Category Archives: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Tweeting the Lesson: Social Media Curation and the Cultivation of the Imagination

This is a presentation I gave in a lightning session in Madison, WI at 28th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference in August 2012. Since a lightning session could only be 10 minutes long, I gave myself the constraint of making my points in 10 slides only. Each slide lasted for exactly one minute (yet another constraint, coming out of my interest in the Oulipo and my earlier practices around Pecha Kucha presentations). I also wanted the visuals in each slide to carry the point as much as my spoken text, so I did spend a good deal of time thinking about how to design the visual portion of this talk. In the end, I focused on how many different ways I could use the twitter logo (that little blue bird) to make the underlying points that the goal in using Twitter in higher education was to help students “cultivate their imagination.”

I am glad I waited to post this talk, because my experience using social media in my MOOC, Investigating Film Noir, which I taught from March-April 2013 has helped me confirm my basic thesis here. Using Twitter, Storify, and Pinterest in my MOOC, I do believe I started to reach some of the goals that I articulate in this talk. My MOOC cultivates outside subject matter experts, and involved the synthesis and application of learning outcomes. In my MOOC, students would twit-pic some of the images from the films we were studying and other students would re-tweet or comment on those images. We would ask questions on Twitter, opening up answers to our questions to experts beyond those enrolled in the course. And many of the tweets exchanged among students engaged in a metacognitive awareness of what it means to analyze film.

Here are the ten slides. Each slide is followed by my spoken commentary: Image Since I only have 10 minutes in a lightning session, so I will focus on a single, main learning outcome for those of you interested in building social media in your course designs. Throughout this talk, I will return again and again to “cultivating the imagination” of our students. That phrase intentionally recalls the work of John Seely Brown and Doug Thomas in their wonderful book, A New Culture of Learning. 

To achieve this “cultivation of the imagination” we will need innovation at 3 levels:

  • we will need trained and innovative instructors
  • we will need new and innovative assignments
  • we will need to encourage students to want to be innovative

I see “cultivation of the imagination” as the major learning outcome for higher education. Regardless of your favorite learning theory, whether you are a constructivist, a clicktivist, a connectivist, or subscriber to any other learning theories, creating imaginative and self-efficacious thinkers rates highly all of them. If we cultivate our student’s imaginations, we will have the lifelong learners we desire.

Social media is one area to explore along that path. Image Social media tools intrigue me, because they have the capacity to be tools to encourage and support lifelong learning, and they foreground their very informality. Twitter was not designed with a college accreditation standards or assessment techniques in mind. It is a commercial tool that can be used for learning from others through the open and global Web, but it takes some design and purposefulness to make that happen. Currently, when we bring social media into the classroom, we tend to kill what makes it such a great learning tool to begin with. We tend (in my experience as an instructional designer) to enclose it within the confines of the formal course objectives and that frequently short-circuits its engagement with larger online networks. In these instances, students start to wonder why they are using Twitter in the first place. Seldom if ever will a course hashtag trend worldwide.

An Integrated learning approach tries to have it both ways--to balance and transfer the formal and the informal learning. The course “walls” of a socially mediated learning experience need to be more porous than solid. I see Twitter (to just pick one social media tool out of the many) as a way to support student-centered learning. But I want students on Twitter in all its informal messiness. That way, Twitter can bring in expert voices in your classroom. Twitter can be medium for your students share their passions and curiosity with a large number of followers and thereby build new connections and new relationships through the classroom and beyond the classroom. Image And that brings me to curation.

Twitter is frequently seen as a curatorial site. But I would make a critical distinction between three modes of curation. 

Twitter is built with informal curation tools. It is a way for any user of Twitter to receive and assess the constant flow of tweets. We can favorite a tweet and keep it for future reference. We can retweet to show our interest in another person’s tweet. But informal curation is mostly about receiving new messages, and giving them an initial assessment.

A step up on the curatorial ladder is a more formal personal curation. Using tools such as Storify,, or, social media stories can be assembled and recalled later when one wants to review or better still, apply that information.

But finally, curation can be crowd-sourced and shared. It can be the basis of a networked curation. Students can produce new knowledge from an archive of aggregated tweets. They can add new information to others tweets by providing new contexts, new explanations, new insights using a host of social media aggregators. This is the key goal for my talk today. How do we design our projects and use our learning outcomes to encourage these practices? When students engage in networked curation, they will get closer to the goal of cultivating the imagination.


But as long as social media is locked within the confines of an online course, we will likely experience something closer to #TwitterFail. Students will feel that the exercise of social media is basically hollow. It becomes just another task to complete versus a new kind of digital and informational literacy. To reach that higher learning outcome, we need more learning experiments involving social media curation and cultivation. We are at an early phase of social media integration into the online curriculum. What we don’t know is much greater than what we do know at this point.

How curation will continue to develop in the future is an open question in my mind, but now is the time for experimentation. And if the experiments are focused on generating more powerful learning outcomes through social media, we will find ourselves on the right track, even if some of those experiments fizzle.

Slide05 That brings me back to Twitter in its specific form. I see Twitter as having multiple layers and where those layers reside is telling to me.

The top portion of an expanded tweet is the message and the person who sent the message – what we will call the “content.” There are some basic curatorial tools that require little effort on the part of the person who reads the message – one can retweet the message or favorite it. I will return to “reply” function in a moment.

The next layer down is the crowd sourcing information. You can find out if others have found this tweet interesting. How many times has it been retweeted? Favorited? Who did this? And should I follow some of these people since they might share some of my interests?

Twitter also gives you a “timestamp” that will be useful when you start to aggregate multiple tweets.

But the bottom layer of a tweet is its cultivation layer. Retweeting and favoriting are good, but replying builds new connections and adds to the original knowledge object. It is in replying that the message is extended, and the learner can express new information. But this is the bottom layer of a tweet. Slide06

Compare this to a tool like Storify. Storify is one aggregator among many on the open Web, but it will stand in for other ways of cultivating social media knowledge.

In Storify, the connection and cultivation layer is the top layer. To engage in Spotify is to be both a curator and a cultivator.

As I will argue throughout this talk, you need both. You need to sort through the massive information network and make choices (curation) and have a means for adding new information and new syntheses in a structured way (cultivation). Or as I prefer to state it: we achieve cultivation through curation. We see critical thinking at both the level of the assemblage and its new context, and like cultivation in agriculture, bring forth an entirely new ecology of knowledge.  I particularly like Spotify because it foregrounds its role as a knowledge cultivator through its trope of “stories.” To tell a story is an act that brings together many different learning outcomes. Image Which brings us back to cultivating the imagination. How does this approach to social media apply to online course design?

I would argue that “cultivation through curation” touches on almost all the key learning outcomes we might seek in our course designs. Spotify can support the evaluation of information, as student learners evaluate their aggregated tweets. Spotify can support the synthesis of knowledge, and we can assess how well students bring together tweets to show their engagement with disciplinary knowledge. Spotify can aid in comprehension as students have to sort through and make sense of information that can be crowd-sourced and supplemented by subject matter experts from beyond the course. Image  And this brings us back to the concept of “networked curation.” If one tweets to connect, then one of the major connections we are making through social media is a connection to participatory learning.

Social media rewards active participation in ways that make it valuable for online learners and online learning communities. One thing that I do like is how Twitter, or even tools like Storify and Pinterest, are only “parts of the story.” These social mediated communication streams and tools only come to life when learners engage with them, and complete the story. Storify allows students to not only aggregrate their tweets, but comment on the “new story” that emerges from the act of aggregration. As tweets are built into stories, and as students share and reflect on those new stories, new possiblities for curation and the cultivation of the imagination emerge. Slide09

And these are four of the major takeaways when we focus on social media curation. As is always important in instructional design, you need to consider what social media adds to your discipline. This is going to be different for an Art History course, or a Sociology course, or a Business course. But in each case, the art of communication and the science of connection and curation can come together to transform student learning and engagement. Part of what is fun about social media curation is how visible the learning is. You can follow alongside your students as they create these new knowledge connections and these new archives. Slide10

Which brings me to my final point. If we take the cultivation metaphor to its logical end, we start to recognize that far too frequently in our efforts to connect our students to disciplinary knowledge, we inadvertently bracket off the wealth of networks, the flow of information, collaborative energies, and networked data. We tend, even when we intend the opposite, to encourage our students to construct their information as personal, as if they are building old-fashioned knowledge cabinets. They might be able to collect our “disciplinary specimens” and arrange them in their own self-contained cabinets of curiosity that harken back to the early days of the Enlightenment and the desire for encyclopedic knowledge. But I want to leave this talk by offering another vision, one not of information contained and walled-off, but of information set free and shared. In this final maneuver then, social media curation of disciplinary knowledge might lead towards opening up new fields of knowledge, new areas of engagement and collaboration. Information can be powerful when it is shared. Let’s see what kinds of information fields might open up in the social media age.


26 Ways to Use Twitter for Teaching and Learning: A Storify-ied Reflection

26 Ways to Use Twitter for Teaching and Learning: A Storify-ied Reflection

On 1/4/2012, Ed O’Neill (Twitter: @learningtech) posted an interesting series of 52 tweets on the topic of “Using Twitter for Teaching and Learning.” I liked how he was using Twitter to discuss Twitter, but wasn’t sure about the best way to respond to his tweets. I felt that since his tweets started from a single presentation that it would be best to try to respect the order and logic of his initial presentation.

Towards that end, I used Storify to collect his tweets in the order they were originally tweeted. This, of course, required me to re-order his tweets since twitter posts (in their very nature) arrive in reverse chronological order. Once I assembled all 52 of his tweets, the original aim of his presentation became much clearer to me, though I liked the way that Twitter required Ed to chunk his presentation into different lexia.

And this is worth noting: I felt that these lexia mostly benefited from having to be fit into 140 characters. Twitter created a constraint that I felt was in keeping with the cognitive power of Ed’s argument. (And here I am intentionally thinking about Edward Tufte’s well-trod pamphlet The Cognitive Power of PowerPoint, where he notes how PowerPoint seems to rob slides of their full evidentiary and illuminating potential). Twitter’s constraints probably work because breaking text into brief but precise messages is a different kind of cognitive activity than the cut-and-paste, overly visually templated, and bullet pointed mentalities of many PowerPoints.

I also liked that, as I sought to extend my engagement with Ed’s originating tweets, that Storify let me write in the “margins,” so to speak. Storify lets you comment on each individual tweet, so you can weave one’s one thoughts and reflections into the very fabric of a series of related tweets. This strikes me as a great way to restore an argumentative or presentational flow that might seem missing in the ever-flowing stream of tweets that sail through the columns of my TweetDeck.

I want to thank Ed again for starting this conversation. Ed brings a great perspective to learning technologies (in keeping with his twitter de plume) that reminds all of us educators the importance of connecting new technologies to learning objectives and the spread of best practices.

Finally, twitter, in my opinion, has not gained the traction I might have expected in higher education classroom, and Ed’s tweets contain many ideas that faculty members could start using in their classes right away, particularly the value of Twitter as a tool for communication between faculty and students and a way to get students collaborating and reciprocating around course-based ideas and themes.

If you want to read my Storify-ied reflection, click on the link at the top of this post.

Revealing Generation Text: A Video Documentary on Cell Phones in High School

“Mobile phones are a way of life for Generation Text.”
–Craig Watkins, The Young and the Digital

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am a big supporter of digital and multimedia literacies in higher education. Since my postdoctoral work at the Institute of Multimedia Literacy back in the early ’00s, I have been researching and writing about uses of new media and new technologies in the classroom. In each of my academic appointments at Saint Mary’s College and IUPUI, I also have experimented with multimedia literacies in my own pedagogy, frequently putting into practice and evaluating best practices around new technologies and their potential to improve student learning outcomes. And my own courses typically revolve around project-based learning. I prefer (whenever possible) to have my students create multimedia projects as a major learning component. Probably no surprise again, but I’m a big fan of higher order processes in learning (following Bloom’s famous taxonomy) and find project-based learning to yield marvelous moments of synthesis and evaluation.

However, my focus to date has been exclusively on new technologies and their applications in higher education. But that changed earlier this year when I got the opportunity to collaborate with my younger brother on an Oppenheimer Family Foundation grant. My brother, Bob Edwards, is a teacher at Phoenix Military Academy, a high school in the Chicago Public School district. Bob has been similarly interested in the role of new technologies in the classroom. I was thrilled to hear that he had won a Teacher Incentive Grant from the Oppenheimer Family Foundation. This grant is designed to support project-based learning in the Chicago Public Schools. My brother’s winning proposal was:

 Revealing Generation Text:
Students will research cell phone usage, investigating how texting is affecting teenagers. They will create a documentary film disclosing their findings.

My brother asked me to be a part of his project, since he knew of my areas of interest and because he was planning on making a documentary film involving teams of his students from his senior-year Creative Writing class. Together we carved out a plan to have his students work in small teams with dedicated assignments. Each team would interview students, teachers, and administrators to hear their thoughts and observations about Generation Text and student texting. Moreover, we decided each team would additionally focus on a different issue related to Generation Text and the cell phone polices of Chicago Public Schools:

  1. What is and what should be the cell phone policy in Chicago Public Schools?
  2. What are the pros and cons of cell phone confiscation by teachers and administrators?
  3. How can cell phones be used as learning tools?
  4. What would a world without cell phones look like?

Using the money from the grant, we were able to purchase four Cisco Flip cams HD. A quick aside about Flipcams: I am aware that Cisco has ceased support for this project in April 2011, but it was a great tool for us, especially for its ease of use, the quality of its picture, and in my opinion, the quality of its small internal microphone. The Flip cams worked easily and flawlessly for our documentary and it’s a shame that this product is no longer going to be on the market.

The students spent several weeks arranging for their interviews and shooting their videos. We got lots of great footage from each team, and then set about assembling the final cut.

You can see the final results for yourself here by watching the video, which we just completed, and was just screened for the Oppenheimer Family Foundation and a group of first year students at Phoenix Military Academy.

I want to say a few more words about the documentary and what I learned. Overall, we wanted to have the student voices take center stage and present a balance portrait of the everyday realities of cell phone uses and abuses in Chicago Public Schools. As someone who has worked exclusively in higher education, I can say the video was very illuminating to me. I consider myself up to date on the literature around cell phones in higher education, so I was surprised to learn about some of the very real problems created by cell phone uses in K-12 education.

While I expected to hear about the cell phone as a tool of “distraction” (and this was a major theme echoed by all participants in the video), the cell phone is also a tool for bullying in K-12. I wasn’t aware of this as I began working on the documentary. As the Pew Internet and American Life Project noted last year,

Over a quarter (26%) of teen cell phone users reported having been harassed by someone else through their cell phone. Girls are significantly more likely to experience this (30%) than boys (22%). This trend is more common for those teens whose parents are under 40 and low in educational attainment.

Responses in the focus groups were split with regard to how serious of a problem this is. Some teens clearly believe this is major problem with serious social and psychological consequences, while others feel that it is “not really a big deal.”

Bullying and student fights came up as a big issue in our documentary. One reason for the “zero tolerance” ban in Chicago Public Schools is to stop the problem of bullying by cell phone. Therefore, educators who are trying to experiment with educational uses for cell phones have to be aware of the negative uses of this technology among K-12 students.

On the positive flipside, it was great to see the eagerness with which students embrace the new capabilities of cell phones, especially smart phones. However, there is something of a “cell phone arms race” among high school students with students wanting not just a cell phone, but the “right” cell phone. Clearly there is a digital divide between high school students who have cell phones and those who have smart phones. This divide, especially in terms of social capital among one’s peers, appears to be a much greater gap than the one between students who have laptops and students who have no laptops. The role of texting and mobile communication in student’s everyday lives is primary in this regard. Students see their cell phone as an extension of their identity and life style (many students commented on how confiscation of their phone was literally “the end of their world;” hyperbolic, perhaps, but the sentiment is genuine).

In one segment, a group of students that ran “speed tests” between a laptop and a mobile phone (running Android 2.0). These students were able to demonstrate that they could get faster results from Google through their mobile phone connection than the laptop running on the school’s wireless network. What intrigues me about this is that the students are aware of these speed differences. You get a sense that the mobile generation is deeply savvy about connection speeds – a useful thing to be aware of—especially if your “life” is being conducted through a mobile device.

Most of the other major insights we found are in the final video itself, but I was glad to hear that the students themselves are aware of how the cell phone can be a distraction. There is no doubt that many students are surreptitiously texting each other all day long, and as long as the policy is “zero tolerance,” students will continue to do their best to keep their texting out of sight. But even against the backdrop of “texting as distraction,” many students are keenly interested in exploring how cell phones can be used as educational tools. A good sampling of those possible uses can be found in the Speak Up 2010 Survey, which surveyed high school students on what they would like to use cell phones for during the school day:

  • Check grades
  • Conduct research
  • Take notes in class
  • Collaborate with friends
  • Use the calendar
  • Send an email
  • Access online textbooks
  • Check out school activities
  • Create and share videos

That list is a good starting point for conversation and reminds me of how I use my iPhone professionally. I anticipate that the most common counter-argument among K-12 teachers would be computer labs and laptops can fulfill these functions, but not without some caveats. Certain smart phones are great video tools and are much easier than checking out a video camera from the AV closet. Moreover, in many school districts, students are much more likely to have cell phones rather than laptops (due to the difference in expense, even with having to pay a monthly wireless plan), and we have to be cognizant of this “digital divide” as well. Finally, if we don’t bring cell phones in our classrooms, we run the risk of having students miss opportunities to use a mobile device as a component of a formal learning exercise rather than as a personal texting or game playing tool. As we state in the documentary (quoting Liz Kolb), educators can take a lead role in teaching students how to use cell phones more ethically, a key lesson for preparing them for 21st century learning and professional occupations.

Of course, as the video taught me, we have to tread carefully around the topic of cell phones in high schools. They have many positive uses, but also great potential downsides. My sense  is that what may happen going forward are some small modifications to the current “zero tolerance” policies in many high schools and exploring ways of using cell phones in a limited capacity as educational tools.

Personally I think it is worth the effort to experiment with cell phones due to their popularity and their ability to bring students into the classroom. Revealing Generation Text ends with a student who recalls that the cell phone is a communication tool and wouldn’t it be great if cell phones led towards more communication between students and teachers? That’s a vision I would love to see come to fruition some day.

All in all, I am very thankful my brother invited me to be a part of his grant and documentary video project. Thanks also to the Oppenheimer Family Foundation, the musician Moby who gave us permission to use his song “Flying Foxes,” and all the teachers, administrators, and students who participated in our project. I learned a lot about cell phones in K-12 education.

I would love to hear feedback on this video and the thoughts of other educators who have been or might be considering using cell phones in their classrooms or schools.

Pecha Kucha in the Classroom: Tips and Strategies for Better Presentations

I have been using Pecha Kucha (click here to hear it pronounced in Japanese: in my courses for a couple of years now, and I have found the basic constraints of this presentational format to be very useful for my student presentations. If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha, basic information about the history of this presentational style can be found here:

The essence of Pecha Kucha is to intentionally set limits on speakers using slideware (i.e. PowerPoint or Keynote). Pecha Kucha is the Japanese term for “the sound of conversation” or “chit chat.” I like this metaphor because it does suggest that the purpose of certain kinds of presentations is to encourage dialogue and response, and not merely the delivery of new bullet-point information in pre-designed slideware templates. I feel Edward Tufte’s critique of the cognitive style of Powerpoint is still valuable reading for educators who frequently use slideware in their teaching and/or student work. (

But another layer of meaning around Pecha Kucha’s relationship to “the sound of conversation” should also appeal to teachers. It begs the question: what does your classroom “sound” like during a PowerPoint presentation? If you are in most classrooms, the dominant sound is the ceiling mounted digital video project, blaring its white noise over the students’ heads. Next, a student is typically reading (not speaking) bullet points from text-heavy slides projected on a video screen. Finally, I have noticed the sound of restless students, typically sitting around in a semi-darkened room: the sound of bodies shifting in seats and the clacking of computer keys on laptops. What should enliven the classroom—a thoughtful slide presentation—ends up being a rather perfunctory and increasingly disengaging classroom experience. There is a bit of PowerPoint fatigue as it becomes a ubiquitous classroom assignment. A Pecha Kucha is an attempt to break through this “fatigue” and make the entire speaking experience more engaging. So, how does it do that?

I have found that the basic constraint of 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds adds “zip” to any student presentation. 20 seconds is a marvelous amount of time, 1/3 of a minute. Enough time to make a solid point, but not enough time to drone on and on about any point. It forces concision in speaking, and that need to be concise has a corollary effect on the audience: it forces the listener to be more active. I also think that 20 slides is just about the right amount (not too few and not too many) to get a solid grasp (or at least a meaningful gleaning) of a topic.

I think of traditional PowerPoint presentations as “lean back” performances in academic settings–they encourage a kind of “vegging out” by the other students in the room. Traditional PowerPoint slides are text-heavy, frequently with quotes and citations, and in a semi-darkened room, encourages a kind of “mental scanning” that allows the listener to drift in and out of what the speaker is actually saying. I think of Pecha Kucha presentations as “lean forward,” more interactive performances. 20 seconds is not enough time to have text-heavy slides. You can’t speak more than a few choice sentences in 20 seconds. Therefore, the value of this mode of presentation becomes getting the audience interested in what you have to say; in other words, when the speaker is “chit-chatting,” the ideas can be both more informally presented and more engaging. Think about how you engage with chit-chat or informal communication in every day life. You know when some is spouting their ideas at you, and you also know when someone is riffing on good ideas and seeking a real dialogue and sharing of ideas–informal conversation can yield strong benefits as  one MIT study has suggested. For me, Pecha Kucha is about “riffing” on ideas, sharing one’s thoughts on a topic, and trying to get certain ideas to “spark” for the listener. We will come back to the importance of that “spark” at the end of this blog.

So how to get students to buy into the Pecha Kucha format? First, it is important to recognize that a student is not coming into this process as tabula rasa. I have found my students are conditioned to a certain style of PowerPoint (see Tufte note above) since this is the experience they have had in the majority of their classes. This is not to say that most PowerPoint presentations are bad, merely that they have become disconcertingly familiar in discernable ways. Student slides evince a rote learner’s mentality: a consistent template (usually selected from the template menu in PowerPoint or Keynote); they are text-heavy; they tend to be bullet-point structures (though not necessarily following logical outlines or building in a consistent rhetorical direction). In terms of their use of images, things get worse in my experience. Students tend to use images or graphs as supporting elements only, frequently selecting images and clip arts from the first page of Google image search on any given topic. The images are mostly visual dressing for drab text, and seemingly interchangeable with any number of other good images. Students rarely (ever?) are asked to defend why they chose one image over another. If you ask most students, you will get the response, “I chose this image because I liked it.” And regardless of discipline, there tends to be limited critique or evaluation of the formal properties of slide presentations (use of color, font choices, image selections, template choice, etc.)

From my perspective, I approach Pecha Kucha as a meditation (in fact, as an example of meta-teaching) on the technique and art of presentation. There’s a good post by Jason Jones on his use of Pecha Kucha in his classes that we wrote about as part of the Chronicle’s Prof. Hacker Series. You can read that here: I agree with what Jason says in his article, but I do want to add a few things about Pecha Kucha that I picked up in my courses.

First, students need to be aware that this isn’t a “typical” PowerPoint presentation. I stress to my students that the 20 slides X 2o seconds format is particular to this style of presentation and that it will impose unique constraints on what they construct. But I really use this as a teachable moment: constraints are good. In fact, constraints frequently help liberate content and stimulate creativity. It forces the student to make thoughtful choices, not random choices.

Then I start by stressing what students should not do in a Pecha Kucha:

  1. Don’t use too much text
  2. Avoid bullet points
  3. Avoid reading directly from the slides
  4. Avoid images that don’t advance your topic or contribute meaningful visual information
  5. Avoid text-images relations that would take more than 20 seconds to digest (i.e. overly crowded slides will be a blur in a Pecha Kucha, unless you want to intentionally create a sense of “blur”)
  6. While a consistent slide design is good, avoid most PowerPoint templates. Neutral backgrounds and easy to read sans serif fonts are best.

Then I follow up with what students should consider in a good Pecha Kucha:

  1. Consider your 20 slides as 20 panels in a graphic storyline. How do your 20 “panels” flow together to create a cohesive statement or a consistent through-line.
  2. Consider the impact of text on your audience – Is there a single word or a short phrase that captures the essence of what you are saying in that 20 second time span? Frequently, a single word can be used metonymically — t0 “stand in” for your entire 20 seconds of information.
  3. Consider your images very carefully. In a Pecha Kucha, images are frequently the only information on the entire slide. Yes, visual data is just as valuable as textual data. A well-chosen picture is likely worth a thousand words. Why did you select that image? Did you manipulate an image you found to make it even more compelling and precise? Would it be better if you cropped the image? Is this image easy to substitute for another image? If so, have you truly considered why you selected this image and not the other one? How does this image connect to other images in your slide set?
  4. Don’t use slide transitions. Use direct cuts from slide to slide. Avoid all dissolves, and clever transitions like “curtains” or “barn doors.”
  5. Avoid sounds or video clips. There just isn’t time, and these features are just distracting in a Pecha Kucha. Your voice is your sound instrument in this presentation.
  6. What is your design style? What is connecting these 20 panels? Is there a similar textual strategy? A consistent visual design? Are you playing with or against audience expectations? Have you completely considered the arrangement of these 20 slides? Would your presentation change dramatically if the slide order was reversed, or changed in any way? If so, why did you select the order that you did?
  7. Rehearse your spoken remarks. 20 seconds is an amazing short period of time. Most students who do not practice end up speed-talking as the slides change over. A good Pecha Kucha is not about talking faster or talking over the wrong slide. Timing is of the essence of a good Pecha Kucha. Practice really helps. You will set the slideshow on automatic advance, so the slide will change in 20 seconds even if you don’t finish your remarks. Think about how your slides and your spoken remarks match up. They are two parts of a whole, and a successful Pecha Kucha is both well designed and well spoken. In many ways, you should consider yourself a performer, and you are attempting to deliver a compelling performance.

Once I address the “do’s” and “don’ts,” I move onto the objective of a Pecha Kucha. A Pecha Kucha is not an in-depth analysis of an issue. It is a practice started by designers to help creative people get to the point when they were presenting new architectural designs, for instance. It forces speakers to get to the point, making these presentations much faster paced, and much more evocative than a standard PowerPoint. What do I mean by “evocative?” I mean that you get the gist of something from a Pecha Kucha. It introduces ideas better than it analyzes them in depth. And in fact, this is one of the pleasant surprises of this mode of “chit chat.” It is actually quite hard to “chit chat” about something that you don’t really understand. To be concise and evocative means you have really done your homework, that you understand what you are presenting. A novice has trouble distilling information. I find that students who give strong Pecha Kuchas have done their research, have really distilled or “groked” ideas into an essence or a worldview. These are all higher level of intellectual behaviors according to Bloom’s taxonomy. To make a good Pecha Kucha, a student has to be able to analyze, evaluate, and create. In this regard, it is fun to consider how a Pecha Kucha reflects your point of view about a subject—this style of presentation is good at formulating points of view.

A few more aspects to consider:

  1. Like any set of student presentations, less is more. Even though each PK is only 6 minutes, 40 seconds long, I try to stagger PKs over several course meetings rather than have 5 or 6 in a row. I tend to find students can “lean forward” through about 4 PKs, or even 5, but by the 6th fast paced presentation, they start to tune out. So figure that into your syllabi and course planning to get the maximum attention out of PKs.
  2. PKs work well in teams of 2 or more. In my courses, I frequently have PKs that involve 2 students using the same constraint of 20×20. This means functionally that the PK is split into two 10×20 segments. Student teams can alternate slide by slide (the hardest version in my opinion) or split the presentation into two ten panel segments (much more workable for most students). This keeps the PK spirit alive, but let’s larger classes of students perform PKs without taking up too many class sessions. In order to make this option work, I usually let students meet at the end of a few classes for planning, but they usually still have to meet outside of class time to make team-based PKs really work.
  3. I believe one of the real benefits of PKs is to take advantage of the “leaning forward” student is paying attention and engaged by the event. Therefore, I like to build into my courses time for discussion and questions after a PK. In fact, I like the final slide of a PK to be a bit of a provocation to get students talking. And since PKs are very structured, I find it useful to have a time limit for discussion. Depending on class size and course schedule, I try for 6 minutes and 40 seconds of discussion (i.e. the same time for discussion as there was for presentation). Longer discussions works as well if the PKs are spread out over several class meetings, and/or replace other kinds of discussion-based learning (such as using PKs as a replacement for reading reports or project proposals)
  4. PKs tend to get better as students see what other students are doing. Since it will be new to many students, I tend to see more creativity and more willingness to “think outside the box” after the first few PKs of a semester.
  5. In my experience, students really like PK as a presentation style. The faster pace is quite appealing, but I think it tends to bring out the best in speakers. Even students who are a bit less polished as public speakers can use the 20×20 method to come across as a more organized speaker. And when you are talking in shorter bursts, I think many students can even use the PK style to build in a better sense of pausing and reflecting since they can take a breath or a moment as each slide changes on screen.

Finally, like any class assignment, there is plenty of room for experimentation and modification. The only true constraint is 20×20, but much of what I have been speaking about fits my pedagogy and my learning objectives. I know that other teachers may emphasize other types of argumentation and have different expectations regarding stylistic or formal concerns.

In closing, Pecha Kucha should be a fun activity in the classroom, but one that shouldn’t be treated lightly. PK doesn’t mean that anything goes. I find it is best suited to courses that are trying to get students to speak and act like experts on their disciplinary knowledge. This becomes a moment when they share something they know about a topic with their peers. And here is where I return to the idea of “spark.” The moment when PK becomes more than a presentation, students feel that they have “sparked” a good discussion, or brought in knowledge to the class that wasn’t there previously. It makes them co-mentors in the educational process, and that feeling goes a long way towards building deep and complex appreciation not only for course content, but why that course content is relevant to them and their peers. That moment can happen in any presentation, of course, but it seems especially well suited to the sound of conversation that emerges from a Pecha Kucha.