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Posts Tagged ‘focus

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.

A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

News outlets focus on the negative because it sells. When they do this, they make the world seem worse than it actually is.

We get almost daily reports about how vile Donald Trump is even though most decent human beings already know how vile he is. It is almost as if news channels want to up the ante.

In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, most news outlets do not focus on the efforts of the ordinary people like the ones below.

Video source

Video source

What we choose to focus on and talk about matters. We can choose the negative, trivial, and unquestioned. We can also choose to focus on the positive, important, and critical.

The first choice is easy and popular while the second is not. Anything worthwhile is never easy. What focus matters to you?

A few months ago, I read this TechCrunch article and realized how quite a few people do not distinguish between attention span and focus.

It is common to hear adults say that kids have short attention spans these days. They are wrong.

Attention span has been, and always is, fleeting. It is the way we are biologically wired to survive. A neurophysician or a cognitive scientist might call this our short term memory. We need this to quickly process the assault of stimuli on our senses.

Focus by ihtatho, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  ihtatho 

Focus is what happens after we scan and prioritize what to concentrate on. Learners have not lost the capacity to concentrate and dedicate time and effort to a task if they are emotionally invested in it.

This is why the same child who can seem to stare unblinkingly at a computer game screen for 30 minutes suddenly cannot seem to sit still for 30 seconds when presented with worksheets.

Both the worksheets and computer game get the child’s attention for a split second. But only one, the game, earns the child’s focus because it is associated with pleasure, fun, or meaningful challenge.

The point here is not to blame attention span but to concentrate on what provides focus. A teacher cannot compete with games, but she can make the school work more meaningful to the child.

I have said this early on in my life as a teacher educator, but it bears repeating: If your students are not the ones using the technology, then you are not doing it right.

If you are the one with the fancy presentation, backchannel, or online feedback form, you are in control. You will feel like you are teaching and you will be the one that has learnt and will learn the most. If you do this, you might as well be talking to an empty room.

Why not transfer that feeling of fulfilled learning to your learners? What excuses are you making?

Is this how your students are taking notes (because you only live in an analogue world)?

Students Using Technology by cluzio, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  cluzio 

Is this how your students are consuming content (together and with available technologies)?

Is this how your students are creating content (again together and with available technologies)?

Is this how your students are learning by teaching (inside and outside the classroom?)

If not, what excuses are you making? Why are you denying them opportunities to learn in ways that are more relevant and powerful?

Video source

In an effort to urge people to slow down and think, this video might seem to send mixed messages.

I caught a phrase, focus is blinding, that is double-edged. Having unerring drive in the face of adversity is admirable. But it can also make one immune to other needs.

In the end, slowing down just enough to take stock, to reconsider that focus, or to refocus is wise advice indeed.

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