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Whiteboards? Tablets? Smart paper? Hmmm… #edtech #uoltech – thanks 2 @oneiseitwopi & @ul_berg

October 6, 2011

The web is cruel and direct: not writing for two months looks like a nice long holiday. It was in fact the opposite, with 4 presentations at ALT-C 2011 and several new projects at my University. All in good time, though (or just look on your right and you’ll see the links to the recorded sessions ;)).

Last week, thanks to an @ul_berg initiative, I attended a very informative and thought-out presentation by Jill Johnston from the University of Sydney talking about why students still bother to come to lectures even if everything is recorded and available online after the session. It kind of boiled down to students being social beings and lecturers being able to provide a lot of added value when meeting face-to-face as opposed to online.

Yet I’m not going to talk about that, but about something which I found quite amusing. Jill referenced 2 papers as a fun starting point: one from 2000 asking whether the new kid PowerPoint will ever end up replacing the blackboard, and one from 2008 asking whether the new kid Lecture Capture will ever end up replacing the lecturer.

As people were half-smiling around the room but actually taking the second question rather too seriously for my liking, I thought I’d share what one of my colleagues – Steven @oneiseitwopi – had just told me 30min before the session: he is a lecturer in Medicine and a confident and frequent PowerPoint user. Last year he joined in a bit of fun I was having with PaperShow, a smartpen which basically enables you to have a very cheap (about £80 at this time on Ryman) wireless interactive whiteboard that you can walk around with and pass to your audience. What Steven is experimenting with this year is to deliver sessions without any PowerPoint: only with hand-drawn explanations and graphs done live in front and with the help of an audience  by using a smartpen and smartpaper. He’s done this for the last 6 hours of his teaching and, together with a colleague, he sees a lot of excitement and appreciation among their students:

  • the content is covered at a much slower, digestible rate;
  • it almost becomes a story which Wizard Steven is creating under their very eyes and which they can tailor to their needs by asking questions and seeing the answers materialise alongside other explanations.

To me this is so elegant it’s worth giving Steven a hug every day for the rest of his life. However, what it is not quite so, is simple. It looks simple on the outside, but then again so did Steve Jobs’ presentations. Like Steve, Steven prepares thoroughly for his sessions. Unlike Steve, Steven is not afraid to come out of his comfort zone and draw/write live in front of a large audience.

So I wonder: how many people will actually go for something like this? How many people in universities are comfortable using visualisers, interactive whiteboards, and all the technologies that make teaching and learning fun because you’re a bit out of your comfort zone (unless you are a hybrid between one of the animators working for RSA and … you as the subject matter expert)? How many people put their hands up when asked if they like drawing? (not many according to Jay Cross and my heart sinks a little at how seriously we’ve come to take ourselves…)

So where are we? What technology can let us do what we would like to in order to make face-to-face sessions more engaging and effective? Well, we have a few options at this stage:

  • PaperShow is a great wake-up call for those who have become a bit too dependent on PowerPoint. That is not to say that PowerPoint will die – presentations will still need to be given and I think you only need to glance at the work done by Duarte Design, Garr Reynolds and their friends to see why presentation software will still be needed.
  • Prezi is an interesting alternative for folks who would like to do a little bit of something like kinetic typography (but not know they want it) and stick in some videos, too. I saw a very cool example at the ALT-C conference where it was used as a portal to a whole range of other resources – a dude had set a picture of a tree as the background, and all the resources his team were offering were either leaves or flowers depending on their type. Looked neat!
  • tablets are still the way forward for me (not necessarily the Wacom type, but rather the Android/iPad type IMHO), but we’ve still got a little bit to wait until they are as cheap, sensitive and accurate as people want them, and until wireless projection becomes common and folks can walk around annotating, drawing, etc. and sharing (having just mentioned accuracy, I remember seeing an example of an artist using MyPaint on a Nokia 900 – unbelievable!!! and I got this phone 3 years ago 🙂

For the time being, though, I am off to find Steven and give him a big hug 🙂

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