Friday, June 24, 2011

Presentations and Raw Teaching At SMU Revisited

Two years ago I read an article detailing a movement at SMU to remove technology from their classrooms because professors had become too dependent on showing powerpoints. This move, known as teaching "naked" or "raw teaching" was designed to create a more engaging classroom environment; encouraging interaction and discourse between instructor and students. And Dean Bowen began taking computers out of the classrooms.

As a technology user and evangelist I was shocked that a university in 2009 would remove technology from classrooms for any reason. Sure, there are important points to be made about the way technology is used in classrooms on any level, but was stripping the classrooms of technology a good way to remove the "crutch" of powerpoints? So students (who use technology in most areas of their lives) are no longer going to use it in the classroom? How about expecting technology to be utilized more appropriately in education? Shouldn't 21st century classrooms and professors model the use of the available technology as an important tool for learning and accessing knowledge? Won't students be better prepared for the future because they were in technology-rich classrooms? If one of my children was attending SMU, I'd have some questions about how stripping technology was preparing my child for a their future...I thought.

But now, looking back I think I missed the point. I had a knee-jerk react to removing technology but didn't really think about the reality Dr. Bowen was addressing - many lectures and powerpoints are really bad.

It wasn't and isn't about the technology, but how we change the way we interact and teach when we are in face-to-face spaces. Powerpoint is easy to attack because it has been so overused and sometimes abused. But are bad powerpoint presentations more like Frankenstein's monster returning to haunt our courses and students, where we as the creators are responsible? And after all, creating a presentation in any form you think will be engaging takes time and effort.

I've been kicking this around in my own head because recently one of the most popular workshops I've offered has been on Prezi. I like Prezi and have used it and have enjoyed leading the workshop. But I always make the point there really is little difference between a bad presentation with powerpoint or prezi. The broader message I'm trying to convey, "It's not about the instrument - it's about the artist" and "You are the presentation."

It's about the craft of presenting and how good presenters connect ideas and engage their audiences. Which is not so different than what I think Bowen was trying to express. And while I still don't know about the notion of pulling technology from classrooms to prevent its poor use. I do think I would ask teachers who use technology to lecture or present to be thoughtful about it, to plan and reflect on how best to communicate and facilitate ideas and learning.


A lot of my ideas about proper presenting were shaped by the work of Garr Reynolds and his book Presentation Zen , Guy Kawasaki and the "10/20/30 rule" and the "knowledge-able" Michael Wesch. I also think one of the best places to watch great presenting is or surf a few of the presentations on slideshare for ideas.

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