Student voice: It’s Powerpoint, but not as we know it

I’m in an art gallery in Halifax when I realise I’ve been planning murder. Not only that, but my love affair with screen beans and embedded video is over, finished!

The  realisation was brutal. I’d been a role model, an actor in ‘Death by Powerpoint.’ Yes, it was annie in the classroom with the projector. Also in the lecture theatre, conference room and in the words of the King (aka Yul Brynner) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

I’m wrung out after a nightmare journey over the Pennines to Yorkshire.  In Snoopy’s own words “It was a dark and stormy night.” Whilst driving my mind is engaged with practising scenarios for room entering and apologetic scripts as I know I’m going to be late. I’m hijacked by shyness. I needed a small bubble, a space simply to be, as both my exterior and interior worlds were dangling precariously over a precipice. Awash with adrenaline how I found a space, a seat is blurry, but I’m glad my instinct to fight rather than flight won the toss as I’m enthralled by Powerpoint presentations. Images, timing, narrative, storytelling and personal voices of the presenters were utterly engaging. Six presentations later and I wanted more. If like me, you watch and assess tens of student Powerpoint presentations over an academic year, you know how crazy this sounds.

It’s one of those experiences which lingers, smouldering, colouring my days and filling my notebooks with pencilled scratching’s of thoughts and exploration.  I wonder how I haven’t come across these forms of Powerpoint presentations before:

1. Pecha-kucha – 20 slides which advance every 20 seconds. Watch out for the trademark restriction on using this format on ‘something that is open to the public or publicized.’

2. Ignite presentations – 15 slides which advance every 15 seconds.

Perhaps James Gleick is spot- on when he describes students of the digital age as having ‘ a visual language made up of images and movements instead of words and symbols … along with reading in short snippets.’ Skills of précis, summary writing, frameworks, overviews, even advance organisers (Ausubel) seem highly relevant for a digital future or even a digital now.

I find myself revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and mapping across the extremely challenging craft of knowledge distillation, differentiation and reconciliation with experience and theory in order to identify the core, the essence of a topic. A sure-fire way for students to achieve the bulls- eye of analysis and even synthesis.

But there was a snag, what I was trying to surface, to identify remained hidden. In true contradictory fashion it arrived when my mind was empty. In the art gallery presentations I had a peek into whom the presenters were. Yes, I learnt about artists, techniques, concepts, thought processes and experiences. But it was the connections, the flow, the fluidity between the recesses of their conscious and subconscious  minds and artist spirit which gave them voice.  We may have read Gert Biesta arguing for “… education as being first and foremost concerned with the opportunities for human beings … to find their own voice…” But, have we heard?

A group of students and I had a class joke recently when I responded positively to a question about interpretive dance being a possible presentation format. They kept reminding me throughout the semester, and my response was always ‘yes, you can dance if you want to (but remember the steps of the learning outcomes). And it matters hugely when the second assessor commented that many of the students “… had clearly found their voices.”

There is no one way of seeing a thing. We find ourselves caught up, enslaved by ‘how things are usually done.’  It’s very hard to see things differently, to see Powerpoint as an agent of student voice, teacher voice too. It’s a revelation to me. Thanks to Lauren, Harriet and the artist presenters for sharing their voices and helping me see Powerpoint and voice.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to know about your experience of short and sweet Powerpoint techniques. Oh, and if you think I was joking about interpretive dance you should take a look at this, and he’s a scientist.

Just in case you want to read a little more:

You might have a look at my previous blog’s about voice and valuing individual student stories in the classroom.

Alison Iredale posted a link to a BBC radio 4 programme on Voice.

Catherine Cronin’s blog is also worth a look – a compendium of links, explanations and resources.

Gert Biesta: Beyond learning. Democratic education for a human future





3 thoughts on “Student voice: It’s Powerpoint, but not as we know it

  1. olivierlehe December 30, 2014 / 7:41 pm

    I had the chance, on Thursday December 4th 2014, to participate to a lunch, organised by a French consulting company named Weave. This lunch was led by Frédéric Simottel from BFM Business and Gilles Babinet invited to the lunch.
    Gilles Babinet is the Digital Champion, representing France to the European Commission. Gilles was the first president of the National Digital Council, French organization set up by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France at that time. As part of this lunch, Gilles Babinet, developed themes of his book “The digital era, a new age of humanity“.

    If you are interested, I have posted an article about The third revolution and the digital age that you can read here:

  2. TeachNorthern February 20, 2015 / 7:49 am

    The whizziness of prezi makes me feel seasick and whilst I love just listening, it has to be amazing to hold my attention, so it’s hard to escape powerpoint. It’s not really a technique, but I encourage students to create only #sixslidesfromtheheart We even tweet with that hashtag to encourage one another, when presentations are happening. I think that helps voices emerge – and, when combined with the Thinking Environment ‘staring activity’* (not what it’s really called, I have @daisydavey to thank for that), it means that presenters really connect.

    *In turn and in silence, each person gets up to stand at the front of the class and, on the clock, they spend one minute inviting eye contact with each member of the class. When the timer sounds, they then talk for one minute about something they love doing, continuing to make eye contact. It’s an excruciating thing to do, and you never forget it, least not when doing presentations** where the temptation is to fire your words over the heads of your audience.

    **We also work with the clear distinction that a presentation liberates you from assessment – and that teaching can’t be teaching WITHOUT assessment. This seems to stop teaching being dominated by point and click.

    I loved how inspired you were Annie and I am grateful to you also for solving the mystery of ‘pecha-kucha’ (trademarked? really? in an increasingly ‘open’ world that’s sad). Perhaps 19 slides and 19 seconds will catch on 🙂

    • anniesblogette February 20, 2015 / 9:34 am

      Thanks for your comments. My initial motivation was purely technique. I was thinking it might provide students with more options for their assessed presentations. Having been caught out myself when using timed slide presentations I was intrigued to see how they did it!
      One of the keys to their success on the night was the choice of slide images. A great deal of thought and preparation went into this as it was the distillation of information and detail to reach the essence of the topic.
      I’m intrigued with your process for encouraging presenters to connect with the class. A little scary though for those who are more comfortable with a quiet form of participation. I wonder how we might celebrate and hear the voice of the shy and/or introverted student? Our art teachers may be able to help us here.
      I’ll keep an eye out for 19:19 and #sixslides-fromtheheart
      Thanks for sharing.

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