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Managing Midterms and Implementing Powerful PowerPoints


How is teaching online? It's October, and we are at the midpoint of the semester. At some universities, this week begins the distribution of midterm exams and the collection of writing assignments.

Today is the second comprehensive exam for semester one students at the medical school where I teach.

The midterm is also an opportune moment for all educators to conduct research and evaluation of our teaching practices.

Consider creating an anonymous survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey and sending it to your students. We often wait until the end of the semester to learn about our students’ experiences, but that approach decreases the chances of making a meaningful pedagogical shift before it is too late.

I took this advice of midterm evaluations, received from a senior administrator, and sent an evaluation to my students.

From the students, I learned that reading from the PowerPoint does not encourage critical thinking or engagement in the curriculum. It is a great resource to support a visual representation of the concepts talked about during class. It’s not great if the professor reads every word on the slide without adding context or relevant examples.

I am not suggesting that we abandon using Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Pages to produce slides. Creating a visual reference to accompany our lectures can impact comprehension. We should strive toward a strategic structure of our lessons' content.

Incorporating multiple learning styles in your lesson plan supports the transference of knowledge.

I tell medical students that learning styles can offer insight into their preferences for studying new material. However, awareness of a dominant learning style should not limit any efforts to combine visual, audio, reading, writing, and kinesthetic strategies to prepare for exams.

Teachers, if we emphasize one learning style, we are not preparing our students for multiple life options.

We should aim to prepare our students to fill and create jobs that include art, medicine, technology, education, science, community advocacy, and other important fields that can positively impact the world. To support lasting success in any career or entrepreneurial endeavor, we must encourage the acquisition of knowledge and skills through multiple mediums.

Despite our school systems' deficiencies, educators can play a pivotal role in shaping our society. It takes consistent adaptations, mindful strategies, intense motivation, creative teaching, supportive administrative, and additional resources to bring out our students' best.

Let’s think more about how to use learning styles.

To help our students break down difficult concepts, we should tell them to use their dominant learning style preference as a reinforcer. For example, if a student enjoys learning material through video and struggles with texts, encourage them to start their study sessions with the reading assignments. Yes, begin with the challenging approach to learning because it can help when switching to video or another preferred method of study.

How can we use PowerPoint presentations to enable effective independent study sessions?

PowerPoint presentations serve best as an outline of what we use class time to explain. This approach encourages students to practice their listening skills during class and prepares them for using self-regulated learning methods after the lecture.

When we read verbatim from PowerPoint slides in our online classes, we provide students with virtual rocking chairs that encourage sleep. Yes, reading every word on your slide to a group of students without pausing for explanations or interactive activities weakens attention span.

Where I work as a university professor, most of the students do not need help with reading. They may need help with comprehension. Many will need help with the application of topics. Some will read slower than others, but they can read.

I am not advocating for a colorblind or another theory that supports all students come into the classroom with the same skills and resources.

It's our duty as teachers to acknowledge that race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual identities influence educational experiences. The refusal to accept and appreciate our students' differences is counterintuitive to diverse and inclusive institutions.

My job, our job, is to connect with each student and determine their unique needs. This employment requirement is not easy, but we can begin by learning more about our students' backgrounds. We can further our efforts by providing lessons that encourage creativity, critical thinking, community application, and love for learning.

The following are 3.5 suggestions to consider when teaching and incorporating PowerPoint slides.

1. A picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, this cliché remains valid. Replace the bullet points in your slides with images and use your voice to explain topics. If you grab pictures or videos featuring people from the internet, choose examples that resemble your students.

2. In alignment with number one, use brief phrases or open-ended questions on your slides. Do not display long paragraphs to explain complicated concepts. Some students will attempt to re-write every word during the class and ignore your explanation. Passive attempts to learn new topics do not foster the long term memory and critical thinking skills required for exam performance and societal roles.

3. Add some color. Like Black lives, vibrancy does matter. PowerPoint slides that are well designed and structured to support learning can influence our students' interests in the subject.

3.5. Implement the suggestions of #1, #2, and #3 and remember to avoid reading directly from the slides.

We are educators, and we make mistakes. It's not always possible to lead impeccable lectures or group meetings. For each teaching opportunity, we can prepare in advance to match the learning objectives with the content. Embedded throughout our presentations should include knowledge checks in the forms of open-ended questions and discussions.

Let's review evaluations and assessments as measures to determine if our lesson plans serve the students' needs.

Receiving feedback helps us make course adjustments. If the majority of our students fail an exam, we can look to ourselves, the students, and the curriculum for answers. When we read survey responses, let's reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our teaching.

As committed educators, we must look for ways to improve the quality of our lessons.

Let’s decide not to give lectures to students that they can complete by themselves.

Show students that we appreciate their time. It is possible to provide the engaging and informative educational experience that they pay tuition to receive.

We need the accountability of our peers and ourselves to ensure we keep growing as teachers. Ask a trustworthy colleague to observe your class and provide you with feedback. Record your class sessions and review the footage with a critical look at your teaching skills.

Virtual and in-person classroom spaces should serve as laboratories for critical thinking and environmental implementation experiments.

I have one more question for you.

Have you tried to use social media, current events, or popular programs on Netflix to connect with your students? If you haven't used any of these resources in your advising or class meetings, this midterm is one more reason to assess and pivot.

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