Responding to Bex’s blog post http://mavendorf.tumblr.com/post/43978411437/useful-things-what-i-have-discovered-as-a-learning some really useful stuff in there. The comment about not being precious about sharing your materials is so true. I still don’t understand the rationale behind not sharing stuff. As I said at an ALT conference presentation on repositories*, there are only three justifiable reasons for not sharing your teaching materials – because they’re crap, they’re ripped off or they’re not finished. Most people in the room agreed with me, but it’s surprising how often you’ll come across someone who doesn’t want anyone else to use the stuff they’ve produced. And it’s usually the people who don’t have that much stuff to share. I assume it’s because it is so rare for them to create something they want to hang on to every litte bit.
One of the first projects I did in eLearning was the DIVERSE project – a TLTP funded project which had room built lecture capture equipment at various universities. A lot of the lecturers refused to have their lectures videoed; their fear was that if a lecture they gave was recorded, then it could be used in future instead of them. The reponse of the project manager was that if someone could be replaced by a video then they should be. The point being was that if all they brought to a session was exactly the same as they brought the previous time, and would to the next, then they aren’t worth employing as a teacher anyway.
The same is true of a presentation, or any learning materials. If they essence of what you do in a presentation or a lesson can be reduced to a PowerPoint presentation, then what you do isn’t very good. There’s a book by Hubert Knoblauch http://cus.sagepub.com/content/2/1/75 about PowerPoint presentations, which examines this … I remember his keynote partly because his was the only presentation apart from mine at the conference I saw it at that was in English, but mainly because it really put the final nail in the coffin of every complaint against PowerPoint. His point is that the important part in a presentation isn’t the presentation materials, it’s the presenter; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it as a medium. If a presentation is done badly with it, it’s because the presenter is a bad presenter. I’m at a conference next week, and PowerPoint was banned in the earlier years it ran; now text in PowerPoint is banned. I enjoy the difference in approach, but really it misses the point. It’s not text, it’s too much text, it’s not PowerPoint, it’s people who read off screen. Remove the PowerPoint and replace it with someone reading off a bit of paper – it’s still going to be awful. And really, unless English isn’t your first language, then there’s no excuse for reading out your paper. You should know your subject well enough to talk about it with only a few prompts. If you don’t then don’t waste my time talking about it.
The other extreme is the pseudo-hip and trendy TED stuff where the presenter is usually totally the focus and if any imagery is used it’s very flashy. Sometimes this works, but usually it just looks and sounds very cheesy. It’s academia trying to be too rock n roll and it’s just a bit embarassing really. Yes you want to be entertained to some extent, but substance beats style hands down every time. I would still argue though, that the majority of the substance is you, the presenter, your ideas, and the way you communicate with your audience. And no matter how many times your materials are downloaded, re-used, replicated, that’s stil unique to you.
*Childs, M., Bell, V., Rothery, A., Smith, K. and Thomas, A. (2006) Digital Repositories: The next big thing or another failed learning technology?, ALT-C 2006