wanted me to lecture more. In the second half of the course I had students do team presentations and that took a good chunk of time. They wanted me to present instead.
There is a related idea that we didn't discuss in that debrief. The issue is whether to attempt Socratic dialog with the students, with a lively audience it is a style I prefer, or if instead do straight presentation, with only a few minutes for questions at the end. When I tried Socratic dialog in the behavioral class, I would get the following. After I posed a question several students would raise their hand. I'd call on one of those, then another, and another, etc. Each student would venture their own opinion, but no student seemed to react to what other students had said previously. The effect was not so much Socratic dialog as it was a type of on the spot polling. While once in a while I did want that, mostly I didn't. Yet my instinct is to call on a student if their hand is raised. But I really do want flow to the discussion and this practice wasn't promoting flow. So this time around I'm considering straight presentation. And if one does that, there has to be something on the screen to complement the talk, doesn't there?
I've not done a straight presentation like this for a while, and I got to thinking what I'd like to do. It also occurred to me that last year I had a lot of churn in the class enrollment during the first two weeks of the semester. It would be good for those who add the class in the second week to be able to catch by going through the presentation materials on their own. So I finally settled on an approach that does PowerPoint slides in the spirit of the Lessig Method, and then uses the speaker notes part of the PowerPoint for longish text descriptions of what is going on.
In the slide area itself there would be a title - I think that is useful in navigation - but then mostly images. Once in a while I'd write a sentence or two as summary of what was done on previous slides. I'd take the images from the Internet and link back to the source. This is a way to show attribution and also allows those who are curious to learn more about the particular subject with which the image is concerned.
I wanted delivery for the face to face class session that I will lead as well as for asynchronous access by students, both those at the live session and those who missed it. And then it occurred to me that perhaps this is not a bad way to have students make a presentation as an alternative to a term paper. I still haven't decided whether I'll do that or not, but I do like the general idea that the instructor models for the students activities that the students ultimately perform. So in considering tools that might be employed I opted for ones students would have ready access to as well, meaning they are freely available, other than PowerPoint itself.
Regarding logistics, I used to have a good feel for that and had ready answers for the time. I no longer do. But I do have the questions I believe should be addressed. So I will list those below.
- Does it matter if the presentation is only available for download? Does online delivery of the document afford advantages in and of itself?
- Do the students have PowerPoint or compatible software on their own computers?
- If students are taking notes on the presentation, do they care whether the notes are bundled with the presentation itself?
- Do the students use a Tablet as their primary mode of accessing this type of content?
With that I tried the following:
- Converting the PowerPoint with speaker notes to Word (and then to PDF),
- Slideshare.net, and
- Google Presentation.
SCRIBD - the slides come in fine and look good. The speaker notes don't seem to come in at all or, at the least, I couldn't figure out how to do that. It does allow download of the original PowerPoint file. So this tool wasn't suitable for online viewing, but might be used as an archive of the file for download.
Converting PowerPoint with speaker notes to Word - The conversion makes the slide into an image, with text below the image. The links that were in the slide are lost this way. As a last resort a pdf version might be needed if students are to view on a Tablet, but otherwise this is not the way to go.
Slideshare.net - Slideshare.net accepts both .ppt and .pptx formats for upload. That's a plus. It maintains links in images. That's another plus. And there is a tab for the speaker notes that are below the presentation. That's also good. There are ads. That's a minus. And though comments are allowed, those are meant for the entire presentation. So they can't be used the way students would want, for note taking. A peculiarity I experienced with slideshare is that while the presentation would work fine in Chrome, the navigation buttons were missing in Firefox. A work around to this is to convert the presentation to slidecast, as is done for this presentation. In a slidecast, an audio file is synced with the presentation. This can be done with either voice or music files in mp3. The former are accepted for upload into slideshare. That latter must come from elsewhere on the Internet. In this case I used a Chopin Mazurka in C# Minor available at pianosociety.com When in slidecast mode there is a play button for the entire presentation in the center and there are buttons for advancing the slide or going back. Those buttons do show up in Firefox. Alas, the speaker notes don't advance with the slides in slidecast mode. The speaker notes do advance when using the slide advance button. Slideshare.net is a flash based product. It doesn't work on the iPad.
Google Presentation - Google didn't like the .pptx file I uploaded but it would take a .ppt version fine. Here I'm speaking about converting the file to Google presentation. One can upload any format and leave it that way without converting, using Google simply as an archive. Google presentation doesn't allow links for images (why not?) so if you want those links you need to put a text box below the image and then link the text. I found this mildly annoying but if you know you are going to use this it's not a terrible work around. One feature of Google Docs that I really like is the ability to make the url available to all but otherwise not listed, so people won't stumble on it. In this particular case the issue is making a Fair Use argument for utilizing the images that are in the presentation. The case is stronger if the presentation isn't generally available. The presentation mode that users access is not good enough, in my view. However, using the Actions menu at the bottom of the screen, users with a Google docs account of their own can create a copy of the presentation for themselves. You can try that with this presentation. With a presentation of their own, users can access the speaker notes, via the View menu. Speaker notes show up on the right, instead of below the presentation. I prefer below, but what Google does is adequate, though the user cannot adjust the width of the notes window. Users can also download the original .ppt file. Google Presentation doesn't appear to have a comment function (though Documents and Spreadsheets do). I don't understand this as regular PowerPoint has a comment function under the Review tab. But students can take notes by marking up the slides themselves in the copy of the presentation, say by using a different font color. They can also do this in the speaker notes area.
It is hard to tell the future trajectory of these products, but if I were guessing I'd expect slideshare.net to expire in a few years, the issue with the controls in Firefox an indicator that it is not keeping up with new versions of the browser. I don't really understand whether Flash itself now has a limited lifetime but if so slideshare.net probably won't survive. I would like to see competitors with Google, simply because I don't like the thought of being too dependent on any one company. (This is quite distinct from the privacy concern that some have articulated about using Google products.) So I'd like to see SCRIBD become more fully functional, closer in nature to the original PowerPoint itself. And if there isn't the copyright concern, then I'd like to see us make content publicly available and discoverable. The latter means search engines do need to find the content. They clearly won't if the content is a file. Web delivery is certainly a plus there.
Regarding this latter functionality, it would be nice if the tools gave each slide it's own url (anchor) built off the url for the entire presentation. Then referrals could point to a particular slide. That would be much more powerful.