• Dave Foord
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Using Google Docs (Drive) to create a collaborative learning activity

Google Docs or Google Drive as it has changed it’s name to, is a suite of office tools that work via the internet and store the different files in the cloud (on the internet) rather than locally onto the computer. This has huge advantages in terms of the files are backed up automatically, can be edited on a variety of different computers (including Smart phones) and they allow multiple people to contribute or view the files.

It is the ability to allow multiple people to edit that makes Google Docs an excellent collaborative learning tool, as it is possible to set up activities where different learners are accessing and editing the same document at the same time – this means that they can see and respond to what each other is doing in real time.

An example of such an activity is one that I ran recently used at a training event as part of the Advanced Teacher Learning Coaches programme. This took me about 10 minutes to create and set up, so nice and quick, and the learning experience was far greater than doing this in a non-collaborative way. If you want to use the activity above (possibly swapping in your own websites for your particular area), click on the link above, then save a copy of this (from the file menu) – you can then alter the sharing settings to allow other people to edit it. A video showing how to do this can be found below.

Using Google Docs for collaborative activities – is a great way of working with higher order thinking skills. What I will often do is set a simple task where each person or small group of people have to edit an area within the document answering a question or questions. What I then do is ask everyone to swap areas (e.g. so they are looking at someone else’s contribution) – I can then ask a more challenging question – such as critique the other person’s responses, or present a counter argument to their point, or ask them to identify which of the points made by the first group would also be examples of….. etc. and if time allows, then I sometimes set a third question where they look at a third different set of responses and answer another challenging task or question.

Another really useful feature within Google Docs, is that you can see the revision history – so you can identify which people have contributed most (and when) – which can be useful if doing this as part of an assessed activity – and you can roll back to earlier versions of a document, so if someone does something very damaging (e.g. deleting everything, writing something defamatory, or using it to cyber bully) you can roll back to an earlier version (or restore point).

The fact that these documents will work on most if not all Smart phones makes this a really powerful, versatile and truly mobile opportunity.

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A good practice guide for PowerPoint

Many people think that PowerPoint is old hat – there are lots of negative posts about the bad use of PowerPoint, and I have noticed that many organisation are no longer offering PowerPoint training to staff as there is a belief that everyone knows about PowerPoint nowadays. Sadly this is not the case; I regularly have to endure really bad PowerPoint presentations – often from people that are very high up in organisations promoting either the use of technology or quality in education – yet their PowerPoint use is appalling.

A few years ago when I was running PowerPoint training regularly, people often asked me for some guidance information about what they should or shouldn’t do when using PowerPoint, and so I pulled together a document, detailing the things that I do, when I am using PowerPoint. Most of the considerations are based on straight forward good teaching and learning practice, and things that make the presentation more accessible to disabled learners. My document isn’t intended as a step by step ‘how to guide’ (as this would then become obsolete every time a different version of PowerPoint came out) – instead it says what should be done and why. This means that this document could be used for any presentation medium not just PowerPoint.

I struggled to think of a good name for my document, so in the end I just called it ‘The Dave Foord Guide to PowerPoint’ – simply because that is what it is – it is the set of rules/practices that I personally follow when using PowerPoint.

The guide is available for others to download, print and reuse from the PowerPoint section of my website http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php

If any organisations would like me to run training for their staff on the effective use of presentation tools such as PowerPoint, then please contact me, my details are at http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php

Below is a short video introducing ‘The Dave Foord Guide to PowerPoint’

Creating a quick fire PowerPoint (Pecha Kucha)

This is idea 2, in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning‘.

One activity that you can ask learners to do in any subject or topic, is to ask them to create a PowerPoint presentation that explains a topic or subject, which they then present back to the rest of the class. The problem with this, though is that the learners often produce very bad presentations (based on having seen many bad ones delivered to them) which they then proceed to bore the rest of the class with, which if you have lots of learners in the group, then takes about 3 weeks to sit through each presentation.

One idea to help reduce these problems would be to introduce the idea of Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha was an idea from 2003, where the presentation is limited to 20 slides, each of which is on the screen for 20 seconds exactly, limiting the presentation to 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and with presenters rolling on one after another during a Pecha Kucha event. More information can be found at http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

The presentations become very punchy, to the point, and non-waffley. At first some learners will probably find it challenging, but all the learners will be in the same boat, and as long as it is managed in a light hearted way (and don’t assess them, or at least not at first attempt) it should be more engaging than sitting bored through each others 10 minute presentations of lots of text that no-one can read.

An example Pecha Kucha on Pecha Kucha can be seen at

The easiest way to manage this, would be to give them the starting PowerPoint template which has the automatic slide transitions created, so all they have to do is to add the content. I have created a Pecha Kucha template that can be used by others. This has the timings already built in, as well as a black horiztonal bar at the bottom which acts as a 20 second timer on each slide. All someone has to do is add the content (e.g. images) to the slides.

We then need to encourage learners to use graphics more than words – so I would point them to image searching techniques such as Xpert, and Compfight which I have blogged about before. Show them how to do screen capturing, and then cropping images, resizing etc. This can be simply done using the PrtScn button on keyboard and then pasting into PowerPoint, then using the formatting options to crop, resize, rotate if desired. You can even blur parts of the image by placing a semi transparent shape on top of the image, to blur parts, leaving the important bit clear etc, but basically you can let the learners artistic ideas to flourish, and if using this technique a few times, it would develop higher order thinking skills, as the learners have to think about what the key pieces of information are, and how best to represent them visually and to communicate them succinctly etc.

Simple drawing techniques in PowerPoint

I have been called many things in my time (some pleasant, some less so) including perfectionist, obsessive behaviour, pedantic. Now I don’t think that I am a perfectionist (if you saw the state of my house, office, car – you would see why), but in one area of work I am certainly pedantic, and I think I have developed an obsessive disorder. This area is the way that people create images in Word or PowerPoint:-

I often see high level presentations, keynote speeches, websites and even expensive glossy printed literature advocating the use of technology – where they have created sloppy drawn images – now this frustrates me, and when I am sat in the audience and someone is ‘training’ me – I look at their badly drawn image on the screen, and think ‘You cannot even run a spellchecker, you can’t draw 2 boxes the same size, and why is there a gap in that bent arrow? – How can I trust your expertise on……’

Although others may not react in the same way to me, I am sure that all will agree that a well constructed diagram or image will have a far better impact on learners than a sloppy image – and the sad truth is that it is very easy to do (unfortunately though the skills are often not taught).

So in order to right the wrongs I have produced this sequence of 5 screencasts, showing how it is possible to quickly create a professional looking flowchart in PowerPoint (or Word or Excel).

The first video was the introduction seen above

The second video looks at how to create the shapes, making sure they are all the same size, all formatted the same.

The third video looks at what has to be the best kept secret within Microsoft Office – and that is the align and distribute tools, if you haven’t used them before please have a look – they will save you lots of time and make a huge difference to your output.

The forth video, shows the second best kept secret within Office – the connectors tool, which will again save lots of time and improve the quality of output.

And the final video, shows the group, and ungroup tools within Office.

I hope that these videos will make a difference to the quality of presentations that are used, and will help me to overcome my obsessive behaviours and PowerPoint rage!

The videos above although produced by myself belong to the JISC RSC SE.

Being talked at just doesn’t work for me!

Last week I  spent 3 days being trained (by 2 different organisations) in preparation for a programme that I will be working on this year. I will start by stating that compared to previous experiences the training was actually quite good, with excellent communicators, well paced presentations, ample time for breaks and networking – but (and this is a big but) the training was probably 80-90% being talked at (and often accompanied by badly produced PowerPoint slides).

Now this model of training doesn’t work for me at all – I need to do things – I cannot just listen and absorb information, I need to do something with that information in order to fully understand it, comprehend it, and be able to use it, and I am sure that I am not alone in being this way. I do my best, by having my laptop with me, and recording the information into a Mind Map – which helps me to stay focussed, gives me a permanent record of my notes and the process of creating the map is itself an example of me ‘using’ the information (much more so than just writing it down on paper in the order that it happens to come out of the presenters mouth), but after 3 days, even this wasn’t enough.

I am not the sort of person that gives criticism without ever suggesting improvements so what could have been done differently?

Give me the presentation electronically

We were given printed handouts of the PowerPoint presentations – but for me, I would rather have it in electronic format – that way I can make notes into the Presentation itself as we go along – this is much easier for me to manage and keep for the future, as well as allowing me to spend more time processing the information, rather than just copying out (either onto paper or typing) the information that is in the presentation.

Pre-prepare some of the information into a video

There were times over the 3 days, where the different presenters were giving ‘standard’ talks that they obviously do over and over again – and quite often spent 10 minutes saying what could have been said in about 3 minutes. In these cases, that person could have created a short, planned video of what they wanted to say. When people do this, they tend to say less than when they are stood in front of a live audience – which means that it is often more concise, can be referred to at a later date if necessary and breaks up the monotony of the day. Having played and watched the video – you then have a chance for a few questions – a far more engaging model than just ‘preaching’

Make use of the audience’s skill

All of the people that were in the audience were (or should have been from the application process) experienced educators and trainers – but this wasn’t recognised in the training, as we were regularly told things that we do naturally – With ‘train the trainer’ type training, things need to be changed to cater for the different audiences skills.

Don’t just read out printed information

For all 3 days training there was some very good printed resources to accompany the training – which was great – they were well written, easy to use and a good resource for me to use over the coming year. But for some reason the trainers felt the need to in essence read the resources to me. OK I am not the quickest of readers – but I can read, so that was just wasted time. Letting me quietly read the information and then doing something with it would have been far more useful.

Rant over!