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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Esri Ed UC: PowerPoint Rules!

I saw a lot PowerPoint at the Esri Education User Conference (Ed UC) held this past week in San Diego. It was at the heart of nearly every session, save perhaps the one-on-one interviews in the two plenaries on Saturday and Sunday. And, to be fair, presenters were pretty much required to use PowerPoint (or at least were asked to submit one).

One comment struck me as I sat through yet another valuable but rather un-engaging session on Tuesday. The presenter shared that he was using the same slides he used in class.

That got me thinking. Do these educators teach the same way in school that they present at Ed UC? I can’t believe that’s the case for educators who spoke about inquiry, problem or project based learning. But I fear some use the same “sage on the stage” PowerPoint lecture format I spent ten or 15 hours watching this past week with their students.

That leads me to envision the conference I wish I could attend. I want to see presenters (specifically those who don’t use PowerPoint) teach. I don’t want them to tell me about how they teach, I want them to teach me and other attendees the same way they do in the classroom or online or informally.

Off the top of my head I thought of three sessions where active learning might have been especially effective.

  • I wonder if Megan Patent-Nygren could have squeezed even a mini-version of her inquiry-based learning (one of the most memorable presentations I saw) into an actual activity we the attendees could do. She told us about it, but I wanted to “do it.” 
  • I wonder if Eileen Johnson, who spoke about using model builder in her project based learning courses, could have had us try just a bit of what her students do. Maybe she could have asked small groups to develop a way to explain the complex models to non-GIS stakeholders. 
  • I wonder if Tom Baker, could have use a different tactic than a big group discussion about possible ways Esri could help those involved in geographic education research at the research SIG meeting. Perhaps small groups could have developed and vetted ideas, sharing just their favorite with the whole group.

Why are we not modeling the move to active, participatory, group, problem, project and inquiry based learning going on in classrooms across the world at our conference?

I did try to execute this once at NEARC Educator’s Day. It didn’t work out very well in part because 20 minutes is not enough time to do even part of lesson. I want to suggest one way we might attempt this sort of session at EdUC or other events like the NEARC Ed Day. Organizers could set aside a few of the 75 minutes sessions and invite master teachers to teach their favorite or their most innovative GIS or geography lessons. Some might need a computer lab, but others might not. Would you want to attend those sessions? I would!

Every educator with whom I’ve shared this idea responded, “I’d attend!” Why? I can answer for myself only. The last time I saw another instructor teach (outside of a conference GIS lab session or a formal training class) was in 1988, the year I completed my Masters at Penn State. I’ll be honest, I need some new material! To be clear, I don’t need new things to teach, I need to steal new techniques, approaches, etc. And, I want to steal them from the best educators in the geography/GIS space.