The Bullet Point List Presentation!
I've probably bitched about this somewhere before, but I don't remember if I did it here or elsewhere, and anyway, bitching is one of life's greatest pleasures (along with run-on sentences), so you guys are gonna be blessed with it anyway, and you'll goddam like it besides!
Several years back, I am sitting in a large room during a series of faculty orientations for the new year and I am listening to one of my esteemed colleagues (and I by "esteemed colleagues" I mean "total idiots," so naturally we are talking about folks with policy-making power, cause the grease rises to the top, naturally, ...I did warn you guys about run-on sentences, didn't I?), ...and anyway. This presentation was irritating me even more than the previous one, and I wasn't sure why. I finally realized what was pissing me off.
The presenter had essentially put their presentation outline on power point. So, every bullet in her outline could now be produced visually for the benefit of the whole audience. The principle advantage of this lay in the fact that the presenter could now focus attention on the screen, and read each bullet point as though it were a fact with some transcendent value of its own. Rather than serving as the jumping off point for a discussion of the topic in the bullet point, each bullet point was now an end in itself. The presenter simply read it, gave us all time to take in the significance of the point and write it down, then she moved on. She might add a random comment or two, but clearly the bulk of her task, as she understood it, was simply reading the bullets to us as they came up in her presentation. The points were presented sans-context.
One of the biggest problems with this approach is that the logical relationship between the various sub-points was often lost in the translation. If the main topic was "classroom assessment techniques (CATs)," some of the individual bullets might be reasons for using such tools. Others might be procedures for applying CATs, and some of those would apply to all CATs and some would apply to a limited number of them. Still other bullets might be benefits of CATs, and still others might even be facts about the history of CATs in educational theory. All of these bullet points would be up there ins a jumble under the general heading of CATs, presented in a list completely devoid of organization.
The lack of organization was finessed by the ability to put these bullet points on a screen and read them off as though the speaker were merely passing each bullet on to the audience. Each bullet stood on its own, from this perspective, and the responsibility of the speaker for choosing to mention it (much less to relate it to other features of her presentation) simply faded into the background. Adding insult to other insult, this procedure effectively slowed things down enough that the presenter could deliver about half the information you would normally expect in the time without the audience noticing, ...cause they had something to look at.
What was bothering me that day was that this had been the MO for more than one speaker, and there was no end in sight. I made a note to myself to never treat Deadlock to the end of this thought. Ha!
Well, I just got a fresh example of this procedure in action. Specially, this time I got to see one of these presentations in its infancy.
So, I'm here a month ahead of the start of the semester, and part of the idea here is to give me a chance to get up to speed on arctic issues, and part of it is to get me up to speed on online education tools. I've never used them before, and given that we need to reach some VERY remote villages, it makes sense to use as much distance education as possible. OK-Fine!
But now, I come in to have a regular session with the guy in charge of distance education, and he hands me a sheet of paper with 17 bullet points on it. They are all listed under the heading of "Best Practices in predicting and Encouraging Student Persistence and Achievement Online."
The bullet points are a jumbled mess of ideas. Some of them are facts of educational psychology (students who participate more are more likely to succeed, etc.). Some are institutional facts (the college is committed to using online resources). Some are advice to teachers (Direct feedback is encouraged...). And yes, I found some of this stuff downright insulting. Some are advice to administration (Teachers should be provided with information on prior student performances). And it turns out our task for the day is to go through this list.
...I knew the moment was coming, but it didn't make it any less painful. I do my best to grin and bear it.
Now it turns out that some of the bullet points are key to other things. For example, when the bullet point says that the faculty should be given information on student performance, I am told that there will be specific online tracking procedures that I can use to get this information and we'll go over it. So, the bullet point in the form of a normative claim is really there as an introduction to specific procedural information about how to use the system to track student performance, get their GPA, etc.
I file this under; "Why didn't you just say so?"
I get several moments like that.
And then I get this gem; "Students with higher internal motivational factors do better in an online environment than those with less than desirable motivational skills."
I suppress the urge to say "duh!"
Looking for a charitable reading I can think of 2 points that could be at stake here.
1) Perhaps the comparison is between an online class and a face-to-face class. I sincerely doubt that the statement would be any less true of a face-to-face class than it is for online delivery, but perhaps the pattern is stronger in the latter case. I don't know, but I can imagine this might be an attempt to describe such a pattern.
2) What does "Internal" mean? In this case, I think the "external" alternative would probably be factors provided by the teacher (such as grades). I can't help but think someone tripped over the metaphor here, treating "internal" as if it were some objective reality that meant something independent of the contrast which gave rise to it. Surely, there is an article out there somewhere in which this "internal" has a very specific meaning in contrast to an "external" with an equally specific meaning, and that article must have measured the relative significance of each in predicting classroom retention, blah, blah, blah! (Actually, it probably would have been an interesting article.) Alternatively, the point could be geared to a fairly basic distinction in social psychology, but even that varies in its specific implications from use to use, and that is exactly why you need to establish the point behind the metaphor each time you use it. I could see this being the basis for a discussion of what you can and cannot accomplish as an instructor when it comes to motivating students, how best to work with motivations already present in the student, etc.
But of course, sitting here as an independent bullet point in a presentation beside myriad other facts, all of them loosely related to one another, it ends up reading as very silly statement. This is going to be read off as a fact and lots of people are going to nod their heads, and I am going to sit there and quietly cry and hate my life, and loathe teaching, and wish death upon all of humanity by the time the presentation is over.
So, what's happening? It turns out the dean (who is getting her PhD this semester and its in education) sent a bunch of materials to the online education director and asked him to create a presentation around it, then told him to be sure and go over it with me. Now it helps that I actually like both of these people, but dammit, this is how my love of education dies a little every day. He is doing his best to make use of her materials (after all, she is his boss, and she has given him a directive), but he isn't getting a PhD in education, and he hasn't read all this material, and it doesn't mean a thousand things to him. So, he is shooting for direct application in the best way he knows how. He is turning the educational theory into an instruction manual with 17 bullet points. The footing for these bullet points is all over the map, and they will make for a bizarre presentation, and some of it will even become policy. Meantime, I get to hear it twice.
"...because everyone is ugly as sin, when you rip away their skin."
Last edited by Brimshack; 07-20-2010 at 02:35 AM.