June 2010

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My presentation design has been greatly influenced by Nancy Duarte’s book slide:ology and Garr Reynolds, the author of Presentation Zen. I have integrated their ideas in both my conferences and instructional presentations. Their advice has dramatically changed my practice from bullet points to slides that are more graphically oriented with much less text.

Both Duarte’ and Reynolds are focused on business presentations, whereas I am interested in instructional presentations. Reynolds talks about the importance of graphics as mnemonic devices that help retention of ideas. I wonder how these ideas would apply to an instructional presentation and how research should inform my practice. Having applied their ideas, I know my presentations look a lot better. I know the students enjoy them more, but I am not sure that the instruction is more effective.

In the first chapter of Presentation Zen, Reynolds quotes University of New South Wales Professor John Sweller saying, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.” He discusses this point in some detail in this blog post. He also quotes Professor Richard Mayer, author of Multimedia Learning. These have been the starting points of my inquiry.

I have found several papers authored or coauthored by Mayer. I have since purchased a copy of Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and Efficiency in Learning coauthored by Clark, Nguyen, and Sweller.

Mayer creates a cognitive model of the standard text bullet point presentation as shown below.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

Mayer contends that using both spoken and written text in a presentation overloads the visual channel and interferes with the processing of the picture. My personal experience is that trying to listen to a speaker and read the printed word on a slide is very distracting. Mayer refers to this a the redundancy principle:

…eliminating redundancy is a useful way to reduce cognitive load. We refer to this result as a redundancy effect: Students understand a multimedia presentation better when words are presented as narration rather than as narration and on-screen text.  (Mayer & Moreno 2003)

Mayer asserts that the best approach is to use spoken words directed toward the auditory channel and pictures and animations for the visual channel.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

This approach provides two sources of sensory processing without overloading either channel. Mayer refers the superiority of of simultaneously using words and pictures than just words as the multimedia principle (Mayer 2009 p. 223). More specifically, he speaks of a modality principle asserting that, “People learn more deeply from pictures and spoken words than from pictures and printed words” (Mayer 2009 p. 200). Using spoken words with pictures avoids the redundancy effect.

This is a rudimentary description of part of the theory behind some of the best selling books on presenting. I am reading Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and look forward to reflecting upon my instructional presentations. His book outlines eleven principles which, at first glance, are likely to help optimize my practice.

The work of Duarte and Reynolds have been a great starting point and have helped me hone my craft. I believe that classroom practitioners can benefit by digging deeper and exploring into this area of research. I plan to share my thoughts as I read more. I look forward to your thoughts.

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Working with open educational resources (OER) and sharing, I constantly grapple with copyright. I have come to a greater appreciation of explicitly stated licensing. As a consumer of such resources, I often must search, parse, and decipher to determine whether they are OER. This has caused me to reconsider my practices as a content creator.

As I have mentioned in the past, I regard Creatives Commons licensing as an invitation to use and share materials rather than legal protection. It makes my intentions clear so that others need not guess.

This site has had a clear Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license as I mentioned in a post of over a year ago. I have licensed some of my online interactives as CC Attribution Non Commercial Share-Alike. Now I plan to share instructional presentations and need to decide how license them. This has led me again to explore Creative Commons Licenses and their implications.

While I occasionally have used the Non Commercial designation, I will no longer do so. Commercial use is too nebulous. Would use by a private school be commercial? How about the use in a presentation for which the presenter is being paid? Besides, as Karen Fasimpaur tweeted: “do you really think someone’s going to make a ton of $ selling your stuff?” There is a good discussion of the Non-commercial designation in Neal Butcher’s article Open Educational Resources and Higher Education (It also had a great overview of higher education OER sites).

I now realize the Share-Alike endorsement can also pose problems. Share Alike allows individuals to use and remix content with the provision that they license the resultant material with the same terms. This could prevent an individual combining Share-Alike content with material with different licensing from distributing their remix. Again, this is not desirable in my view.

In light of the unexpected consequences with my past licensing choices, I considered Public Domain or Creative Commons No Copyright (CC 1.0 Universal). This would make it as easy as possible for others to use my work. Unfortunately, a lack of attribution lends to a lack of credibility.

In the end, I have chosen the CC-BY license and its simple attribution license  for the bulk of what I do. This site has already been changed to attribution only. I decided to keep it simple so that potential users no longer have to parse out details.


I recently created another BuddyPress test site and I am pleased with how much the procedure has been simplified. I blogged about the difficulty in the past, so it is only fair that I note vast improvements.

I never fully succeeded installing BP the first time I tried. It involved a long process of manually uploading a variety of files and opening them to edit the code in numerous places, then testing and adjusting. I was able to install BP itself, but I never quite got the forum component bbPress (then in Alpha) to work as it should. Trying again several months later (about a year ago), I succeeded and noted that it had been simplified to to a 13 step process still involving moving files and editing code.

Now BP can be installed entirely from WordPressMu and even plain WordPress entirely through the backend. There is no longer a need to use ftp at all or edit a single line of code. Simply install WP or WPMu then install BP through the plugin installer. One no longer must use ftp to manually move themes to the appropriate folder. Next activate one of the BP themes installed with the package through the Appearance menu. All that is left is activating bbPress by going to BuddyPress–>Forum Set up and basically turn it on.

BuddyPress is now installable to even those with few tech skills. Most shared hosting services with control panels have point and click WordPress installers. Now that WP and WPMu have merged, one could convert a standard installation to WPMu, but that still requires some mucking with code. If one needed the multi-blog functionality, it is probably easier to manually install WPMu than make the conversion. I’m sure that will change with time.

BuddyPress has joined Elgg as a viable replacement for proprietary solutions such as NING. I look forward to revisiting both and reporting my experiences.

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There are many resources on the Internet dedicated to open educational resources. Some are sites, for example Curriki, that provide online communities for sharing such resources. Others are search sites such as CC Search that provide links to open licensed resources throughout the Internet. The one variant that I have not yet found is a Torrent site dedicated to open educational resources.

A torrent, or more accurately a BitTorrent, is a decentralized peer to peer file sharing network protocol that is very effective for quickly moving large amounts of data across the Internet. A user, known as a seeder, who wishes to share a file must have a torrent client. Then they submit their information to a tracker, a site that coordinates the file sharing. Through the client and the tracker, a user makes the file available to others users to download. In turn, those who have downloaded the file share the file as well. The files are hosted on each individual’s hard drive rather than a central point. Once enough users have downloaded the file (and become seeders), data transmission can be very rapid.

Torrents tend to have a bad reputation because they are often used to share pirated software, music, and movies. Illegal sharing of textbooks is becoming more prevalent and has been blamed for falling textbook sales and even the closing of campus bookstores. In fact, there are those that call for the systematic scanning of textbooks for sharing as a means of countering the outrageous prices of college texts.

This is not what I am talking about. It seems to me that decentralized peer to peer sharing could be a powerful tool for sharing and distributing open licensed education resources. It employs distributed resources and storage rather than a central repository.

One potential problem would be users sharing materials that are not appropriately licensed. This problem exists on other platforms as well. While perusing Curriki for a curriculum project, I encountered a number of resources that were of questionable or even clearly commercial copyright terms. Such an undertaking would require a diligent community that polices the available content.

Another problem is the temporary nature of availability of the content. Over time those sharing the file (seeders) tend to dry up making downloads slow or just unavailable.

I am not necessarily advocating the use of torrents for sharing open educational resources, but I find the possibility interesting. I am interested in hearing other’s thoughts on the matter.

Copyright issues are not the only obstacles to sharing content with others. Some of the obstacles are my choice of software and platform.

Although I am an advocate of open source software, my focus in this area has been server based applications. When it comes to desktop computing, I run a Mac. I like the Macintosh for its ease of use, stability, and reliability. Ubuntu has come along. I run it on my Mac. We have several Ubuntu laptops and an Ubuntu netbook running Jim Klein’s excellent Ubuntu Remix distro. I am still confronted with upset children with malfunctioning computers more often than I want. It is often time consuming fix these bugs. I do not have the time for that on my production computer. This, however, is not about platforms.

The problem is access. It’s no problem for those running a Mac with iWork. I spend a lot of time making presentations and, I find Keynote has a better look and workflow than the alternatives. Unfortunately, exporting to PowerPoint, usable by MS Office and OpenOffice, is not reliable. PDF exports can be difficult to edit. QuickTime exports play fine in Windows, but not Linux.

Ideally, I could share slideshow with which people could do more than use my presentation, or grab and remix slides from it. They would be able to edit each slide itself–down to the character level.

Now I have hundreds of instructional presentations that cannot be easily shared because of my software choice. Not only do I need to screen my presentations for copyright issues, but I also have to go over exports slide by slide to make sure they are reasonably true to the original.

Keynote has arguably saved time in creating content. I honestly believe that hadn’t I used Keynote I never would have produced such a large body of work in so little time. Further, I never could have so quickly produced attractive content using the alternatives. This has come at a cost now that I want to share.

If I continue to use Keynote, I will probably need to avoid many of the great features that do not translate well into other formats. If I leave Keynote, I will need to relearn software and workflow and give up many features I love. Further, it will be more difficult to make the attractive presentations that I am accustomed to and that my students have come to expect.

Interestingly, my previous blog post on sharing presentations yielded a response from Professor Nathan Garrett of Woodbury University in San Diego who is working on a presentation sharing platform. This poses a new option engineered from the beginning for sharing. Further it is being designed to allow users to alter or annotate the slides easily. I am excited to explore this new possibility and look forward to its development. You may see posts about this in the future.

At the moment. I am not sure how I will create future presentations. One thing is clear though: whatever I create will be done with sharing in mind from the beginning. I have realized that decisions made in the creation of presentations has a significant impact on how they can be shared.

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