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Published February 26, 2012 | English (Second Language)

PowerPoint and SmartBoards – A Dynamic Duo

I have a big filing cabinet in my office that I opened perhaps three times last year. Although the filing cabinet is very disorganized, I'm really well organized within my computer. I suspect many students are finding paper as redundant as I am.

SmartBoard Savvy

My college bought a series of Smartboards.  They're amazingly user-friendly.  Although many teachers use PowerPoints, after a semester of experimentation, I now mainly use Word documents and write on them in class in front of the students without using the time-consuming handwriting-to-text mode.  I generally write using one of the coloured pens that come with the board, however, you can simply touch the colour you want to use and write with anything including your finger. Once notated, your document can be saved, and students can access it as class notes on your college's interface.

Whether I start a class using a SmartBoard or not, I write the plan of that class on the board in the upper right-hand corner, so students can have an idea where I am. I check things off as we deal with them, and that keeps both me and the students focused. I used to fill up a regular blackboard with all sorts of information as each course would advance and then erase it when I ran out of room, just keeping the class plan. What I do with a Smartboard is just add a slide to my PowerPointby using the shortcut (Shift+N, or cmd+Shift+N for Mac users) or in Word, simply select "insert page" from the Insert option on top. The video below gives an idea of how easy this process can be.

Example of using Smartboards along Powerpoints

If students forget something and ask about it in class, you can just go back to that slide and all of the information is there. At the end of the day, you've saved all of your hand-writing as one PowerPoint or Word file for that day's entire class. You post the file on DECclic Moodle, and if the student wasn't in class, they can access it. Your class notes are obviously not a replacement for being in class, and I hope these notes don't give students the message that they don't have to attend. They do, however, provide students with the information necessary for them to autonomously catch up on a missed class on their own BEFORE coming to see me for any explanations.

PowerPoint Empowered

The expression in French now for a PowerPoint is a PowerPlat (PowerBoring). So many Powerpoint Presentations are dull! I find that being able to use the Smartboard with a Powerpoint allows me to make them more dynamic and even interactive. Students can be called to the Smartboard to complete problems and fill in the blanks. As well, you can simply paste the stuff that you've written on Word right into your presentation, and it'll get saved because Microsoft applications interact well with one other. You can keep data in Word, paste relevant information into your Microsoft Powerpoint and immediately make it accessible to students using DECclic. You can even incorporate links to pertinent Web sites into your notes and activate them as necessary during class.

When students take notes in ESL, they've got to convert to their first language, find out what's important, and then write it down on to a sheet of paper while the teacher continues to speak. They're panicking; they lose their train of thought because they've finally been able to convert something and written it down but have become lost, angry, frustrated and depressed. Whereas when you respond to questions directly, and you write down the answers, students get answers and don't feel obligated to take notes because they know the material is accessible. My motto in class is don't bother writing because what I want is your attention and your intellect.

Transformative Technology

I don't like to take technology and turn it into something that was done three years ago or ten years ago or twenty years ago with an overhead projector. That's not what this is about. What I try to do with technology is to take a skill that we no longer need and replace it so that we can stop wasting time. Now that I have realized I can do so much with Word documents, I can simply start my class with a blank Word sheet and go from there. The only thing I do is title each document beforehand as the notes from that class.

The idea of passion in the workplace is that you've got to step out of your comfort zone. And, one of the things that we have to realize as ESL teachers is that the second our students come into our class, they are out of their comfort zone. And, so put yourself in their shoes; put yourself out of your comfort zone and push yourself further. To me that's called progress as well as teaching by example. That's what we're supposed to be doing. If you don't want to push yourself out of your comfort zone, how do you expect your students to want to do the same? That's being hypocritical.

Push yourself further because it's actually fun and you're learning. You're constantly reenergized. You're not just dusting off the stuff from twenty years ago, and you're pushing yourself in new directions without necessarily having all the answers but working from a base that you know. So don't worry about the filing cabinet.  It'll always be there as a place on which to put your cup of coffee or jacket. Just don't think of it as a reminder of "the good old days". With the new technology and a little curiosity, the good old days are just getting started!

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