Anyone who wants to make better presentations should be interested in how people learn. If you are interested in how people learn, you are obviously interested in education. And if you are interested in education, you surely have strong opinions about schools and other institutions of formal instruction and learning. As Sir Ken Robinson said in his first TED talk a few years ago, education is one of those things like religion and money that people have very strong opinions about. Few people think that the formal education systems around the world are perfect. In fact, virtually everyone realizes that changes — even massive paradigm shifts — are needed. As scientists and other specialists learn more about how our brains work, for example, many of the traditional instructional methods used for the past 100 years (or more) seem to be out of kilter with how human beings really pay attention, engage, and actually learn something. From time to time, I will continue to share presentations and talks that deal with education and learning.
Please set aside 30 minutes sometime to watch this talk by American Physicist Dr. Tae. The professor touches on many things you already know about the short comings of modern formal education, but it is provocative enough that I am sure you will find it worthy of your time. There are many points that Dr. Tae makes that deserve a lot more discussion than a 30-minute presentation allows. I agree with much of what Dr. Tae says here, but what I really am in agreement with is his utter incredulity concerning the continuation of the old one-way large lecture hall. The massive lecture rooms are not designed to produce an ideal learning situation but rather to get a great amount of people through the material on a large scale. In the presentation Dr. Tae touches on the depersonalized nature of the large lecture hall with the "tiny professor somewhere down there" in front going through the material but without engagement or connection with the students. If one of the goals of education is to "have a lively exchange of ideas," the depersonalized one-way lecture seems to be an outdated method for stimulating this exchange. Watch the presentation below or in three parts on YouTube.
Do they just sit there?
Dr. Tae tells an amusing story of one of his colleagues who was giving his daughter a tour of the physics department one day. As they stumbled upon a physics class the 8-year old daughter said to her father the physics professor, "Daddy, what are those people doing?" The father replied that they were studying physics. "Do thy just sit there?" she replied. Yep, they just sit there. It seems even an 8-year old girl can see that "just sitting there" seems like an odd way to learn something.
Get them doing something
In the presentation Dr. Tae mentions how he scraps the traditional lecture format and gets students to work together on problems. As much as possible, I try to do they same, however, in large lecture halls this can be challenging. Still, it is possible even given the constraints of the lecture hall to engage the audience and have them engage with each other.
Above: Although I am speaking in front of nearly 300 students in a large hall in Japan, I still have them get up and *do* something relevant from time to time. (This picture is from page 157 of the Naked Presenter book.)
Above: The typical lecture hall like this in Japan with chairs and tables which can not be moved does not lend itself to engagement (I took this photo before the seminar). I set up my computer away from the lectern on the elevated podium and came down closer to the students. While not ideal, it at least removed some of the barriers and we did our best to do some group work as well in spite of the rigid set up. I further attempted to remove barriers by often walking into the audience, especially during the short activities.
Above: In the seminars I hold around the world the set up is usually like something above (in Tokyo) and the participants are often doing and discussing, not just listening and watching.
Above: These photos are from yesterday's 4-hour seminar at the Kyoto Institute of Technology.