Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Binge Thinking

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
Opens a new window on The Big Question
This month, The Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog is to do with New Presenter and Learner Methods and Skills.

Multitasking is now every presenter’s problem. Tony Karrer posits, “that there are things that presenters and learners should do to address this.”

Multitasking is binge thinking. It has the potential to distend the capacity of the brain so that normal thinking to do with any one task, including learning, becomes severely impaired. Tony says it all here.

Scott Flansburg is a supreme example of how a person can perform amazing calculative feats. He executes thinking skills that traditionally command extremely high concentration levels and all the thinking power that permits this. His unique ability to close down areas of the brain normally associated with other peripheral tasks makes him a matchless unitasker.

Thinking tires the brain

I am convinced that people often shut down areas of their brains automatically to make it easier to think. For instance, it is now known that when making decisions, the brain’s executive resources can be taxed to an extent that cognitive ability is considerably impaired. To prevent this happening in some situations, fast track routines are adopted.

Too much decision making over a short space of time literally tires the brain. Do people make decisions when attending a presentation? You bet they do, if they make a genuine attempt to learn from it.

PowerPoint and other potential vagaries

So why is it that when the audience is supposedly concentrating on the single task of learning, the presenter insists on giving them a series of tasks to perform synchronously? Cognitive overload associated with the misuse of PowerPoint has become a talking point. It is an issue because it’s real.

Learners well know that when the presenter reads the text from a PowerPoint slide, the best thing to do is to shut the eyes and listen.

So why is the text on the PowerPoint slide in the first place? For the presenter? No! It’s there because the presenter knows nothing about cognitive overload. A better way is for the presenter to shut up and let the learner do his or her own reading.

Take note

Tony refers to backchannel as a distraction for the presenter. I’m not surprised he finds it distracting. It is nevertheless an inevitable activity if learners are engaged in taking notes, by whatever means they use.

Through years at school, university and attending hundreds of seminars since then, I have learnt to take notes while giving nearly full attention to a presentation. It’s one multitasking practice that I’m good at. But not everyone has this skill.

What I’ve found often helps is if the presenter provides printed notes on the PowerPoint bullets – before the presentation. This frees up the brain when it comes to taking notes. I just write my additional notes on the PowerPoint printout.

Cognitive engagement

But there is another aspect to presentation – and that is of intent.

What does the presenter really want the learner to take away from the experience? If the seminar has a sales pitch, it may be better not to dwell too much on the facts and details that a learner may take away.

Research has shown that the verbal content of a presentation, whether in speech or text, is only a small part of the total message conveyed to the attendee. How often has a conference goer raved about a ‘keynote’, reporting that the best thing about the presentation was its entertainment value?

What if the presentation was entirely lacking in entertainment, yet the same factual information was presented? Herein may lie a pedagogical message.

Entertainment provides two important features to the learner. It provides the necessary breaks between learning tasks and prevents the possible onset of cognitive overload brought on through multitasking. It also adds interest and factual significance by association.

Rangimārie - Peace in Harmony


Britt Watwood said...

Could not agree with you more. In the past year, thanks in large part to Garr Reynolds book PRESENTATION ZEN, I have just about removed all text from my powerpoints. Instead, I use a series of relevant images to keep me on task and provide context to my words.

V Yonkers said...

My question in this day and age is why would you "present"? I use a lot of video clips, discussion, and problem solving activities (both "clean" and "messy"--better known as defined and ill-defined) in my classes. For the most part, I'm bored with the expert centered lecturer (just as I know my own students are bored when I lecture). As the groups work, I circulate and address the problems they are having, occasionally bringing it up for the entire class if I keep hearing the same questions.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koutou katoa!

Kia ora e Andy!

Thanks for your supportive comment. I am grateful to Tony Karrer for supplying me with the initiative for this post.

Kia ora e Brit!

I must lay my hands on a copy of Reynolds' book! I've heard it's a great read. I follow your style when I use PowerPoint at a seminar or talk.

Tēnā koe Virginia!

I get the imnpression that, these days the term 'present' means interacting with a bevy of learners in a room or other such physical venue, though I've seen a few presentations and given one myself in Second Life.

But I catch your drift. My idea of giving a lecture is where there is no option in addressing 50 or more people, sometimes with video connection required. But even so, these days (and you are right) the iea of standing on the podium is a bit passé.

Catchya later

Unknown said...

No problem. Keep up the great posts!

MSFT Outreach Team

Owlfarmer said...

Thanks for this useful and informative post, and for the idea of "binge thinking." I was looking for a good term to describe what I see going on in many classrooms, and this pretty well does it.

I also appreciate the remarks about PowerPoint. I've long been a follower of Edward Tufte's notion that "power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." The only text that appears on my art history slides is the title of the work and the artist. I've also tried to reduce the number of images I show in order to generate discussion--instead of just constantly lecturing.

I have often wondered why anyone would simply list bullet points and read their own slides. I don't bore easily, but that would certainly invite me to nap!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai Candace!

I love your Tufte's quote!

Another poor practice I've observed of lecturers and presenters is turning their back to the audience in order to read the bullets from their own slides while obscuring the slide from view.

And yet another is showing a video of an interview and speaking over the most important parts of the interview.

Believe me, I saw these ably demonstrated only a few weeks ago by a leading educator. My heart sank.

Thanks for visiting Middle-earth. I invite you to look around.

Catchya later