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August 30, 2008

Adobe Presenter

Posted by Gordon Smith

One of the most important aspects my course re-design project this summer was my strategy to move my PowerPoint lectures outside of the classroom. When I explained to my teaching advisers at the BYU Center for Teaching and Learning the tension between my desire for adequate, if not comprehensive, coverage and the time demands of interactive, team-based learning, their first question was this: can you move any of your current classroom activities outside the classroom to free up more of your classroom time?

I have always used PowerPoint lectures to introduce new topics. These lectures condense and reformulate the readings, ideally providing students with simple takeaways on each topic. I try to keep these lectures short, usually around 5-10 minutes, and students rarely speak. These lectures seemed like perfect candidates for internet distribution.

Over the past few years, I have also used PowerPoint slides to discuss cases, and I have found that they can be very effective at giving students a "picture" of a case (usually a diagram tracking the various transactions that prompted the litigation). During these discussions, I typically call on a student or students, and we engage in the traditional Socratic analysis of the case. But as I reflected on this over the summer, I realized that these segments of class were not very engaging, nor were they as necessary for second- and third-year law students, who have traveled a good distance up the learning curve of legal analysis, as they were for first-year students. (See Steve Bainbridge, who also makes this point.)

While these PowerPoint sessions may not be the most valuable use of class time, the students seem to value them relatively highly. So I have decided to retain the activities, but move them outside the classroom.

The challenge then became a technological one. Lectures are easy to record, and PowerPoint slides are easy to produce, but I was looking for an effective means of combining the lecture with the slides. Enter Adobe Presenter. This simple add-on to Microsoft PowerPoint allows me to record a lecture in my office while syncing the lecture with the PowerPoint slides. You can see an example of the results here. We are still working out some of the technical kinks, and I need to become more comfortable speaking to a microphone, but I am encouraged by this first effort, and my goal is to do as many presentations as possible outside of class, reserving the class time for more active learning that I will blog about in a future post.

If you would like to read more about my teaching goals, check out the teaching posts at The Conglomerate, where I have been discussing the decisions that I made in the re-design of my Business Associations syllabus. Sometimes to a hostile crowd.

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