Sunday, April 15, 2012

Learning, Just in Time

I remember the good old days when I used to have ample time to learn something new.  Back in the late 80’s I was working for the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans Canada as a Systems Analyst in the data centre of a fishery research facility.  I remember being given a project to plan for and execute, wait for it… upgrading the Fortran programming language on the mainframe.  Wow, how exciting is that.  I took a couple of months to learn about, research, and plan for this change.  Learning and change back then was glacial compared to now.  I remember worrying about a lot of details I didn’t completely understand and made sure to learn everything possible before acting.  Things have certainly changed…  Those of us engaged in the digital world are having to adapt, learn, unlearn, relearn iStock_000019296536XSmallconstantly.  Essentially, I now subscribe to the “fearless learner” philosophy.

A few weeks ago I was asked by the professional development rep for one of our secondary schools if I would lead a workshop for their teachers on creating Prezi presentations.  I’m always up for a new challenge so I said “yes”.  Then it set in…  I remembered that I’m not an expert on using Prezi (my Prezi’s).  Sure, I’ve created a couple but I wouldn’t claim to be expert at this.  I began to wonder what I can share with these teachers to help them become proficient Prezi users.  Based on my experiences and frustrations last year using Prezi, I wrote an “open” letter to Prezi.  In preparing for this upcoming workshop (next Friday), I’m learning the new and improved capabilities of Prezi.  A few improvements I’ve discovered include:

  • better text formatting including coloring of individual words
  • bending and coloring arrows (shapes)
  • very flexible path editing
  • inserting Powerpoint slides and Prezi-izing them

There seem to be two main types of learners, those that need instruction to be able to move forward with something new and those that are comfortable with the unknown and are able to learn something new, ‘just in time’.  I think it is important to respect these differences in people.  However, I think it is equally important to help people shift into more of a learn as you go mode.  Things change too quickly to get caught up in needing to be taught all the time.  It is important however that people see and understand the big picture, the purpose of what they’re contemplating or being asked to do.  With context and purpose, they can hopefully anticipate what to expect from the new thing they are learning.  I also believe that people need to be reassured that failure is on the pathway to learning and that it’s okay to make mistakes.  In fact, if we aren’t making mistakes, I would say we’re not learning enough!

Back to my Prezi workshop.  The pro-d rep sent a message to the school staff about the events of the upcoming pro-d day which imageincluded “The incomparable Brian Kuhn will be here to further your Prezi knowledge”.  Okay, now the pressure is on!  Fortunately with Twitter and Google, one can easily find material so as not to reinvent.  I stumbled across this useful and comprehensive page of links to Prezi advice that you might be interested in perusing.  It seems everyone must have a top 10 list so here’s mine for presentations using Prezi:

  1. visualize a canvas, an illustration, a backdrop that will support your content and the pathways that engage the user with the content; the best Prezi’s I’ve experienced have a graphical illustration to represent the theme of the presentation and the text, pictures, and videos are then carefully placed and navigated within this
  2. use zooming and rotations purposefully – not just because you can and you think it’s cool; any movement should tastefully support your message – ie, to emphasize, to draw attention, to amplify a message, etc.; if you are too radical with these features,  your audience can become ill, literally
  3. be thoughtful in using zoomed pictures and images – they blur when zoomed and can become background noise rather than support for your message
  4. don’t use the built in templates or themes unless you really have to – you risk becoming a mini-me of 1000’s of other designers; think about creating something original instead – it’s more work but it will be yours
  5. don’t try to cram too much text into a frame – minimal but impactful words are best and then when you present you can embellish the story – this is a general rule of thumb, you should never (well rarely) read your presentation content or make your audience have to read paragraphs of material while you’re speaking
  6. with Prezi you need to think in 3 dimensions; move from “slide” to “slide” but also into a slide, ie depth is the 3rd dimension; eg, you could have an impactful word like “Engage” and your next point or a picture / video is embedded in the circle that forms the top of the letter “g” in “Engage” and perhaps that next point is a word that begins with “g”; technically you could build an entire presentation using one starting word and embed the rest within it and subsequent words, but only if that makes sense for your message
  7. so that you don’t inadvertently lose your work, make sure to save your Prezi regularly – don’t trust the auto-save feature (this is true of any tool)
  8. you can create a Prezi that could be used by viewers independent of you presenting live; create your Prezi then using a screen casting tool (eg, Jing), you record your voice while you click through the Prezi – this will put your Prezi with your voice into a “movie” that can be easily shared with others
  9. consider live editing of your Prezi while presenting;  for example if you are using Prezi as a lesson delivery tool in a classroom, you could also edit it with student contributions during class discussion
  10. make sure you have a screen capture tool like Snagit (there are many others) so that you can scrape content from the web or other applications to embed in your Prezi as supporting material

After providing some guidance around creating presentations and exploring key elements of Prezi, workshop participants will play: “be like teenagers and learn by discovery”.  Following this, they will learn Prezi and incorporate various features by converting or creating a lesson in a Prezi format which they could teach with.

I suspect that I’ll be learning as much from the workshop participants as they will from me.  Together, we will be ‘learning, just in time’.  I think my role will be more of a guide than it will be as an oracle!