Good Work Deserves a Good Presentation

April 29, 2013

Once again i find the AERA annual meeting engaging and worthwhile. I gladly yield to the seductive pull of passionate people sharing what they know and do.

And, as usual, i have seen some really smart people give some really bad presentations.

Speakers talking at onehundredmilesanhour to squeeze in everythingtheywant tosay. Speakers going substantially over their allotted time. Speakers showing slides with paragraphs full of words in small unreadable type. Speakers standing facing the screen instead of facing the audience.

I think we can do better.
Most presentation problems can be solved by rehearsing in advance.

Timing. Practice your presentation before you come to the conference. Use a watch or stopwatch. If necessary, shorten your talk to allow you to speak at a normal relaxed pace and still hit the high points. When a speaker goes over time, that cheats the others and makes the audience restless.

Visuals. Powerpoint slides work best when they are simple and colorful. Paragraphs of words and complex tables are neither colorful nor simple. Save those for handouts or downloadable PDFs. You know those details, we don’t and we must fight to grasp everything while you’re saying something else.

Audience engagement. We would rather see your face than your back. If you read from your projected slides, we cannot see your face. And reading from the screen makes it appear that you don’t know your stuff. Write your main points on index cards, hold them in your hand, and face your audience.

Videotape yourself and critique. Use a smartphone or generic videocam to record your practice presentations. Check for the above points. Practice and record again until you’re comfortable with the way you come across.

If your work is important enough to present, it’s worth presenting well.



Designing a Research Exchange

April 5, 2013

Image will this thing fly?

The Wright Brothers finally designed something that could fly, so maybe we could too.

We want to create an exchange, or a collaboration, that would more closely knit research conducted in our School of Education with the teachers and organizations that could feed into it and benefit from it.

After two years of fact finding and data gathering we called our inaugural planning meeting. We invited representatives from faculty, staff, statewide organizations, and school districts. A professional facilitator guided our 4-hour discussion so that we could take notes and participate.

We have examined similar research exchanges operating at other universities and have sifted through to extract what might work in our own context, with our resources and challenges. We came up with the following, to be addressed at subsequent meetings:

Facilitate a place or space for practitioners and researchers to ask questions and get answers

Put system in place that serves not just large districts but all

Must have broad faculty interest and investment

Image the design team meets

Create a repository of information

A collaboration of groups & network of organizations

Build a prototype

Offer mutual incentives for practitioners and researchers, parity in access

A place for simple info sharing, match making, and collaborative research

Funds needed for meetings of collaborators, to hire a full time staff person

Use resources of allied organizations

Ask the University and the School to provides seed/startup funds

Sustain with help from grants

Image our facilitator takes notes

Next steps: Interview faculty researchers to create detailed descriptions of their current work and their future interests

Pursue funding/resources

Define metrics for success

Do 1 or 2 things well, maintain a focus

Discover the important, shared challenges facing practitioners , districts, and statewide entities

Create timeline including school districts and issues of need.

The immediate task is to create a summary and proposal document to present to the Dean.

A Research Exchange

November 7, 2012
We solicit your input for a proposed ‘research exchange’ that would serve the needs of practitioners, administrators, and researchers.
Adam Gamoran (Wisconsin Center for Education Research) and Jack Jorgensen (UW-Madison Education Outreach and Partnerships) have signed a formal agreement proposing ways to strengthen the connection between the research conducted at WCER and outreach activities conducted by School of Education.
One outgrowth of this initiative is the proposal to create a “Research Exchange,” or central hub in the School of Education where faculty/researcher needs and interests related to educational research are matched with the needs of the educational community, and vice versa.
Although based at UW-Madison, this exchange would seek to serve statewide interests and, beyond Wisconsin, practitioners and researchers more generally.
We solicit your ideas to help further shape this idea.  We also plan to talk with groups of superintendents, district  staff, and community organizations.
We are reaching out to you as a valuable source of ideas for shaping such a service.
Do you know of similar initiatives?
What might such an Exchange look like?
What services might you, as a teacher, researcher, or administrator, find most useful?
Jack Jorgensen
Paul Baker

Social media for researchers and academics

April 21, 2012

Here’s my presentation for the AERA 2012 communication workshop i cohosted with friend and colleague Ron Dietel of UCLA CRESST. I suggest things to consider when planning to use social media to share research findings with non-specialist audiences and the media.

Academics can work with education reporters

April 20, 2012


Educators and researchers often would like to see their work covered in the media more often, and more accurately. Here Education Week reporter Sarah D. Sparks discusses how to contact reporters and maintain relationships and how to rewrite academic papers for publication as news stories and Op-Ed pieces.


Improve Communication: Think Visually

October 19, 2011

blah blah blah

Book Review
Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work.
By Dan Roam.
Portfolio/Penguin Books, 2011.  350 p.

Nothing helps us see a vague idea more clearly than trying to draw it out.

Dan Roam is all about clear communication, and his two previous books make that very clear.

His previous two books, The Back of the Napkin and  Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures, also demonstrate how we do ourselves a disservice by limiting our communication to words.

This book expands on his central idea that we can, and should, communicate much more clearly by drawing simple pictures to help us clarify our message.

Throughout eons of human development, Roam says, our ability to think has evolved along two different paths. One path specialized in seeing the world as lots of little pieces (Roam’s fox character, clever, witty, and linear), while the other path specialized in looking at the world as a whole (Roam’s hummingbird character, quick, exuberant, and spatial).

Only in the past 5,000 years did we begin the gradual shift to writing words. Now that we find ourselves facing some of the most difficult challenges of all time, we suddenly realize that “we’ve lost half our mind.”

With simple and very clear illustrations, he demonstrates how we can “get our visual mind back” by combining our our piece-by-piece (fox) and all-at-once (hummingbird) views.

In words and pictures, Roam illustrates Einstein’s theory of relativity, the evolution of Starbuck’s coffee from Peet’s, Bernie Madoff’s investment scams, Coca-Cola’s marketing of VitaminWater, the history of the SAT test, and the development of communication from cave wall paintings to the alphabet.

Characters who make informative appearances include Leno and Conan, The Medicis and the Rothschilds, Abraham Maslow, Leonardo da Vinci, Edwin Land, and Dmitri Mendeleyev.

When Roam began The Back of the Napkin about five years ago, he started by asking, “If simple visuals are so powerful, why don’t more people use them?” Then he later realized his starting question was only half-right. The question isn’t “Why don’t more people think with pictures?,” because we DO think in pictures, all the time. The real question is, “Why have we forgotten that?” Blah Blah Blah is his answer.

As in The Back of the Napkin, Roam offers tools to make it easier for us to think about and share complex ideas. The Napkin tools focused almost entirely on the pictorial, but the tools in this book show us how to combine our visual and verbal minds.

One fundamental premise of this book is that we don’t need all the customary blah-blah-blah to get our message across. Regardless of what we want to say, we can make any idea clear and compelling, both to our audience and to ourselves. By learning to engage both our verbal mind and our visual mind we can improve any piece of communication.

Every good idea can be made clearer,  every missing idea can be found, and every misleading or fraudulent idea can be exposed.

Only as good as my editor

July 13, 2011

Thank god for editors.

In our research shop, the editor helps faculty researchers package their proposals to funding agencies. That requires knowing the APA style manual inside out, whipping into shape chapter-length text narratives, checking complex budgets, gathering dozens of resumes, cleaning up lists of scholarly publications, and having official permission documents signed and stamped by people at many levels of the university hierarchy.

Everything in these proposal packages must be exactly in the right place. Funding agencies are extremely picky about such things. I suppose I would be too, if I were granting hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes multiple millions, to a research team who was competing against dozens of other research teams for the same pot of funding.

This work takes 95% of the editor’s day. When time permits, the editor processes drafts of research summaries I produce. They’re eventually distributed via our web site, an electronic newsletter, and a quarterly print piece.

If I want to be honest, I don’t refer to myself as a writer. My work amounts to re-writing material someone else has written; usually journal articles intended for an audience of researchers and other educators. For human beings (like myself) to understand what the heck they’re talking about, these articles need to be restructured and simplified.

I try to be the ‘general reader.’ My goal is to faithfully communicate the researcher’s point, without relying on the paraphernalia of tables, statistical formulae, lists of citations, literature reviews, and details about process.

I walk a communication tightrope. If I lean in one direction, I fail my readers. If I lean in the other direction, I fail the researchers whose work I supposedly represent.

My balancing pole, so to speak, is the help I get from my team. Having another set of eyes look at my work is critical;  having four sets of eyes is even better.

I would not want to see the ‘final’ drafts of my work go out into the public before getting a good workover.

Our proposal editor checks my drafts for logical flow and unnecessary use of jargon.  The research faculty make sure I’m communicating the main point of their work. The director of our unit reads from the perspective of a faculty member, researcher, and assistant dean of our School of Education.  Administrative assistants check for typos on final page proofs. The end product is so much better than the drafts I submit.

We’re going through a transition here at WCER. Our editor just retired after ten years with us, and we have all benefited from her consistently meticulous work. (A former student assistant referred to her as ‘neurotic.’ That didn’t go over too well.)

Our national search for a replacement was successful. We have brought on someone who seems equally capable and just as pleasant to work with.

We’re in good hands, again, and my job is safe, for now.

Drawing to a solution

June 3, 2011

unfolding the napkin

Book Review
Unfolding the napkin: The hands-on method for solving complex problems with simple pictures.
By Dan Roam.
Portfolio/Penguin, 2009. 280 p.

“If we work at it, we can imagine our way past anything thrown in our way. And once we’ve seen the solution in our mind’s eye, all we have to do is make it happen.”

I’ve enjoyed drawing pictures since I was little. Lying on the floor, face hovering next to a sheet of paper, I created the little masterpieces typical of any child’s repertoire. That’s probably part of the reason that I enjoy Dan Roam’s books about business communication. He illustrates each point with a clear, simple drawing. And he argues that more professional presentations should include their own little drawings, rather than stacking bullet points on PowerPoint slide or cramming data into spreadsheets.

This book builds on his work in The Back of the Napkin (2008) and mirrors the process of his four-day workshops: Each chapter, and each day, focuses on one aspect of his communication method: looking, seeing, imagining, and showing.

Roam developed his communication theory during 25 years of working with business leaders to develop ideas. To wit: There is no more powerful way to discover a new idea than to draw a simple picture. There is no faster way to develop and test an idea than to draw a simple picture. There is no more effective way to share an idea with other people than to draw a simple picture.

He lists “the four unwritten rules of visual problem solving”:

Rule 1: Whoever is best able to describe a problem is the person most likely to solve it. In stating the problem, I’m already alluding to a solution.

Rule 2: We can’t solve a problem that overwhelms us. To understand what we’re seeing, we need to break it into bite-size pieces. And there are only six kinds of problems out there: Who and what (shown by drawing a portrait); How much (shown by sketching a chart); Where (shown by drawing a map); When (shown by sketching a time line); How (shown by drawing a flow chart); and Why (shown by drawing a multi-variable plot on an x/ y axis.

Rule 3. Problems don’t get solved by the smartest or the fastest or the strongest. They get solved by the one who sees the possibilities. The person with the best imagination wins.

Rule 4: The more human your picture, the more human the response.  Business ideas can be represented and business decisions made without software. And they must. When we need to show our  ideas to others—when what really matters is getting the idea that’s in my head into yours—nothing is more powerful than our eyes, our mind’s eye, and the cognitive magic of a little hand-eye coordination.

Roam’s “look, see, imagine, show” process takes business problems apart in a consistent and repeatable way: His process serves as a default script to run the next time something nasty looms ahead: (1) let me look at the problem; (2) aha! I see what’s missing; (3) I can imagine what it will take to fix it; and (4) here, let me show you a solution.

To sharpen our critical abilities and to unblock our creative imaginations he offers the metaphor of a Swiss Army Knife. Each blade offers an approach to solving a problem. Its corkscrew, for example, has five twists, labeled S, Q, V, I, and D. Each helps us think of a problem in terms of Simple vs. elaborate; Qualitative vs. quantative; Vision vs. execution; Individual vs. comparison; and Delta (Change) vs. status quo. He illustrates each process.

Roam says we usually expect our imagination to do the mental-image gear shifting for us automatically. Most of the time that works just fine, he says. But when it comes to actively seeing possibilities, automatic is not enough. We need a manual override: a simple way to force our mind’s eye through all the gears and see all the possibilities. That’s the purpose of the SQVID approach.

Don’t get all caught up in highly polished presentations, he says. Hand-drawn pictures are compelling precisely because they are imperfect. They work because they invite interaction; human-drawn pictures work because they’re human. The easiest way we can make our problem-solving pictures interesting to look at is simply to leave them as we drew them. Mistakes and all, they make out thinking visible to anyone who looks at them, and, in the end, that’s the whole point of this book.

Profiles of bloggers in training and development

June 3, 2011


Book Review
Edublogging: a qualitative study of training and development bloggers
Kristina Schneider
Acorda Press, 2009. 160 p.

Here Kristina Schneider takes an academic look at the process bloggers go through when deciding what to blog, when and why they blog, and their relationship with their readers.

Schneider is a performance technologist, merging instructional and systems technology skills with project and operations management abilities.

She’s particularly interested in the field of training and development. Edublogging presents detailed case studies of five people who blog on the subject of training and development. Two blogs are written by a single contributor, two are written by an organized collective, and one is an editor-based blog with invited contributors.

The bloggers she studied include Jeff, an independent consultant based in the US who blogs about informal learning; Jill, a training and development researcher based in the US who blogs about Web based learning; Kate, a learning consultant for an organization based in the UK who blogs about the learner’s perspective on learning; Mark, an independent consultant based in Southeast Asia who blogs about the links between trends in training and knowledge management; and Stuart, an education researcher based in Canada who blogs about what he learns through his research.

Each edublogger writes for his or her own reasons, Schneider says, but, as a group, they share several attributes: they share, they explore, they self-promote, they discuss, they reference, they quantify, and they support one another.

Schneider reminds us that, as a qualitative study based on only five examples, her findings should not be generalized to the larger community of bloggers. Her goal was to generate hypotheses about bloggers that can be tested on much larger samples in a quantitative or mixed-methods study.

As a result of her study she calls for more research in six related areas: Blogger evolution and self-directed learning; gender and social media; reader participation and contribution; qualitative assessment of blog content; responsibility to verify facts; and value judgments about media and copyright.