Put Away the Powerpoint – Getting Creative in Lectures

Often the best lectures are those that don’t feel like lectures. A good presentation is one that keeps you interested and engaged, wondering what will come next. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to witness a few really outstanding lectures; ones that really made me sit up and pay attention, and these are my top three:

Prezi

I will never forget the first time I ever saw a Prezi. It blew my mind! There was colour and movement, and everything was connected. I had no idea that a Wuthering Heights character analysis could be so interesting! I really loved the fact that the whole presentation was laid out like a mind-map on the screen, zooming in and out to the pieces of information that were relevant. The presentation had lots of pictures, and short, punchy quotes rather than huge slabs of text. It was also constantly in motion, which kept my interest peaked. It was almost like being at the movies! (Minus the popcorn of course).

Audience Participation

Another trick in the Best Lectures handbook is to get the audience involved.  I remember going to a presentation where everybody was handed a piece of cardboard on entry. One side was red and the other green, and at intervals, the audience was asked to show either red or green in answer to a question. A camera then scanned the audience and the results were shown on the screen. It made the presentation interactive and fun – who doesn’t like being asked for their opinion? And while that particular kind of technology isn’t readily available at Macquarie, the same effect can be achieved using clickers, or apps such as Poll Everywhere. I have also seen these apps used to check understanding, and help decide which topics need more focus and when to move on – kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure lecture.

Movement

Lastly, I find that the best presentations are those that combine interaction with getting up out of my seat. I’m a helpless fidget, so I was overjoyed in one education workshop when we were asked to get hands-on. We moved around the room, viewing interactive pictures with an app we had pre-installed on our smartphones. All around the classroom pictures of spaceships came to life in 3D, dragons crawled out of the pages of a children’s book and onto my screen, and I nearly made myself sick riding a rollercoaster through a cardboard virtual-reality headset. While this may not sound overly educational – and I can already hear my peers admonishing that virtual rollercoasters are in no way helpful or relatable to their statistics lectures – I think that the idea of getting hands-on in lectures is one that shouldn’t be ignored. Also, making students get up and move around is a sure-fire way of making sure no one is asleep (I’m looking at you in the back corner!).

The theme I think all of these presentations have in common is creativity. While the changes they made were not necessarily ground breaking, or requiring huge amounts of effort, I appreciated the fact that these presenters put away the Powerpoint and looked outside the box to make their lectures something special.

This article was written by our PACE Teche intern, Anneliese Hoffman.

One thought on “Put Away the Powerpoint – Getting Creative in Lectures”

  1. Hi Annaliese.

    Some good ideas here, although I do feel that the fun activities (some of which I have used myself) are somewhat lost on students who are participating in lectures remotely, and often not ‘live’. These activities are perhaps more an argument for replacing lectures with workshops, unless lecture attendance is required. With many units being offered in both external mode and internal, there is potential for the external mode participants to feel quite left out.

    For more interactive lectures, I’d like to see radio mikes in all lecture theatres, and remote controls for the slides. Then lecturers would be less tied to the lecturn while still being able to capture the lecture recording for those listening on Echo later.

    A final thought: my bottom line on what makes a good lecture remains whether it helped people learn something valuable. The fun part might help, or it could distract…

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