Category Archives: Tweak your Teach

From Creating Communication: Duarte and Reynolds Inspire Another Class Overhaul

Check out Alex’s post on the Professional Communication and Presentation reboot I referred to earlier last week. Tomorrow, look for my post highlighting the five challenges we face in restructuring the course in 2014.

Creating Communication

Always interested in a good reading list, I was excited to see Garr Reynolds’ “10 Books for the 21st Century Presenter, Storyteller.”  His recommendations couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for my superteacher BFF, Chiara Ojeda, and for me.  As I mentioned earlier this week, an issue Chiara and I face is differentiating Public Speaking (our basic, freshman-level class) with Professional Communication and Presentation (our advanced, junior-level course).

With a recent overhaul of our Public Speaking online course and a focus on developing a new syllabus for the campus course, PSP is looking and feeling more solid in 2014 than it has in years.  Chiara and I decided to focus PCP both on campus and online on a visual resume project called the Professional Persona Project.  Presentation will be a major component of the course, still, but there will be even more of an emphasis on developing…

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When presentations go wrong, think preparation and grit

Earlier this week, I blogged about what could be described as one of the top ten worst rounds of presentations I’ve witnessed in the five years I’ve taught Professional Communication and Presentation. While the students definitely grasped some aspects of visual design and put a week and a half worth of effort into brainstorming, organizing, designing, and submitting the project, several students produced less than mediocre work (no image sources, nine slides for a 15-30 slide project, super noisy slides), disregarded my advice (and extra credit points) to meet with me or my teaching assistant for a design consultation, and delivered abysmal at worst, forgettable at best “approach explanations” in class. I received this very thoughtful message from Cory Jim of Empowered Presentations. In this response, Cory helped me to ask the types of questions I needed to determine what really happened on presentation day:

…Is the student just going through the motion to get a passing grade? Are they afraid of public speaking. Did they get the right instruction. Did they have enough time. Are they excited to do it. Would they rather do something else instead.

He also gave me some excellent ideas for reframing how I teach the visual resume in class:

There are many many factors that one must take in to consideration such as:

A clear purpose to in fact land a job. How to use keynote/powerpoint effectively. The power of the perfect picture. How to storyboard. How to place fonts. Font Legibility. How to create a color palette. What branding is. What marketing is. A call to action. Engagement. The sales process. Different personalities. How much is too much. Where to emphasis a point. How to stand out. And many more…

I appreciate Cory’s insights, advice, and encouragement. After analyzing the situation further and speaking to several students, I think this comment sums up what happened on presentation day. Despite guidance, in class time, meetings, and reviews, a lack of preparation and drive for excellence led to the class-wide failure.

What I have found is that sometimes one does not have the excellence mentality, drive, passion, and just finishes the project going through the motions just to get it over with. Those are the ones that don’t quite get it (yet). Do we spend the time nurturing them to get better, or do we seek out better talent that is passionate for presentations? We let them go as it is not what they are self motivated to do.

One of the hardest things for me to accept as a teacher is that not everyone will get or care about the power and importance of a strong presentation, not everyone understands without being explicitly forced to that every presentation is high stakes (Duarte 2008). Not everyone, even when his or her grade depends on it, will treat his or her audience as king (Duarte 2009) and put his or her all into preparation and execution. It’s my job as teacher to give students tools, not hold their hands through every step; it’s my job as teacher to trust students to use their critical thinking skills and act autonomously and know that any and every presentation in a presentation class counts!

I could tell from observing presentations later in the class week that several students got this. However, several more still just don’t care. It’s time to let those go and focus on the ones motivated to truly achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the course. Without preparation, a presentation will go poorly–I promise. Without a growth mindset, a life will go poorly–I promise! I’ll leave you with the same inspiration I will draw from as I revise and rework this assignment in the future, Angela Duckworth’s “The key to success, grit”:

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Where do we go from here? When presentations just go wrong.

Today was visual resume showcase day in Professional Communication and Presentation. I am happy to say that my students created lovely decks/visual stories that represented who they want to be as professionals and the steps they are taking to achieve those goals. Here are a few of my favorites:

I love Crystal’s sense of aesthetic and design; as a trained and capable artist and illustrator, Crystal created these visuals herself in the Adobe Creative suite, included many of her own works and images, and told a succinct story. My favorite is slide is number 7!

Mikayla did such a wonderful job of integrating her own images and using her own aesthetic to convey personality and passion for her chosen industry. Her entire look is cohesive, well structured, and engaging.

Andy is my favorite student this month, I cannot lie. His bravery and willingness to push past his anxieties about presenting make me smile. What I love about his visual resume is his use of personal imagery and storytelling. You can really see how he’s progressed from dreamy boy to dream maker.

Check out the rest of this month’s visual resume’s below



Now, on to the part of today that had me nearly in presentation teacher tears….out of 28 students, only a handful were prepared to effectively execute the other important part of this visual resume assignment, a brief presentation explaining their approach to the presentation (how they chose their brand mantra, how they chose their target audience, how they made their design decisions, and what the project overall has to say about them as professionals).

As I sat watching one presentation after another, many of which simply involved students reading the question and then answering each one, staring at their slides, fumbling through ideas, and closing with the dreaded phrase “that’s it”, I thought, “where did I go wrong?” Was it in focusing all class time on developing the project and not enough on what would actually be presented in class, the explanation of how the project came together? Was it in allowing students the option of showing their slides as they explained their project? Was it in not asking for an outline of their rationale speech before class? In speaking to students, despite explaining both in person and in writing that on presentation day they would not be presenting every slide of their visual resume but would instead present an explanation of their process and approach, the resounding answer was I didn’t know that’s what you wanted me to do, or I thought just answering the questions would be enough.

I feel discouraged as a teacher and know that this not working in execution is my fault. What I don’t know is how to go from here? Return to preparation? Move on to the next project? What would you do in this situation? How do I reinvigorate the spirit of learning and growth in my class?

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The Teaching Portfolio: Stretching those Design and Cognition Muscles

Recently, my department was tasked with a goal that left a few of us filled with a bit of anxiety (as it does most teachers when asked to take on this task)–our goal for the new year is to create or revise an online teaching portfolio. While most teachers are expected to have a completed portfolio they can call up at a moment’s notice, that portfolio is generally in print form and lacks the interactivity that is possible with today’s technology. So, I was excited to tackle this project and expand my already existing mini-portfolio to a full-fledged site with samples, student work, videos, images, and lesson plans. Here is the first draft of my site. It’s technically “live” though not being fully promoted as it is not complete.

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Note: I removed the curriculum section from the published site as it is not yet complete.

I had to ask and answer a few questions in developing this project: what is a teaching portfolio? Why do teachers need a teaching portfolio? What purpose does it serve new and experience teachers? What makes a good teaching portfolio?

What is a teaching portfolio?

While a resume or curriculum vitae is a part of a strong portfolio, it is not a replacement. Unlike a cv, a teaching portfolio focuses on communicating a teacher’s pedagogical vision, his or her range of expertise and experience, his or her teaching methods, the level of the teacher’s effectiveness at facilitating learning, and methods for assessing and improving teaching.

“While dissertation abstracts and research summaries document your expertise in research, the teaching portfolio documents your expertise in teaching.” (Source)

Why does a teacher need a teaching portfolio?

Teaching is a profession that requires lifelong practice, learning, and evolution. A teaching portfolio not only allows viewers to see how your approach has grown through experience, trial and error, and the use of metrics, but it also gives you as a teacher the opportunity to objectively consider how your experience and approach have aided you in achieving your goal–facilitating learning. The Teaching Center at Washington University in St. Louis gives a few more reasons for the use of portfolios:

A Teaching Portfolio is a useful tool that can help you (Source):

  • develop, clarify, and reflect on your teaching philosophy, methods, and approaches
  • present teaching credentials for hiring and promotion in an academic position
  • document professional development in teaching
  • identify areas for improvement
  • prepare for the interview process

So, a strong portfolio can help you land a job, a promotion, or related position within academia. It can also help you focus on the same kind of self-reflection and analysis you ask your students to engage in every day!

“Portfolios have much to offer the teaching profession,” writes Dr. Kenneth Wolf, of the University of Colorado. “When teachers carefully examine their own practices, those practices are likely to improve. The examples of accomplished practice that portfolios provide also can be studied and adapted for use in other classrooms.”  (Source)

What makes for a good teaching portfolio?

First of all, a teaching portfolio should be summative and selective, not broad and comprehensive. Instead of cramming every detail of one’s educational career into a portfolio, a teacher should instead selectively choose material that supports the main and universal component of a strong portfolio–a clear teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy is in this case the big idea; it communicates who a teacher is as a professional and why he or she does what you does. The rest of the content fluctuates depending on a source, but in general, a strong teaching portfolio includes the following in addition to a philosophy:

  • Goals as an educator
  • Tracing of one’s development as an educator
  • Lesson plans and instructional methods
  • Methods of assessing student work and success
  • Course materials (syllabi, activities, assignments)
  • Student work examples
  • Evaluations from students, colleagues, and supervisors
  • Evidence of professional development
  • Video/photographic evidence of teaching

George David Clark of The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses three tips for a successful portfolio in his 2012 article on the subject. According to Clark, in developing a portfolio, a teacher should focus on organizing to minimize. By providing the target audience with a clear organizational structure and cutting content that doesn’t support that structure, a teacher can ensure that one clear message regarding theory and approach to instruction is being communicated. In addition, a strong teaching portfolio should clearly chart a teacher’s development and maturation as a professional.  Clark states that the “format of a teaching portfolio allows job seekers to connect the dots and even briefly describe the thought process that led them to try new things in the classroom.” Teachers can use the linear structure of a portfolio to help their audience understand where they’ve been and where they are going as educators. Finally, Clark suggests focusing on the student as a measurement of success. Something he suggested that I’d like to adapt is making reference to letters of recommendation students have written on behalf of a teacher that led to that student earning a position at a school or with a company. I’d love to get a sense from past students of how they use the skills they learned in class. These could be integrated while still maintaing the students’ privacy in an online portfolio.

You know I have to add a few design-based dos to this list…

  • Do create an easy to navigate site for your online portfolio
    • This is, I feel, the area I need the most work in–the way the information is in my head is not the way others might understand it.
  • Don’t use a template; remix existing design but make it your own
    • There’s nothing worse than an unoriginal teacher (ever have to teach someone else’s class–I don’t mean substitute necessarily here, but use someone else’s materials to reach something! So difficult!)….
    • …except for a teacher who steals. Be inspired by what you see more experienced web folks doing, but iterate that inspiration.
  • Use relevant visual support
    • While a print resume is by nature text-driven, you have the entire “mystery box” that is the web to draw from. Don’t rely on text only to communicate your message. Recall that text alone helps your audience retain far less information than text and image together (Source).
  • Make it interactive
    • Create a dynamic portfolio with text, audio, and visual to maximize your message.
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April Goal Win: The Liberal Studies Round Table


The process of proposing, organizing, and launching the Liberal Studies round table initiative has been a learning experience and a real privilege. In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to collaborate with amazing English department folks, including the very talented “Team Unicorn”, a group of composition teachers who’ve embraced the cinematic approach to creating slides. Check out one example of a deck used in this group’s English composition online course:

I am pleased to say that the English department worked for the past month to plan and organize our session, and we were ready for our debut today. The presentations went smoothly and we had an awesome turn out. The first hour was devoted to a series of presentations on the topic of teaching personas (defining persona, applying persona to a collaborative online team of teachers, and using the student’s experience to mold the teacher’s persona). The rest of the workshop was devoted to discussion. I’d like to see stronger discussion in the future, and this I think is where my presence would have been best used.

I chose not to present in this workshop (except for providing our attendees with an agenda of the session). I think at this point, people expect me to present, but I wanted to give the floor to some of the English folks who don’t often get heard but have incredible ideas. Instead, I functioned as facilitator. One of my tasks was to create a basic set of slides to serve as welcome, transition, and closing visuals. As you can see, my obsession with The Noun Project continues:

Our welcome slide sets the tone for the session--connect, discover, collaborate.

Our welcome slide sets the tone for the session–connect, discover, collaborate.

Our agenda moved from a presentation on the concept of personas to specific examples/applications.

Our agenda moved from a presentation on the concept of personas to specific examples/applications.

Overall, I found the discussion of personas to be interesting and I know Alex and I gleaned some insights about how we can further work to create a positive relationship with our students. What’s your opinion on teacher personas online? Is it something you think about as an educator? What is your teaching persona?

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Tweak Your Lessons: March Updates

The reboot of PCPO is two weeks in, and already the team has seen several areas where “tweaking” will be needed in order to help students successfully complete their major project in the course, the Ignite presentation. Current challenges we face with this week by week process-based model are:

  • Students don’t sufficiently study welcome materials and don’t understand the course is based on the major project. There seems to be a disconnect between our communication of the process and their conditioning, which is to complete one task at a time without considering how each task connects with another.
    • Possible fix–schedule GoTo earlier in the week. Require attendance?
  • Students are choosing overused or unsuitable topics for the format and approach.
    • Do what we do in class–students must submit ten topics, workshop each one with their instructor, determine which three will work best for the project, then analyze each one using the model Andrew Dlugan proposes in his article “The Secret of Choosing Successful Speech Topics”.

In addition to testing the reboot of the class, I’ve also been working on several of the decks from last month I didn’t have a chance to tweak because of REAL Delivery and SIMPLE Design. I’ll be debuting Tweak Your Resume online next month, and I just used the Brainstorming and Structuring deck in today’s group workshop/planning/design session for the upcoming worst case scenario presentation.

The second version of Tweak Your Resume uses a more cohesive color scheme. I am also experimenting with smaller text unified visuals.

The second version of Tweak Your Resume uses a more cohesive color scheme. I am also experimenting with smaller text and more unified visuals.

This deck will need serious revision before it's  show ready. The content is specific to an in-class project the students are working on, though I'd like for it to become a general purpose tutorial on choosing a topic for and organizing a demonstration speech.

This deck will need serious revision before it’s show ready. The content is specific to an in-class project the students are working on, though I’d like for it to become a general purpose tutorial on choosing a topic for and organizing a demonstration speech. In this presentation, I’ve tried to detach from the image-only approach to include vector icons from

What presentation projects have you been working on lately? What decks are you excited to share with others?

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Professional Communication and Presentation Reboot: Infographic as a Teaching Tool

Alex Rister and I have been busy creating videos, tweaking slides, revamping/rewriting/overhauling assignment sheets, and generally obsessing about all things presentation education for the past few weeks in anticipation of our upcoming online course reboot. One of our challenges has been to create a streamlined educational experience that appeals to all learners. We also have to restructure the four week class to focus entirely on one major presentation, the Ignite speech. In an attempt to do this, I’ve chosen to create an infographic tipsheet on choosing a strong presentation topic.  This is a draft/work in progress, and I’d love the critical feedback. What do you think? Is this a welcome and useful break from text-based instruction? Is it too busy to process? Is it learner-centered?


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A Superteacher’s Views on the Learning Divide

This 11th year of teaching has been one of contemplation and reflection on the craft of teaching. Today, I thought a bit about the apparent divide between a teacher’s perspective on learning and a student’s perspective on learning. I believe a starting point to correcting this situation is teachers and students communicating. Here is how I managed to reconcile the two over the course of my educational journey as student and teacher:

bridging the divide.001

A real teacher’s only job is to serve and help her students. At our core, we want all of you to succeed, to reach beyond the miasma of the average, the just good enough, to true mastery. Mastery to me means more than just scoring well on tests (tests suck. Seriously); mastery is reaching a level of immersion and understanding that leads to true passion, perhaps even the ecstatic bliss of knowing one’s purpose in life. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself with teaching. I resisted for a bit, always remembering my humanities and AP language teacher Dr. Earls, who taught me that learning is the thin veil between human and troglodyte. But yes, teaching is what fuels me, what keeps me motivated to be more. It’s this drive that should fuel your love of learning, but for so long learning has been a chore on a checklist, whose mark is the letter grade, a number on a sterile scale.

So, we come to an impasse. You believe learning is about getting a grade. I believe learning is about earning a grade. You believe your fate is in my hands. I believe only you can determine the course of your own education–you are entirely responsible for the choices you make.

I learned this as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. My first semester, a complete failure, is the one I’ll remember most because it forced me to live with the consequences of the choices I’d made. I reveled in my newfound freedom. I was away from home, living the awkward teenager’s dream of dorm rooms, dining hall food, and 6-dollar football games. I wasted my time sleeping, watching TV, going to the movies, and generally not going to class. I also wasn’t smart enough to save my money to purchase the class notes that semester. I’d chosen to take a particularly challenging course, AST 2037: Search for Life in the Universe because I loved science fiction (naturally), and assumed it would be an easy pass. I was wrong. The class threw so much math and physics at me that I was instantly lost, but instead of helping myself to learn, I gave up. So, after weeks of not attending my classes I earned the lowest grades of my life–a D+ in astronomy, two C+ in biology and to my utter shame, theater appreciation, and a B in art history. I knew instantly my scholarship was gone. I was downgraded from a Florida Academic Scholar to a Merit Scholar, putting more of the financial burden of school on me.

I worked for the next four years with single-minded purpose, never taking a summer off, taking on several concentrations to finally graduate with honors. I never blamed my teachers for my failures, nor did I hold them responsible for what grade I earned–if I earned a C on a paper, it was because of me. If I’d not taken advantage of the time given to me to work on an assignment and turned in what I knew was sub par work, I took the ding to the grade and added it to my list of “do not ever do this agains.”

So, it’s difficult for me to see it any other way, to feel that I should apply rules only in certain instances or occasions, to subjugate the worth of someone’s education by not holding them accountable to the standards everyone is expected to meet and exceed. To me, doing so would cheapen your education, making it worth less, making it less impacting on your immediate community and the larger human community. Yes, I want you to succeed, and I will do anything within my power to help you–within the scope of my responsibilities.  I am a guide, facilitator, evaluator, and cheerleader; I am not the learner, the one who must embark on a journey with a new set of tools, face a series of challenges, and return to the world with a new boon–mastery. You are the learner, the hero on your own journey.  I commit myself to ensuring you learn, to clarifying ideas, providing you with guidance and constructive critique, to constantly updating and polishing my craft to better serve your learning needs. I only ask that you embrace the call to adventure and make your world better through learning.

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Tweak Your Teach: Design Thinking for Educators Vol. 2

My exposure to design over the past four years–TED’s mission of spreading ideas through the marriage of technology, entertainment, and design; the work of those who work towards the cause for cinematic presentations, and the work of instructional design folks like Julie Dirksen–has definitely impacted my approach to building and revising my courses. I am in the process of reworking the online version of Professional Communication and Presentation and redoing my on campus lectures for the course, so, the design treat I found in my inbox on Monday couldn’t have come at a better time.


Source: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

The  creators of the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, Riverdale School and design firm IDEO, have released volume 2 of this amazing resource. This new volume of the toolkit icludes a basic introduction to what design thinking is, a streamlined process for using design thinking to improve the educational experience (whether it’s curriculum, space, process/tool, or systems-based), and a new workbook feature that takes educators through the design process. The workbook provides educators with a framework for completing short-term or long-term projects both individually and in groups.  Download this superteacher resource at the Design Thinking For Educators website.


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Tweak Your Teach: Women as Academic Authors

One of the key frameworks of any professional academic career is published research. One reason I did not pursue a PhD in Literature is because I found that pure research paled in comparison to actual teaching. However, one of my goals for 2013 is to finally return to school to pursue my Ed.D in educational leadership or instructional design. Another goal involves submitting a paper on the community of inquiry  and the community college model to an educational conference. So, research must and will be done! I ran across this interactive infographic from the Chronicle of Higher Education while conducting preliminary research on schools and ideological approaches to the studies of educational leadership and instructional design:

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The infographic provides a historical analysis of the place women have had in academic research in specific fields (I found it interesting that most humanities are left out of this list) including education. Here are a few interesting numbers:

  • From 1991-2010, women accounted for 46% of articles published in the field of education, with the two biggest areas being student learning and teacher development.
  • From 1665-1970 women contributed only 3.9% of articles on mathematics, 5.4% from 1971-1991, and from 1991-2010, that percentage increased to 10.7%.
  • From 1665-2010, women published more articles in pollution and occupational health than all of political science (domestic and international) combined.

It is interesting to see which disciplines have grown and which still have some room for growth. Does academic authorship reflect other demographic imbalances in academia and professional work? What do you think?

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