Hallowe’en and presentation horror stories

As a Trainer with the TATP, one of my responsibilities has been to design and teach a workshop for TAs on Classroom Presentations.  Within the workshop, we review a number of resources to provide inspiration to create dynamic and engaging classroom presentations.

Getting into the spooky spirit, I would like to share a Hallowe’en twist on one of these resources.

Slideshare.net is a website for sharing slide decks that can be easily emailed, linked, and shared on the web. Slideshare sometimes runs contests to identify the best slide decks. In one iteration of the contest, they ran a Presentation Horror Story Contest.

Boom or Bust, is one of my favourite winners from the presentation horror stories contest, because the creators draw on traditions from comic books to tell a story through their slides.  The types of images shown in Boom or Bust can be easily created using a software package like Comic Life.

If you are looking for a more general slide deck on presentation, I also recommend the tongue and cheek ‘You Suck at Powerpoint.’ It offers some up-to-date suggestions to make your presentation graphically appealing. If you are looking at SlideShare.net keep in mind that you may need to translate concepts from business to educational contexts to make them relevant for your students.

YOU SUCK AT POWERPOINT!

View more presentations from @JESSEDEE.

A Focus on Faculty

As a part of the Student-Faculty Interaction initiative – highlighting faculty who implement alternative methods to engage with students – we (CTSI) have started a Focus on Faculty section on our website. Our first profiles are of two President’s Teaching Award winners: Barbara Murck, Department of Geography (UTM) and Andy Dicks, Department of Chemistry.

Murck discusses her online office hours – affectionately known as “bunny slipper” meetings – that she holds for her large first year class. She uses the collaboration tool in the UofT Portal and finds that these chats supplement the course material rather than replace it.  It also provides a personal touch and (despite being online) helps students feel comfortable when approaching her with a question or idea.

Dicks provides Research Opportunities (ROP) for chemistry students to, among other things, design experiments for 2nd and 3rd year courses. His goal is to involve students in pedagogical work while ensuring that his course material is always relevant and engaging. These projects have been enormously successful and led to publications in academic journals. Dicks also enjoys informing students an experiment was designed by a fellow undergraduate.

Please visit our Focus on Faculty section to learn more about these initiatives. If you have any stories to share or other initiatives you know of please let us know.

   

Thinking Visually: Doodling, Concept Maps, and Notetaking

As a student, were you one of those kids who doodled in the margins of your notebooks, or even on your desk (to the bane of janitorial staff everywhere)? Often thought to be something done to stave off boredom, doodling is something that, when channelled in the right direction, can lead to productive notetaking and reflection.

A recent study reported that doodling during meetings, for example, can help you retain more information, because it uses just enough executive brain function to prevent the mind from wandering, and losing focus on the discussion at hand. This especially helps listeners stay on task in a passive environment, when it is easy to start daydreaming.

We especially like this example we learned about from BlogUT , of recreational mathematician Vi Hart creating doodles to help understand mathematical principles like infinite series, using only the tools of a pencil, ruler, and a ruled 8.5×11 sheet:

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The Grade Center: Planning Ahead

Saira Mall, Educational Technology Liaison, CTSI

Between course scheduling, assignment deadlines and mid-term exams, managing and entering grade data in the Portal’s Grade Center may be left to the last minute resulting in very late nights, usually just before grades are submitted.

If you are using the Grade Center in your Portal course, my advice is old and true: plan ahead of time.

About the Grade Center
The Grade Center is an online repository for course assessment data that allows for grades to be entered directly into their Portal course. Grade Center can be used in conjunction with other Portal tools (e.g., Tests, Discussion Board, Wikis, Blogs, Journals, Surveys and Rubrics) to develop an efficient grading and record keeping system.

Who Has Access to the Grade Center?
Those assigned with Portal course roles including Instructor, Teaching Assistant and Grader all have access to the Grade Center.  Students do not have access to the Grade Center. Students view their progress in My Grades.

Familiarize Yourself with the Policies of Use at UofT
Students should understand that My Grades allows them early access to preliminary grades, but does not represent their official final marks. The Repository of Student Information (ROSI) is the official system of record for the University of Toronto for student grades.  For more information on University of Toronto policies and guidelines regarding the posting and distribution of grades, please visit FIPPA, Q and A for Instructors on the website of the Vice-President and Provost.

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UpbeaT: Yes, learning can be fun!

When was the last time you visited a farmer’s market? Or mixed up sugar with salt when you were baking a cake? Or made peanut butter from scratch? For one class at UofT, all these things have already been transformed into learning experiences.

UofT Student Life blogger Erin, with UpbeaT, shows us a fun side of her student learning experience with a twopart story on what it’s like to be a learner in ENG 434HF, or “Cook the Books: Modern Food Literature”. Or as she puts it, it’s “the English class where students cook.”

Combining readings from food-themed fiction with a weekly group cooking activity (like accidentally burning peanut butter) might seem pretty offbeat, but this class is already being tested on their teamwork skills and increasing their awareness about their relationship with food. Erin’s report shows how unexpected learning environments can be surprisingly valuable:

My point is that making an effort to learn outside of the classroom or lab is important. If you’re ever given a chance to go on a field trip, even if you won’t be rewarded with an extra per cent for your efforts (and swear you could hear a rooster crow as you got up), go. While Cook the Books is a particularly special and progressive course because we are literally learning in a kitchen, not strictly in a fluorescent-lit classroom with desks from the 1980s located in a basement (we learn there too), I’m glad I had the opportunity to discover another classroom at the Wychwood Barns Farmers’ Market. (Upbeat, “The Fruits of our Labour”)

Would you want to take your students to the Farmer’s Market? What creative possibilities do you imagine for your future assignments and field trips?

Collaborative Learning Techniques in Action

Classes are in full swing, tutorials are up and running and we’re hearing reports of great experiences in the classrooms. Sandra Romain, a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and the UTSC TA Trainer for the TATP, is having a great start to her tutorials. This is Sandra’s second year with the TATP (after a number of years working as a TA at UofT) and has been applying teaching techniques learned with her TATP team and TA training. “I have had the confidence to develop tutorial material based on collaborative teaching structures,” Sandra said. She’s had an inspiring response from her students.

From the start of her tutorials, Sandra put collaborative teaching techniques to work. In the first tutorial, she used Think-Pair-Share (an exercise that pairs off the students to discuss a topic then report back to the rest of the group) to look at research paradigms (a rather complex theoretical topic for 2nd year students). In the second tutorial, Sandra took this one step further by using the 3-Step Interview (where students work in groups of three – an interviewer, a responder and a recorder. Students change roles throughout the process as they work through concepts and questions). When she met with a bit of resistance with some students – someone grumbled about having to ‘pair up’ with another student – Sandra “jokingly told her I’d get back to her at the end of the activity.” When asked if the student could answer her own question about why they were doing these activities, the student answered, “Because I just finally understood what Interpretivism was!”

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Visual Oompf!


Like it or lump it, PowerPoint is a necessary tool for most presenters. While the software boasts efficient, easy to create presentation capabilities, it also runs the risk of sending your audience into a bullet-point induced coma. To bridge the gap between the time-strapped presenter and the weary-eyed audience, I (full disclosure: an untrained, non- graphic designer) offer my own take on Presentation Zen – ideas I use to add oompf to PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Presentation, Slide Rocket, etc.

In this first post for “Visual Ooompf – Designing With a Non-Designer”, I offer three practical tips to successfully use pictures in presentations.

Not just pretty to look at, pictures are the ultimate “oompf adder” as they can also help your audience retain information. A well-chosen image is an opportunity to reinforce your point AND strengthen students’ brains’ synapses.     Continue reading