Wednesday, October 19, 2011

iSpring for PowerPoint

I've recently been using iSpring Presenter plugin for PowerPoint to produce online versions of my lectures.  Alane, our campus instructional design guru, recommended that I try their free trial version . . . so I did.  And I like it!

You may have seen my online presentation Online Lectures using Hughes Presenter (aka Helius Presenter, PointeCast Presenter) in which I explained how I use such online lectures in my human anatomy & physiology course. I still like Hughes Presenter, but it has lagged behind the evolution of PowerPoint.  For example, Hughes Presenter is not supported for use with PowerPoint 2010 and they don't seem interested in keeping pace with the real world.  So I'm looking for alternatives.  And iSpring is powerful contender.

In my A&P course, I use online lecture presentations to cover some basic introductory material before each major topic.  By having students participate in an online introductory lecture before coming to class, I can spend time on the tougher, advanced aspects of each topic in class rather than spending a lot of time on the straightforward introductory material that really doesn't require any tricky explanations or Q-and-A interaction with students.

I also sometimes use online presentations instead of having a substitute professor cover my class when I cannot be there for class.  That not only frees up department resources, my students also appreciate the continuity of having the same professor all the way through.

I also sometimes use an online lecture to repeat what I've covered in class so that students can go back and repeat a particularly tough topic on their own.  This allows them to really "get it" by experiencing my explanations again (and again, if they need to).

And online lecture presentations allow me record professional development presentations that I give, so that folks who can't make it to my workshops can still have access to what I have to share.

In an online course I teach, I use brief online presentations to introduce each week's discussion topic and weekly activities. 

My colleague Mary Ann,  who is delivering an online Human Biology course, uses  iSpring Presenter to provide complete online lectures on each topic of her course.

iSpring  is more than just a narrated PowerPoint producer.  It also has these interesting and useful features:
  • You can use your webcam to record your image as you deliver your presentation.  This can increase your viewer's engagement with you and your presentation.

  • The iSpring plugin allows you to easily create and embed quizzes in your presentation.  This can further improve retention of material by making sure the viewer understands the content.  It can also be used to get viewers to begin applying what they have learned.  The quiz feature is SCORM compliant, so results can be linked your LMS.

  • Because the iSpring program converts your PowerPoint to a Flash presentation that runs its own onscreen player, viewers don't have to download huge PowerPoint files before they can start viewing your presentation.  The first slide begins playing while the later slides are downloading in the background.

  • The iSpring player allows you to show a customizable outline alongside the slides, allowing viewers to skip ahead or back to review particular slides.

  • The iSpring player also allows you to show your notes, which could be transcripts for each slide narration . . . a really nice accessibility feature.
There are a lot more features to iSpring, but this gives you the general idea.  To get an even better idea of how iSpring works, check out this brief video.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are Your Students Dodging Bullets?

In a discussion forum for anatomy and physiology teachers, I'm participating in a thread concerning whether using PowerPoint presentations are really all that effective in lecturing.

How many times have we heard from students they they just can't take another barrage of "bullets" in class . . . PowerPoint bullets, that is.  They're used to professors showing slide after slide of nothing but bulleted notes.  Often simply reading off the slides and nothing more.

Ouch!  Talk about bullet wounds.  I'd be gun shy after an hour of that, too!

So no wonder the PowerPoint approach is often condemned.

But really, is this fair?  Just because there are a lot of folks out there using PowerPoints ineffectively, does that mean the whole approach sucks?  I don't think so.

To me, this is a matter of using the right tool for the right job, and using that tool properly. You wouldn't use a hammer to drive a screw, right?  Well, I guess you could . . . but it would not be a job well done. I think that's what you're doing when your slides simply present your notes. If you want your students to have an outline, then print them out an outline!

Use PowerPoint slides for what PowerPoints do best.  That's images and multimedia.  OK, the occasional short list of brief bulleted items to serve as a visual organizer of your presentation is fine, too.

For example, here's a slide that visually presents a topic in a way that a bulleted outline simply cannot.  Keep in mind that this slide does not include my explanation of it, which is critical.  But isn't that what we want a slide to do?  That is, don't we want the slide to support our story, not replace it?

To drive a screw, you need a screwdriver . . . and you need to move it clockwise to drive the screw, with enough pressure to keep the driver engage with the head of the screw.  If not used properly, a screwdriver can make a mess of your building project.  If you use images (an appropriate use of PowerPoint) but make them too small to be seen, then you're using the proper tool but using that tool improperly.

PowerPoint for Teachers: Dynamic Presentations and Interactive Classroom Projects (Grades K-12) (Jossey-Bass Teacher)So if you use PowerPoint slides to teach, you need to learn to use them for their proper purpose and use them in the proper manner.

If you're in my generation, not having grown up with PowerPoints, you may not have seen enough good examples to be comfortable with this tool.  So what to do to get comfortable, eh? My suggestions include:
  1. Many colleges offer courses in the use of PowerPoint.  Take a course!  Or talk to the instructor about sitting in on all or part of the course.  If not your college, maybe another local college or high school.

  2. Show up for faculty development.  At my college, our business and computer professors often offer in-service workshops that distill the main elements of effective PowerPoint design.  If that doesn't happen at your school, then make it happen! Invite these experts to share their wisdom at the next faculty development event.

  3. Sit at the feet of masters (and mistresses).  Find out who in your school is really great at using PowerPoint to teach effectively.  Just ask your students . . . they know.  Then ask that person to let you sit in one or two of their classes.  Take them out for lunch afterwards and pick their brains about what has worked well for them  . . . and what hasn't.

  4. Find online videos, books, and other resources for ideas.  PowerPoint is ubiquitous in education and business and there are a lot of folks out there eager to share what they've learned.

  5. Practice. Practice. Practice. Experiment with different approaches and designs.  Ask for honest feedback.  The only way to get good at something is to keep at it!
The one thing you do not want to do is just plug away at what you know isn't working.  If can't use PowerPoint effectively . . . and aren't willing to get good at it . . . then do not use it!

In upcoming blogs, I'll share some specific methods for avoiding bullet wounds while using your PowerPoints by making full use of the program's visualization features.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Using video to reinvent education

When I saw this video from TED, I was intrigued:

In fact, I use some of what Khan is advocating in my human anatomy & physiology course.  I use a modification of Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) by having students watch slide presentations that I narrate before class.  This allows me time for discussion (using clickers) when I see them in class.  The clicker questions allow us to solve problems together so students can learn how its done and get some practice doing it.

I see Khan's proposals as similar in nature to the JiTT approach.

And I"m all for it.  What I've used in my courses works much better than I'd hoped it would.

But the down side is this, as I see it:

Some colleagues of mine recently attended a conference in which they heard that college presidents were getting behind this approach.  Which sound great, right?  But get this.  They envision the ideal situation as one in which students watch videos, work on computer quizzes, and visit the learning center for tutoring as needed.  Period.  In other words, this allows colleges to get by with few or any professors teaching students.

I'm all about reinventing paradigms when the old ones aren't working as well as we like . . . but YIKES!

I'm hoping that this nefarious plan was misinterpreted or otherwise mistaken by my friends . . . or that I mistook what my friends were trying to tell me. After all, this is not what Khan is advocating . . . at all.

What I'd like to see is college presidents, and everyone else, getting behind the idea that we can use educational technology creatively to enhance the process of teaching.  And in that regard, Khan certainly is on to something here.

What do YOU think?

Monday, March 14, 2011


Understanding almost any subject or discipline begins with building a foundation of basic terminology.  You can't think in new ways without new language.  Yikes, that means memorization.  

A lot of folks dread memorization tasks because they simply don't know how to do it in a quick, pain-free manner. Once students know the tricks of memorization, it's not that bad. The essential trick is to practice, practice, practice. That means every day, several times a day, if possible.However, this will only work if we can get our students to spend just a few minutes at a time practicing.

One of the easiest ways we can help students memorize terminology or other basic facts painlessly is to make and use flashcards. 

My friend Monica Hall-Woods (another "electronic professor") reminded me recently of a website called where students and professors can easily make a set of flashcards online (for FREE) and use it to quickly learn the basic terms or other facts needed in a course.  In fact, gives users several alternative methods for students to quiz themselves, including some fun, game-like activities.

The more practice sessions theyt do on, the more your students will almost effortlessly pick up the basic facts they need to learn before they can move on to higher-order thinking. helps them keep track of what they've studied and how they are doing.

They (or you) can also upload photos from . . . which means that you can take photos of your models, specimens, maps, locations, etc., with your smartphone, then upload the images into a set of flashcards!

Another great feature of is that your students can form study groups.  This allows one or more users to post and share sets of flashcards related to a particular topic. Or you can use it to share flashcards you've prepared with the students in your courses. also lets students use flashcard stacks that others have created.  (Warning: they need to be careful those they adopt are accurate before using them to study.)  Here's a stack of cards that I created simply by cutting and pasting a list I already had into the editor:

Try it!  Use different options for quizzing yourself and playing games. I think you'll have fun with it. Which is the point . . . the less pain, the more gain.  At least in this case.

A simpler variation of this service, but with less features, is Word Stash. With this service, professors can set up a "class" if they register a free "teacher account" then you can load in word lists for your students to practice.  You can either copy in the terms and definitions or you can create them in the system, opting to borrow existing definitions from their database for any or all of the terms.

I created a class called, you guessed it, The A&P Student . . . and loaded in a word list to show you how it works. Join this "class" to see how Word Stash works:

Password: theapstudent


Here are some other sites you may want to check out to help your students learn the language of your course quickly:
Kevin's New Terms study tip
Kevin's Flash Card video
 Have any more like this?  Share them with us by commenting!

[Some of this material was also used in my blog The A&P Student]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The clicker commandment I always violate

I generally agree with the Clicker Commandments, those hard-and-fast rules for success when using clickers (student response systems).  But sometimes, the temptation to break this one is irresistible:

Thou shalt not use more than a few clicker questions per class session.

Like any good commandment, this one often must be followed if we are to stay on the path of righteousness.  But, like any good commandment, there are in fact times when it's best to break the rules.

A good example of my straying from this clicker commandment was previously discussed in the article  Practicing . . . some more in my blog Lion Tamers Guide to Teaching.  The point of that article was the need to practice basic facts frequently in order to become deeply familiar with them.  And I used the example of how I use clickers to provide rapid reviews of basic human anatomy structures in my Anatomy & Physiology course.

I set these up like a game show.  Without the fabulous prizes. Each item has a timer animation and the buzzer sounds after 10 seconds, and reveals the correct identification.  So polling is open for only ten seconds and students who have studied their anatomy are forced to recall it quickly . . . or get "buzzed."  Hmm, maybe a GONG would be more appropriate, eh?  Nah . . . do any of my students have a clue as to what the Gong Show was?!

This works great for facts that need to be memorized . . . if you have the time in class to practice with your students.  The class I use this in is my A&P Supplement course, which is specifically for reviewing and advising.  It's not the "main content" course, but an optional supplement students can take to get extra help in what is a rigorous, fact-filled course.

In my regular courses, I do stick with the notion that a few clicker questions scattered here and there is the best approach.  But for those "quick review" sessions, nothing beats the occasional rule-breaking, fast-paced "practice round" of important facts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do you Prezi?

One of the many alternatives to the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation is Prezi.

Prezi is a presentation platform that organizes a presentation a more nonlinear way than PowerPoint . . . a feature that can be useful when using a presentation in more informal discussion format, rather than a traditional lecture format.  That's because Prezi gives you more options for unplanned movement back and forth in your projected material.

One of the coolest features it's unique ability to zoom in and out on different parts of your material.  This gives Prezi a unique visual quality not found in other presenters.

Prezi presentations can be easily narrated and can be embedded in a webpage, email, or blog . . . or in your learning management system.

The best way to introduce yourself to Prezi is to try it out.  Oh, did I mention that it's FREE?  Just go to the Prezi website and get a free account and start playing around!

And be sure to hit the Explore tab, to see all the crazy kinds of Prezi presentations that can be created.

In the mean time, you may want to watch this video to get a feel for the whole Prezi concept.

In a nutshell, here's how Prezi works.