Non-verbal Communication

February 24, 2009

travels-with-herodotus1

I recently finished reading Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book “Travels with Herodotus”. I particularly liked the following passage:

Negusi knew only two expressions n English: “problem” and “no problem”. But using this gibberish we communicated ably in the most fraught circumstances. In conjunction with the wordless signals particular to each human being and which can speak volumes f only we would observe him carefully – drink it in, as it were – two words sufficed for us to feel no chasm between us and made traveling together possible”

To me this sums up the role of non-verbal communication. Its possible to understand each other with using words.

This is missing when communication only takes place in writing – as when we use e-mail, carry out electronic conferencing, when conducting “e-learning” and in other situations where we rely on written and verbal communication only. Without face to face contact it is so easy for things to be misunderstood and misinterpreted because the signals given through gestures, body language etc are missing.

Another problem with e-communication is the asynchronous nature of the conversation. Its like playing correspondence chess – there can be long gaps between each “move” and take a long time to complete something which would be over relatively quickly face to face. It is also very easy for the conversation to move off at tangents, which can be difficult to bring back to the original direction.

I found this presentation on Slideshare

I think it is an excellent example of how to use Powerpoint for teaching.

The slides are well designed with good use of colour, contrast graphics and text and text. There isn’t too much detail on any one slide. The number of words per slide is relatively low

There are lots of slides, which has enabled the producer to achieve the above. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, quite the contrary. The alternative is to cram a lot more detail onto a smaller number of slides but what does this achieve? Horrible, cluttered slides which are not easy to read and too much detail to take in. The total time for the talk will be the same, so why not have more, uncluttered slides that are changed more frequently

    I like the use of a “virtual coach” for the slideshare presentation. I guess this avatar is “saying” what the lecturer would say in the real world classroom. A nice touch, I think

    Powerpoint in the Classroom

    February 20, 2009

    Following on frm yesterday’s post, I found an intersting video of a talk by Vera Polyakova-Norwood of the University of South Carolina on “Waking up from Powerpoint Induced Sleep”.

    One key point she makes is that students these days have an expectation that their teachers will use Powerpoint to deliver, what Vera calls a”Readers Digest” education, avoiding the need to read more detailed accounts in text books. In other words the use of Powerpoint can lead to a dumbing down of teaching if we aren’t careful.

    Students also expect their teachers to hand out copies of their slides (so they can avoid taking notes) and the pros and cons of this and alternative approaches are discussed.

    The strengths of Powerpoint (and other slideware) covered in her talk include

    • ease of use
    • it can be a good organising tool
    • it makes it easy to provide handouts
    • students like it
    • it can organise student note taking

    The main weaknesses she identifies include

    • learning should be active – slideware is passive
    • it isn’t good at distributing large amounts of information
    • it inhibits spontaneous feedback
    • it is not good in conveying information using non-linear paths
    • it is not good at recording input from the audience

    Her conclusion is that Powerpoint should be used judiciously in the classroom, and that teaching strategies and learning activities should be varied. I’d agree with her on both of these points. Sldeware has a role to play, but it is only one tool that sometimes aids teaching. But there are other tools and approaches that we can use and may be better suited to effective teaching in many situations.

    Overall I thought it was a good talk. She made a lot of valid points and raised some interesting issues. However, I thought that she could have applied the principles to her own visuals, though. She used some slides that were quite heavy with bullet points and there was some poor use of colour (I was not entirely convinced when she tried to pass this off as due to the projector)

    Teaching with Powerpoint

    February 19, 2009

    projector

    There’s been a lot of discussion by bloggers interested in presentation on the role of slideware such as Powerpoint and the design of slides for presentations. In particular write a post on the theme “What I’d like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009″. She got a good response and published a summary of the comments in a number of posts in her own blog.

    The general trend is that most contributors to the discussion were supportive of the ideas on slide design popularised in two books published last year; Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds and Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. They advocate paying careful attention to slide design:

    • making them clean, simple and uncluttered,
    • using pictures
    • avoiding bullet points
    • minimising the amount of text on any one slide

    This approach works well for keynote presentations at conferences and business meetings, and can help to avoid the “death by Powerpoint” which is too often a feaure of presentations using slideware.

    Most of the discussion, however, has concentrated on business presentations. There has been very little consideration of the role and use of slideware for teaching.

    I think that the most important thing to remember is that teaching isn’t about making presentations. Its about getting people to learn and that can involve different approaches. Sometimes talking at people is necessary – and Powerpoint can make presentations more interesting (or at least help keep people’s attention), providing it’s used effectively. Even then the best presenters / lecturers will try to involve ther audience and not simply lecture at them. But the most effective way of getting people to learn is to involve them – active rather than passive learning – and throwing up a load of slides, no matter how well designed they are, isn’t always an effective way of doing this.

    Slideware, such as Powerpoint, does have a role to play in teaching. It can be a useful tool in lectures to larger audiences and when getting a lot of information across to smaller groups. But sometime other techniques are more appropiate. When using slideware , careful thought needs to be given to how it can be used effectively for the different types of situation.

    I need to give more thought to this and expect I’ll blog on about it in in future posts.