When PowerPoint goes bad

What are your pet peeves about using PowerPoint? Is it the tool itself or how people use it?

I use PowerPoint, and think it is a good way to engage students and staff, and can be used as a way to spur enjoyment, engagement and interest in your subject. But that’s more about how the tool is used rather than the tool itself. So, here are some observations I’ve made over the years about PowerPoint, and how people use it ‘badly’:

  • Font – Inconsistent use of fonts across the slide deck, or even on the same slide. Using fonts that really don’t work on screen (like Times New Roman), or using Comic Sans. Please. Don’t.
  • Images – So you found Google images or another such image search. You’ve copied the image to your slide and it looks good. It doesn’t. That small image might look OK on your screen, but test it in a classroom or lecture theatre, you’ve stretched it so much it’s pixelated so much it’s almost unrecognisable.
  • Words – Writing your whole lesson in PowerPoint and spending half the lesson with your back to the class so you can read from the projector screen. Same goes if you stand behind the lectern PC and read of that screen instead.
  • Bullet points – PowerPoint makes it too easy to use them, but that doesn’t mean you should (yes, I can see the irony as I’m using them here too).
  • Colour / Templates – Just because you can lots of colour or standard PowerPoint templates doesn’t mean you should. Keep it simple so your key message shines through – the more colour / mess on the slide will only detract or hide your content.
  • Charts / Tables – Do you really need that chart or table that shows 50 different points of information.
  • Animation – I’ve never found animated stars or arrows to help the presentation. If the slide is structured properly you shouldn’t need them.
  • Clipart – Please. Don’t.
  • Volume – You may feel that your one hour presentation needs 100 slides. I’m pretty sure your audience/class doesn’t. 

If in doubt about any aspect of your use of PowerPoint, the best time to find out how you’re doing is now, while you’ve time to go and check it all out and not half way through the most important presentation of your career. Would you rather a slightly awkward conversation in private now or suddenly realise the conference venue has emptied for lunch 45 minutes early, just after you start your 16th of 135 slides?

Go find your friendly learning technologist (yes, we are friendly!), ask us to look over it and tell you what we think. We will be honest but we’ll be critical and, most importantly, constructive. We will offer support and suggestions, we will give your pointers on how to cut the information on the slides (and how to deliver it too, if you want) and we will be there to help you feel comfortable creating slide decks in future and deliver them. Every learning technologist I’ve ever met will do this, without question and without judgement; we’re just happy we can offer our expertise and make your job easier (and more successful).

There are plenty of online tutorials and help websites if you want to find out yourself about using PowerPoint ‘well’. Try sites like this and this and this.

If in doubt this video – Life after death by PowerPoint – will help you see the error of your ways.

Image source: EU PVSEC (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why CMALT is important to me #altc

It’s coming to that time of year when I start planning for the Annual ALT conference: #ALTC. My annual review is complete, ALTC was discussed and it’s been approved that I can attend again. This will be my fourth ALTC, and this year we’re in Liverpool.

But my reflective mind is going back to my CMALT qualification, and why it is still so important to me. Earlier this year I wrote my three-year review to keep my CMALT credential current and valid. Whilst I wait for the response and, hopefully, approval, I still think of both the process I went through to gain CMALT in the first place as well as the on-going process of how I keep myself (as well as my CMALT) current. I will update my portfolio with the review text when I know I’ve passed.

  • This is Part 16 in my series where I am posting on my thoughts about being a Learning Technologist. This, and the previous posts can be found in the What is a Learning Technologist series.

I have spent time reading and investigating the various online masters course, as gaining further qualifications in and around my work is something I believe I can benefit from, but I’ve yet to find one that really interests me. There’s also the cost both financially and in time that, at the moment, I’m just not prepared to commit to. I also believe that a lot of our work, us learning technologists, is about doing the work and learning about doing the work, and I am still very sceptical of formal masters level courses offering the kind of content that can help with the day to day work. This is another reason I find CMALT more applicable to my line of work – my CMALT portfolio is my work linked to the core areas the portfolio is assessed on. It didn’t feel like a formal assessment, but it is, and it didn’t feel an onerous task either. 

I’ve also been, if you haven’t already noticed, quite busy and have written four books – QR Codes in Education, The Really Useful #EdTechBook, Emergency Rations #EdTechRations and What is a learning technologist? Without the ALT community and CMALT reflective exercises these projects would not have been possible. I also feel that I have grown because of the CMALT process, both personally and professionally, and find myself in a very good role at Warwick Business School and as a CMALT Assessor.

For me being CMALT qualified is essential to our role and gaining a qualification that can demonstrate our abilities and worth to the often sceptical academics we meet as well as giving us a trusted and valued voice with college or university management. Learning technology is important, as are the people like you and me who are the support, demonstrators and voices helping understand and navigate the tools and techniques.

If you’re interested in CMALT, wonder what it’s all about, already completed your CMALT and are thinking ahead to the three-year review here are a few posts you will find useful:

  • Chatting about CMALT – CMALT session at ALTC 2016, and my reflection on what it’s like on the other side, the reviewer and assessor (Sept 2016).
  • Three years of ALTC and CMALT – written for the ALT blog here I again reflect on the importance of the three ALTC events I’d attended, and how they’d impacted my CMALT journey and understanding of my role(s) (Sept 2016).
  • Editing and co-authoring for online publication – written for the ALT blog I am again reflecting on my connections and network that I’ve grown through the ALT community, and where CMALT has made a difference in my own view and perspective (May 2017).
  • ALT CPD: rebooted – A frank and open discussion at the 2014 ALT CPD event, these are my slides and ‘what it means to be a learning technologist’ (Nov 2014).

Don’t believe me? These people all agree CMALT is valuable. And this is just the list of people already passed, I’m sure the list of those working towards it is larger still! 

Image source: David Hopkins

Book review: The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k

As part of getting to grips with an ever changing work environment, duties,line management, and other work-related ‘difficulties’ AND the very volatile political and cultural changes the world is being dragged through I have started reading some books that might help me to both understand myself and how I deal with, well, life.

To this end I’ve been reading some books that have either been recommended to me by someone I know and trust, or the Amazon algorithm showed me “you read this so we think you’d like this”, or I just like the cover. This book, by Mark Manson, is a bit of both … ‘The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k‘.

This book says it like it is. It’s a “dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today”, the book is an “antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.”

You quickly become accustomed and desensitised to the strong language in the book. Yes, there’s f**k and s**t everywhere, often used to strengthen the feeling of insecurity or lack of control, but it’s also used quite unnecessarily in many instances just for the shock factor. After the first chapter you’re at ease and almost ignore the language, but the language is part of what the book is about. Shock. Shock you into reflection and action.

“Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek. There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience.”

This is a book for the reader to engage in a meaningful and reflective way. By observing ourselves and how we act and react to the world around us we can begin to understand how we take on too much responsibility. 

I ought to say this book isn’t about how to avoid responsibility. It isn’t. It’s about how to identify things that are important in your life, and those that are not. It’s about choosing what you can do something about and the things you can’t, and how you handle the work, emotions, individuals, etc. that you feel you constantly battle against. How do the actions and motives of others affect you, how are they able dump their own inadequacies or responsibility on you and how you choose which to accept? 

The biggest take away I’ve had from this book is an clearer understanding of why I get stressed, or rather what influences I choose to accept that make me stressed. The latter half of the book is building you back up once the first half has taken you apart.

“At its core, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a book about finding what’s truly important to you and letting go of everything else. In the same way that [Mark] encourages limiting exposure to mindless distractions such as social media, television and technology, he encourages limiting concern over things that have little to no meaning or value in your life.” Huffington Post

As a Teaching and Learning Consultant / Senior Learning Technologist I find distraction as part of my work – unanswered emails, line management responsibilities, delayed or late learning resources, cancelled meetings or no-shows, etc. As work piles up or deadlines loom I feel it is my responsibility to manage these tasks, even if there are others who are or should be doing it too. I know I care too much about my work and I focus on the things I should perhaps trust to others, but I also know the results we should be aiming for and, should we miss them, I take it personally and get stuck in myself. This, as Manson says, may solve one problem but it is more likely to cause more further down the line.

This is why this has been a good book to read, and eye-opener into me and my priorities, and one I’ll no doubt return to in time. When read alongside or after Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull there are some powerful lessons we could each learn about ourselves, the place we work, and how we work with both.

The other book shown in the header image, ‘Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World‘ by Cal Newport, is next on my list. More soon, when I can concentrate long enough to not be distracted by all the… squirrel! Oh, the irony!

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education

Last year I was approached and interviewed by Microsoft. In that interview I talked about my experiences and hopes for my work, both in the sense of personal development and in how I see (and want to see) the use of technology improve in higher education. This improvement, I said, needs to come from three main areas:

  • How we, learning technologists (in our various roles and titles) perceive technology is being used, can be used, and should be used with students. These students can be classroom based or fully online, or the use of technology in a blended approach.
  • How we work with staff (academic and administrative) to introduce new technology or new ways of working with existing technology, how this relationship with our colleagues grows and whether they are the kind who are receptive to new tools and techniques or ‘ludites‘, and
  • Why we look at new technology, how we work out if there is a use for it and if so, what is it? We’re also fully aware that some technology needs to mature before it becomes an effective teaching tool (either in reliability, resilience, or in it’s adoption across the sector).

From the report:

Learning delivery in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is being reshaped before our eyes, thanks in part to advances in technology and the new pedagogical theories facilitated by that technology. In order to understand more about the ever-evolving relationship between technology and learning, we spent time speaking with six of the UK’s leading learning technologists working within HEIs.

In a series of interviews exploring current practice, changing needs and key trends, we were able to establish how digital devices are being used in universities and how cutting-edge technology can continue to compliment a sector experiencing fresh emphasis on collaboration, creation and innovation.

Key take-away messages from the interviews and report look at things like our ability to be device agnostic (despite this being a report from Microsoft Surface), seamless capability, VR and AR developments, AI, collaborative working and learning analytics.

David Hopkins reiterated the point (investment in institutional infrastructure) that the role of a learning technologist is “to make sure that the academics use their time with the students efficiently.”

Alongside key “UK’s leading learning technologists” like Mike Sharples (OU), Terese Bird (Leicester), Neil Morrise (Leeds), Rose Luckin (UCL), Dave White (UoAL) and myself, the Microsoft report concluded that “the revolution in learning technology is quickly becoming the most significant factor in improving student performance – in turn helping universities to fulfil their transformative role for society, the jobs market and the economy.”

Download the Microsoft Surface report here: The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education.

One year on: The Really Useful #EdTechBook

It’s been an eventful year in the life of The Really Useful #EdTechBook. I wanted to just look back and collect my thoughts, and give you an insight into what it means to me, and to others.

The idea
My original idea was to write about my thoughts on the use of learning / educational technology. I then realised that, for me, the world of learning technology or technology enhanced learning (or just ‘learning’, as some prefer now) is about the people I connect with and learn from. Plus, you’ve probably read enough from me these days!

So, my original idea morphed into a collaborative project where contributors brought their own experiences, knowledge, and unique perspectives to the fore, for you to learn from.

From initial conversations, tweets, emails, etc. came the idea and concept for The Really Useful #EdTechBook. Each chapter was set aside for each invited contributor to have for themselves, no real limits were imposed, but ideally between 2,000-5,000 words. I wasn’t asking for anything in particular, I didn’t want to direct or control the flow of ideas or perspectives, other then each author’s own words on their own interpretation of the book title. I was hoping that, once the chapters came in, I could apply a narrative to their order – thinking of (1) the background / history to the use of technology, (2) the current field and areas we work, and finally (3) looking forward to what we can expect or hope for in the future. As is turned out the stories and experiences were echoing and supporting each other that it became obvious there is an underlying thread of our work; that technology has not only enabled us but also constricted us in our outlook – from repeating mistakes to growing concepts and inclusion of stakeholders in all aspects of our work. 

The book is logical, insightful and provides the reader with a rich array of both personal experience and “tools” for use in education. The book will appeal to anyone who is interested in the use of technology in teaching and learning, highly recommended!” Neil WIthnell

In the year since I finalised the copy, edited the layout, read the proof editions, and sorted the cover art I have been proud, and quite humbled, at the way in which the book has been received. I wanted to say another huge thank you to each of the chapter authors and to each of you for reading, commenting, sharing, etc. all details on the book and it’s contents.

To date (early January, 2016) there have been 2,340 downloads of the PDF edition. It is really hard to work out definitive numbers for the Kindle and paper edition, due to the number of different systems it’s available through, and the very complex reporting method each of them has, but I think the numbers of purchased editions are in the region of 80 paper copies and 250 Kindle editions. I didn’t start this project, this journey for the sales, but it’s gratifying to know the chapters and book concept has resonated with you, the reader, in some small way.

Some other links / information for you:

Earlier this year I was contacted by Vicki Davies, from the Every Classroom Matters podcast. Vicki asked me to talk to her and her avid listeners about the process, and reasoning, behind being a self-published author, which was itself published earlier this month – Every Classroom Matters Podcast).

So, what next then?
I have considered a second edition or The Extended / Next Really Useful #EdTechBook, if you like. I’ve been contacted over the past year with people interested in both writing for it as well as other who’d love to read it, but I figure the concept doesn’t lend itself to a sequel – tell me if you think I’m wrong?

I am considering other forms and concepts for a second collaborative project. If you’re interested in either reading or writing it with me then please get in touch and we’ll continue to develop it together!! You know where I am!

"A very insightful and extensive collection of authentic accounts by practitioners who identify themselves as Learning Technologists in a variety of educational settings." Chrissi Nerantzi

“A very insightful and extensive collection of authentic accounts by practitioners who identify themselves as Learning Technologists in a variety of educational settings.  This reminds us of the fast pace of change in this relatively new profession, the variety of roles and responsibilities as well as the passion of these individuals for supporting change, innovation and transformation in the digital age. Challenges and opportunities linked to professional identity, engagement and positioning are discussed.” Chrissi Nerantzi

"The Really Useful #EdTechBook does exactly what it promises on its cover. It draws together a useful, diverse, eclectic set of visions and commentaries that together provide the reader with a lucid and comprehensive vista of educational technology." Steve Wheeler

“The Really Useful #EdTechBook does exactly what it promises on its cover. It draws together a useful, diverse, eclectic set of visions and commentaries that together provide the reader with a lucid and comprehensive vista of educational technology.” Steve Wheeler

Showcasing different approaches to building a #CMALT portfolio #ALTC

As part of the 2015 Winter ALTC Conference I am chairing a session on CMALT portfolios, and the creative ways to design and publish them.

This session will showcase three portfolios from recently accredited Certified Members, Elizabeth Charles (Birkbeck), David Watson (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) and Daniel Villalba Algas (Sheffield University). Facilitated by David Hopkins (Warwick Business School) we will focus on exploring different approaches to building CMALT portfolios and discuss how different job roles can be reflected.

In preparation for this event we’d appreciate your stories, experience, or progress on your journey to CMALT (on-going, completed, passed, failed, given up, etc.) by dropping a pin on our Padlet notice board.

If you have the time please join us online for the webinar Showcasing different approaches to building a CMALT portfolio – Wednesday December 9th, 2015, at 9:30AM.

Image source: ALT (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Every Classroom Matters: How Teachers Can Self-Publish Books #edtechchat

Earlier this year I was invited to share my experiences of self publishing my work as eBooks with Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) on the Every Classroom Matters podcast, broadcast through the BAM Radio Network.

David Hopkins is a leading and respected Learning Technologist from the UK. He earned the award of Highly Commended Learning Technologist of the Year from the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) in 2014, and is the author of several books on and around learning technology and understanding the roles of Learning Technologists. His most recently self-published work is ‘The Really Useful #EdTechBook’, which is described as a ’mix of academic, practical and theoretical offerings is a useful recipe book for any Learning Technologist’ by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technology, University of Plymouth.

In the recording we discuss the process and purpose of writing a book, the details of getting from Word to MOBI or EPUB files, the value and difficulties of different publishing platforms, etc. Here are some links to support it:

I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you have – leave a comment below, or contact me on Google+ or Twitter.

The Interview Process #altc

From this year’s ALT conference I enjoyed (finally) meeting Wayne Barry, EdTechBook contributor, and chatting about his ALTC presentation.

Wayne’s presentation looked at a different way of interviewing candidates for Learning Technologist positions using standard questions and short presentations, but also the inclusion of a short role-play exercise. Each candidate is given advance notice that they will engage with an ‘academic’ who is interested in introducing elements of distance learning to their module. During the short exercise (many people took issue with the use of the term ‘role-play’) candidates will exhibit both knowledge of their discipline as well as the ability to listen, engage, problem solve, and debate with a member of the team taking the role of an academic.

So, how do you find out if someone will fit in to your office and team environment? Can you do this by just questions? Do competency based questions offer enough space for someone to fudge their way through the process, or rather offer the interviewers enough insight to see the tRuth behind the candidate?

This reminds me of this video, from Heineken: Job Interview. Slightly over the top, but you get the idea – by changing the process you find out many different things (hopefully good) about the candidates. Enjoy!

YouTube: Job interview at Heineken

I’m going to … #altc

As part of the 2015 ALTC conference a few PDFs were provided, in a flipped classroom approach, for us to advertise our thoughts, expectations, or hopes for our time at the conference. I decided to draw mine, here it is. What’s yours?

ALTC 2015 Sketchnote

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gearing up for #ALTC 2015

So, with only two weeks to go before this years ALT conference (ALTC) it’s time to start making sense of the programme and sessions, see what’s happening and when, and then trying to work out how to be in several places at once.

So, after a first pass at the ALTC programme here are my plans, subject to change once I spend more time reading more of the abstracts and changing my mind. I think I may need to compare notes with someone who can get to some of the sessions I miss? 

ALTRC 2015 Programme

Other ways I’m getting ready and gearing up for ALTC is making sure I have the necessary ‘stuff’ around me, and working, now so I won’t be rushing on the days before hand. Perhaps the most important is to have enough power with me for phone and tablet, for this I’ll be taking a wall charger as well as an Anker Astro Mini battery.

For note and sketchnotes I’ll be taking both my old, not quite full notebook I’ve used at previous events and my new ALT Moleskine notebook (thank you ALT!)

As always I’ll really enjoy the sessions as well as catching up with old friends, and making new ones .. and meeting ‘virtual’ friends for the first time. So please come and say hello, either in the sessions or in the down-time between (and at the evening events!)!

Big question .. how many sketchnotes can I get this year? Comments?

Image source: Mike Kniec (CC BY 2.0)