Making PowerPoint active not passive

This is a 9th entry in a series on ‘putting the fun back into fundamental learning’.

A lot of people criticise PowerPoint because of the well known phenomenon of ‘Death by PowerPoint’, but it isn’t PowerPoint that is at fault but the people creating the presentations (or the people that haven’t trained and educated them) that are too blame. What is really sad is that many people know that they have produced an ineffective presentation but still use it anyway. The problem with bad PowerPoint presentations, is they tend become a very passive form of learning – the tutor puts the presentation on the screen, talks a bit (often just reading the words on the screen) in a hope that the students will absorb this information. It doesn’t help that we often have to darken the room by drawing blinds or curtains to make the presentation show up, but that just helps with the sleepy effect and the students will drift off….

So – if we don’t want to make the presentation passive then we need to make it active – in other words getting the students to do something. Over the years I have found many ideas for making presentations more active, and have shared templates with others through this blog and the PowerPoint resources section of my website

These examples include:-

Editable text boxes

The template that I use most within PowerPoint, is editable text boxes. These are really easy to use, they reduce the preparation time for the presentation significantly and make the learning more active, so a win all round situation!

I often use these at the end of a session to summarise what has been learned, or if doing a comparing activity (e.g. advantages v disadvantages of something). Basically – you add your editable text box into your presentation, the students suggest what goes in the, you type them in (or if you have a wireless keyboard, they can type them in) at the end of the session when you save your presentation all the contributions will be kept, so you can share the presentation with the students via the VLE or similar.

Countdown timers

If you set the students a task (which is a good way of making the learning active), then use a timer to keep time – this helps keep the tutor to schedule and helps focus the learners on the task and not to drift off into other distracting activities.

Score Ladders

Some people think that competition within education is a bad thing. My background is in the area of sport science, so I believe that competition (used appropriately) is a good thing. I would often split a class into teams for an activity and pitch them against each other as a way of focusing them and motivating them. Score ladders can be used to keep score within teams (up to 6) and can be used with verbal questions or any other non-technology related activity.

Top 6 activity

I once started a new topic with a simple activity to set the scene / break the ice, where the students (split into 2 teams) had to identify the top 6 something to do with that topic. The activity worked really well, and the template that I created to make this can be adapted very easily for other topics – as long as you have a list of top 6 somethings (or an ordered list).

An example activity can be found here.


(note to make the next link work, right click on the link and choose ‘save’ then open the file from where you have saved it- otherwise it may open in the Internet window rather than PowerPoint)

The blank template can be found here

The blank template includes instructions on how to use the resource within the notes section (often visible at the bottom of the screen)

The principle of all the above resources is that as long as a tutor has the ability to copy and paste then they can add these templates to existing or new presentations – make the learning more active and hopefully more engaging and effective.

All of the templates above are free for people working in education to use and to share (e.g. on their VLEs).

How to use DSpeech to convert text to audio

DSpeech is a free piece of software which can be downloaded to a computer, or can run from a memory stick as part of the eduapps suite, and it allows a user to convert text to audio in MP3 format (so they can listen to it on computer or music player)

I like this piece of software, as it puts the learner in control of their adaptions rather than having to rely on someone else to either dictate for them, or to do the conversion, and this isn’t just useful for students with disabilities, but any learner who may not want to read a long piece of text, they can listen to it instead – and if they listen to it a few times (e.g. whilst doing something else) then they can pick up useful information that they would easily miss if just trying to read the information.

Using Jaiku to send text messages to learners for free

Text messaging has been used by educational establishments for quite a few years now. In the early days most people had a 1 way system set up, where the tutor could send texts to the learners, to notify them of things like room changes or reminders to turn up. Then some systems allowed for 2 way communication which opened up all sorts of learning opportunities, but either way there is a cost attached. Most services charge between 5p and 12p per text, which doesn’t sound a lot, but when sending a message to say 30 students once a week, this quickly adds up. I personally used to manage the text messaging system for 1 team in 1 college, and we were spending an average of about £6 – £7 per day, and looking at the history of messages being spent, many were either unneccessary, or really essential (and the problem with that is some learners don’t have phones want to give out their mobile number).

So back to Jaiku – Jaiku is a hybrid of micro-blogging and social networking, a bit like FaceBook but without the zombies, snowballs, various types of wall and all the other things I don’t see the point of. Jaiku is much purer – it is primarily text based, with each person created an ‘account’ and then connecting to other people. You post to the site giving an update of what you are doing, and everyone who is connected to you sees that. But the beauty of Jaiku is that it can be used in conjunction with a mobile phone. So I can send a message to Jaiku from my phone (this costs me 21p so I don’t do it very often – other people on different data plans this is less). But more interestingly I can set Jaiku up to send any messages that my contacts post, to my phone – and this is completely free.

There are then 2 ways to play this:-

1) A tutor could create a Jaiku account to support a group of learners, the learners can then create Jaiku accounts, set themselves up to receive text message alerts. They then connect to the tutor so when he/she posts a message to Jaiku (from their computer) they get the message sent to their phone – with no cost to either party.

2) A tutor could have 1 Jaiku account, and then set up something called channels – with 1 channel for each group of learners. With channels, what the tutor has to do is identify which channel they want to send a message to, so the right learners get the right message.

The thing that I like about this model, is that it puts learner in complete control of what they recieve. They choose whether to create a Jaiku account, they choose whether to connect to the tutor or not, they choose whether to get messages sent to their phone or not. When I have suggested this model at training sessions, some staff are concerned that if some learners don’t do all the steps they won’t get the messages and this is a serious problem – but in reality a learner has always had the right to not provide a mobile phone number, so wouldn’t have got messages anyway. This also makes staff think about the way they use these technologies. we need to move on from reminding learners that its a Monday and therefore they need to get to College.

And then there are the people saying that having invested so heavily into a VLE that we should be using some function in that  (just because its there), well with Jaiku you can get an RSS feed, which means if you use for example Moodle you can add an RSS block that takes that feed – this way people not accessing the messages from their phone will still be able to access them.

And when you start using Jaiku, and realising that you can add in RSS feeds from other sources (Flickr, YouTube, Veotag, Gabcast…..) you can create a very rich learning environment.

Oh and did I mention this is all free.