To Slide or not to Slide (Part 2)

After the workshop at #Undisciplining had gone rather well, I finally had some time to actually focus on the second session I needed to prepare for a conference in June. And initially I had been thinking of focusing this on an overview. If you are interested in how things fit together and/or on different levels contained within them, a tool like a prezi presentation that allows you to zoom in can be used to great effect.

However, as I reflected on what I wanted to do in the context of the conference I decided against the prezi and went with the traditional slides instead. The point of this particular talk was to present three different analogies I use within teaching and show some examples of how they work in practice. That could have been an overview, first framing the problem and then delving into the layers of how to solve it. The crucial thing, however, is that these analogies are not really linked to each other. They are all stand-alone, and the only thing they have in common is that they are all ‘everyday’ analogies, quite mundane things that my students will be familiar with (board games, clothes, sea creatures). As there is no real link between the analogies, I felt that the overview would not work, and on the contrary, that it might rather confuse. Slides are great when you want to walk people through something step-by-step. When moving on to the next slide, you can change the subject, mood and – most important – the focus of what you are saying, and of what your audience is thinking about (if they are listening, that is…).So in this case, I decided ‘to slide’.

I think this is also the reason I often use slides for my lectures. They allow me to boil down what I am saying into the most pertinent points to give a visual cue to remind me of what I wanted to talk about; for example they allow me to put up a quotation and then talk about just this, without distraction from anything else, before we move on. Ideally I then also have a whiteboard to further develop some of the point and sometimes I develop the overview on that – but this is development that happens in class, and is not pre-prepared – as it might come across when using a prezi.

I have heard people sneer at slide presentations and then present prezis that were basically just zooming from slide-like frame to slide-like frame. I think there is little point in doing that, if what you are saying is linear, you might as well use a slide format! A prezi makes most sense if you are exploring layers, not a standard sequence. The bad rep that slide presentations often get (Death by Powerpoint, etc.) isn’t due to the nature of them being a slide presentation, but rather down to bad design of the individual slides!

I guess my point is this: whether preparing a workshop, a conference presentation or a lecture, the tools we choose to use frame what it is possible to do. That’s what Fiona (2012) talks about when she talks about the ‘affordances’ of a genre. The traditional or conventional genre – in this case (PowerPoint) slides – might be exactly the right tool for the job. But it also might not be. It really depends on what you are trying to do. And that is well worth reflecting on before you choose what tools to use, rather than just go with the standard option.

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