Amid the general disruption, a university has hired me to teach my first fully online history course this autumn: an introductory-level undergraduate survey called Roots of the Modern World. This is a course I’ve taught once before, about three years ago, in a traditional face-to-face setting. I will be redesigning it mostly from scratch.
As usual, the opportunity to design a course is very exciting. But this course presents some special conceptual challenges.
Continue reading “Designing a Course on the Roots of the Modern World”
Part 5: The Case for Cinematic Design
The previous post in this series explained how to use images more effectively in PowerPoint. Today’s post makes a recommendation about style.
Every good presenter, deliberately or not, cultivates a style. Your style is not simply a sort of decoration on top of your communication; you communicate through and with it. (Even the disdain that some academics affect toward style is itself a style—one that communicates specific things about what matters and who is worthy of their time.)
With this in mind, I’m going to make a recommendation today. It will not please everyone, and it’s probably not what’s best for everyone. You may, in fact, think it’s silly. But I’m going to recommend that when you design your PowerPoint template, you consider taking design cues from documentary film. I’m calling this approach “cinematic design.”
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Part 4: Images
The previous post in this series described how to create a custom PowerPoint template. Today’s post is about how to incorporate images more effectively into your slides. As always, for clarity’s sake, the instructions here are written for Windows PC users on fairly recent versions of the PowerPoint software.
As a historian, no matter what kind of presentation you’re giving, you want to use images to help your audience see historically. In a classroom, you are training your students to be careful observers. So images shouldn’t be included haphazardly or for mere decoration. Whether you are using them as primary or as secondary sources, they are evidence for your students to learn how to interpret.
In using images this way, you’ll want to think about three key practical aspects of the way you present any image in your PowerPoint presentation:
- Size and shape
- Sharpness, brightness, and contrast
Continue reading “PowerPoint Basics for Historians, Part 4”
Part 3: Creating Your Own Template
In previous posts in this series, I discussed some general design principles and some ways to ensure smoother delivery of PowerPoint presentations. Today’s post introduces the basic process of building a new PowerPoint template. (Remember, for clarity’s sake, all instructions in this series are written for Windows PC users. For additional instructions from Microsoft, try here.)
Brand-new PowerPoint users often rely on pre-made templates included with the software. They pick a template that looks attractive, add text and maybe some images, and voilà: a slideshow.
I have criticized PowerPoint’s off-the-rack templates already. They include a lot of unnecessary and distracting design elements. Because audiences see the same templates over and over, they turn into clichés. They also encourage bad habits. Pre-made templates seem ideal for displaying lots of text, which presenters will (proverbially) read aloud to the audience.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. With a little experimentation, this alternative will help you create PowerPoint slideshows that fit your unique combination of teaching style, subject matter, and favorite classroom exercises. Even highly experienced PowerPoint users may not realize how easily you can create and save your own template. You can custom-build it with all the specific elements you expect to need in a particular course or subject, then use it over and over just like PowerPoint’s pre-made templates. Here’s how.
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Part 1: Design Fundamentals
This is the first installment of a series designed to help historians use Microsoft PowerPoint effectively in the classroom. (You may want to read the series introduction first.)
Today, I’m writing about the big picture of PowerPoint design. This post is about how to set up a slideshow to communicate in the classroom (or conference hall) clearly and effectively. It’s not really about the technology, per se—at this stage, we’re just talking about how to build a visual communication element into a history talk.
As you design your presentation, you should keep three core principles in mind:
Continue reading “PowerPoint Basics for Historians: Part 1”