Many of the world’s greatest teachers - the Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi - did not have so much as a piece of chalk for a teaching aid, yet the lessons they taught have lasted, in some cases, for thousands of years.
This came to mind at the ABF Conference in Hershey last month when each presentation was accompanied by the apparently obligatory power point slides. In the last century there were three inventions that were going to ‘revolutionize teaching.’
The first was the wireless, invented during the First World War so that front line soldiers could communicate without the wires which were too often blown up on the battlefield. The second was the overhead projector which enabled teachers to face the
students while simultaneously projecting an image on a screen behind them, and the third was the internet with it’s immediate access to a wealth of knowledge.
How often does one see a radio/wireless or overhead projector in
a classroom today?
Power point is not a panacea; it is not an easy tool to use nor are the slides simple to design and produce. Too often, for example, the slides are so busy that they are either difficult for the viewer to absorb
(for me it is graphs which are particularly difficult to understand at a glance,) or they distract from rather than reinforce the points the speaker is making, or the speaker feels obliged to read everything on the slide, and since the audience tends to read
faster than the presenter can talk, the former is well ahead of the latter and loses focus. Personally I would argue that reading a slide aloud is an insult to the intelligence and capability of the audience.
An excellent example
of well prepared slides that were effectively used was Randy Oliver, speaking on Saturday at the Serious Sideliner Symposium. For example, during his second session he began with a diagram that was explained thoroughly and which became the basis for
all of the future slides, so it was logical for the audience to comprehend the three lines on the graph as they grew, changed and developed without having to reinterpret the axes of every new slide.
A power point presentation
seems mandatory at a conference, and certainly the technical array at ABF was impressive. But it suggests that our audience will not stay focused unless we can provide them with something to look at, a reflection perhaps of the way in which education has become
confused with entertainment and the influence of television and it’s associated media on our attention spans. I understand that in the old black-and-white movies the camera stays on a scene for more that 20 seconds. My observation of watching
current day television is that that time is now less than 2 seconds, and for commercials it can be even less.
No wonder more than 90% of ADD medications is prescribed in the US - we suffer from visual stimulation overload.
As an aside, three other observations about AFB. There were almost no people of color among the attendees which I suspect is common with most of our clubs and organizations. An informal survey suggested that 80% were male with an
average age in excess of 50, although it was probably difficult for younger folk to get away for a mid-week conference. And a significant number of men had a beard, mustache or both. Explain that one!
When Charlie Rose was asked
his secret of good interviewing he responded with the three essentials : prepare, listen and engage. Technology can help us to prepare but not necessarily to listen and engage. I recall a colleague describing a student in her classroom who was
listless and disinterested yet when she saw him on the sports field he was a ball of energy and clearly the team leader. Her question was, “What was the coach doing that I was not doing in the classroom?” What was he doing to get that
student engaged? The answer involves a variety of things, from shared responsibility as a team to a clear and agreed objective, in this case winning.
In the absence of natural materials we have to provide honey bees
with the necessary technology for their survival - hive bodies, frames and foundation, for instance - after which they seem to function without the need for power points. Certainly they ‘listen’ to each other, thanks to the marvel
of those floral bouquets we call pheromones, and they are actively engaged from the day they are born to the day they die. Bees live in community. It is a common existence with shared responsibility and a clear objective : the long term survival
of the colony.
Yes, at ABF I learned from and was inspired by some of the presentations. But the real benefit was the spontaneous conversations over the breaks, around the lunch tables and over the coffee cups, when I was able both
to listen and to get engaged with my peers, each having common, interconnected goals in mind - our growth as beekeepers and the health and survival of our bees.