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First Impressions - Making The Most Of Your Science Presentations
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We all know how important it is to make a good first impression.

There are two key issues here. Firstly, every subsequent interaction is viewed in the context of that first impression. Secondly you rarely get another chance if the first impression is not a good one. That is why we must make our first impressions count.

The computer has been responsible for an explosion in the 'oral presentation as assessment item'. Primary and Secondary students, regardless of their location, subject or expertise are required several times a term to present some information to their teacher, their class mates, or more often both. The resulting product often suffers from one of the following maladies:

  • spontaneous animation - the appearance of animation or transition effects where none were either expected, nor desired.
  • punctuated auditorium - the discontinuous whizzes, crackles, squeaks and hums as every one of the previous animations has its own separate sound effect
  • verbiage diarrhoea - the excessive use of words to ensure every part of the presentation has been covered and the student need only read what they have typed, leaving nothing to memory. This last malady often doubles as an eye test where the relative importance of the information is inversely proportional to the size of the font.

Also becoming more frequent is the occurrence of generic cloning - information on a powerpoint which looks suspiciously like a symposium given on a related topic at a recent conference by a postgraduate student.

Dealing with student presentations is a difficult issue, not least of which can be the degree of uncertainty (poor modelling?) experienced by many teachers. The time for demarcation of subject responsibilities has gone. We are all teachers and computers are a tool of the trade. The advantage of enrolling in technology education for your students is the chance to contextualise their knowledge. Elsewhere I've discussed the contextualisation of Word and Excel, so let's briefly deal with presentations.

There are three main multi-media applications students use for presentations:

  • Powerpoint
  • MovieMaker
  • Photostory

To start at the end, photostory is very like those nursing home ads we often see on tv. Lovely views of the surroundings, amenities, beautifully furnished rooms float by with a caring voice over making us feel all warm inside. This is a good medium for a confident student who can do their own voice over with a minimum of text to distract attention. Be aware you need to make sure the text that is added doesn't float off the edge of the slide.

Powerpoint is the stock standard. Every knows how to use it, but few of us use it well. A teacher who uses Powerpoint to save him or her writing notes on a board is still using poor pedagogy. A teacher who uses Powerpoint in a way that illustrates a point that cannot easily be drawn, summarises an idea into a catchy phrase or mnemonic, or uses animation to progressively reveal steps in problem solving through a 'guess and check' method is demonstrating good pedagogy and can expect this sort of modelling will be reflected in the student presentations.

MovieMaker provides a little more for those who are feeling adventurous. The latest version gives the student more control over the individual slides, transitions and added text. Adding a sound track is easy and students love to add the Title Screen and End Credits. After all, we all want to see our name scrolling up at the end of a movie. Saving the final product in wav format (or for direct exporting to you tube) is as easy as a click or two.

As with any application, the best way to learn is to use it yourself. Try some simple effects and build up to the point where you feel comfortable enough to let the students explore. In the digital age, we don't need to know more than the students, we only need to show them how to navigate an application for themselves.

I guess a classroom is the one place where you may be able to give a second, first impression. If your presentations have suffered from one of the maladies described above, the cure is now in your hands. Now how long is the average students' attention?

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