Learning Presentation Design

Source: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones, the Daring LIbrarian, Flickr CC.

Source: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones, the Daring LIbrarian, Flickr CC.


All effective teachers strive to craft learning experiences that are meaningful, that actively engage learners, and that have some degree of authenticity about them. Sometimes we hit the mark. Sometimes we miss – by a little or by a lot. I don’t always share the activities that we do in my college classes, but I thought it’s time that I did. There have been so many valuable blog posts that I have read because someone was willing to share what they or what their students did in the classroom. This doesn’t mean that the shared experiences were perfect. Just the opposite sometimes. It’s equally, granted more risky, to share those experiences that flopped. That failed. That somehow missed the mark.

So, here’s an activity that I felt pleased with because it came close to “the mark” that I was aiming for.

The goal that I set for my students as they began a series on effective presentation design, presentation tools, and effective presentations, was to start with understanding what makes an effective presentation design. 99.9% of them have experiences to the complete opposite. Countless PowerPoint slides,

Source: Ryan M. shinealight - Flickr CC

Source: Ryan M.
shinealight – Flickr CC

full of text and endless bullet points, either cheesy clipart or no visual imagery at all,.. copious copying of slide content (notes) where they are unable to listen to the presenter who isn’t really engaged with the audience because he/she is reading all of that content on the slides TO the students. It’s a vicious circle. We put so much content on each individual slide because we see it all as important, we don’t want to forget what we want to say, we don’t want to practice to the degree that we actually know that which we are trying to present, and even that we have not arrived at the place where we deeply understand our content, resulting in an inability to expound beyond what is on each slide, the inability to make genuine eye contact with those in our audience (because we are too focused on reading slide content), the inability to read audience reaction, understanding and engagement, and in the end, fail to be passionate about our content.

So, I gave my students a very short article by Garr Reynolds to read outside of class titled, Top Ten Slide Tips. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with too much theory or too many ideas. We briefly discussed Reynolds’ ten tips together. Then, in class, I introduced the concept of Creative Commons and CC-licensed media and gave them some resources for finding high quality imagery that is licensed for permissible re-use. We explored the following tools:

  • Flickr advanced search, filtering for creative commons licensed content
  • Compfight, also filtering for Creative Commons licensed content
  • FlickrCC, automatically filtered for Creative Commons licenses
  • CCsearch, the least user friendly, but with the most breadth

I did not really focus on advanced Google Image Search with the creative commons filter (“usage rights”, as I find those results are often not all that useful or of high quality.



Google Advanced Image Search

Google Advanced Image Search


This was all completely new to every single one of them. They range from freshman to juniors and have never been introduced to this before. I’ll leave this tragedy for another blog post…

Their challenge at this point was to design an 11-slide presentation using PowerPoint that communicated each of Garr Reynolds’ ten tips in a manner that reflected each of those 10 tips…. a title slide and ten slides, each designed in alignment with these tips. I limited them to no more than 3-4 words on a slide. They also had to give attribution for their use of high quality images and could only use those images licensed for re-use. This included some of the high quality photos that Microsoft provides through the clipart gallery. These images didn’t require attribution, since they are automatically licensed for re-use. They, of course, could NOT use any of Microsoft Powerpoint’s supplied templates, per Garr Reynolds’ suggestion.

I  struggled with how I would have them share their projects with one another the following class but arrived at this workable solution that ended up working very well.

  1. The following class, I gave them a quick overview of Slideshare.net and had them each create their own account. I briefly introduced the notion of digital footprint and the idea that now is the time to begin thinking about their personal brand, to stop running from the notion of trying to stay off of the Internet ( you know, the bad stuff no one wants to be found) and to begin thinking about purposefully creating things worthy of sharing that demonstrate their skills, abilities, passions, professionalism, creativity… the things we should want to be found. For most of them, this was the first time ever that this notion has been introduced.
  2. Then, they all uploaded their PowerPoint presentation files, describing and tagging their uploads accordingly.
  3. Finally, in order to collate them all in a sharable and easily navigable manner, I created in advance a Padlet board (previously known as Wallwisher) where they could post their presentation URLs and have them automatically embedded for everyone to browse. Padlet makes this drop dead simple.
  4. We then took 10 minutes to individually browse each other’s presentations. The could also click the button when previewing each other’s presentations to go to the source, Slideshere. There they could even leave one another comments on their presentations. Some did this.
  5. Finally, we took 5 minutes to debrief – things designed by their peers that they liked… and some areas for improvement. The constructive criticism component came largely from me, as they were not so willing to provide this for one another…yet.

You can see the Padlet boards created and shared here and here.

In the end, I think it was a particularly effective workflow and learning experience. Was it perfect? No, but it was hands-down so much better than delivering a dull PowerPoint presentation to my students 🙂

Here are some of my favorite presentation resources:



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