Rigorous Digital Presentations

Two things happened to me this week:

  1. I read ‘Where’s the Beef? Adding Rigor to Student Digital Products by Bernajean Porter (September/October 2010 Vol.38 No2 of Learning & Leading with Technology).
  2. I participated in my first session of ‘Building Bridges‘, a program where educators interact with local business men and women and tour their companies in order to get a feel for what opportunities are available in the community and what qualities they find most valuable in the graduates that are coming their way.

The article talked about how it isn’t enough to simply have students present existing facts in their digital products and presentations. That they need to go beyond and “…practice the higher-order thinking skills from the top of bloom’s Taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating, and creating knowledge beyond existing facts.” When you look at your students’ digital projects, you need to reflect by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does the content have substance worth sharing?
  • Are your students’ digital products demonstrating what they know and deeply understand about the topic beyond existing facts?
  • Or are their digital products primarily demonstrating the exploration and acquisition of technology skills?

The article also talks about putting the following steps into your planning of multimedia products:

  1. Identify type of communication
  2. Select the mode that best suits your purpose
  3. Then identify the technology tool

So in this scenario a teacher first might decide that the students will produce a PSA, using the mode of a movie, and then decide on using Movie Maker as the tool. By creating a Public Service Announcement students aren’t merely restating existing facts, but have to understand the information, determine a position, and try to persuade their audience to take action all within 1-2 minutes. This of course made total sense to me, since I have always said to start with the purpose before choosing the tool. “Whatever tools you use, putting the priority on rigor and fluency of the modes will benefit students long after tools become obsolete or new tools become available.”

When I went on my business tour this week, the theme of rigorous student presentations came up. One of the companies we went to was BlueStorm Technologies. Robert Matson (President and CEO) spoke about the skills he needs his employees to have. He talked about the obvious: work ethic, positive attitude,  good communication, flexibility, being globally prepared and able to critically think through problems. One thing he said that shocked me was that he sees a weakness in new employees being able to formulate a strategy, create a presentation and present it confidently. As educators one of the things we do often is have students present, using a wide variety of modes and tools. But it isn’t enough to simply have students regurgitate facts in a Powerpoint. We need to give them problems, let them formulate solutions and then choose the best way to present it, including the best mode and tool. It’s not only that we don’t create products that don ‘t have enough rigor, it’s that we spoon feed them too much in the what and how. To be successful in our global world, students need to be able to problem solve and to “break down large problems into their parts” as Robert Matson explained in our tour.

So, what can we do to properly prepare our students for the world they live in and the jobs they will need to do some day? Go beyond existing fact regurgitation and make them think.

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