From Boring to Gasp-worthy: Becky Miller-McGrath (A BOSS case study)
Bio: Becky Miller-McGrath is an assistant professor of Psychology at Lincoln Land Community College, where she teaches Introduction to Psychology, Educational Psychology, Human Development, and Personality Theory and Human Adjustment.
I pride myself on being a good teacher. I have funny stories, good examples, a load of enthusiasm for what I teach. My evaluations were good, great even, but I knew I could do better.
BOSS has helped me get to a place of pride for my slides that I hadn’t realized how much I wanted and needed.
#DeathbyPowerPoint is real; I felt it. I’ve used PowerPoint slides as part of my class presentations since I started teaching. I modified them over the years, so I felt like I was not one of those boring, stagnant instructors. Students expected the PowerPoints but were bored by them. As I saw their boredom, I compensated but… I would go on a tangent telling stories to make up for poor slides.
It takes less time to go through more slides, and students are MORE engaged. I have visuals to support my stories and examples; I have slides that show the movement and change I am describing.
How I came to improve my slides
Realizing I needed to make changes, I started searching for ways to improve slides. I stumbled upon a video online of this woman (later find out her name is Echo, and she is AWESOME) that was doing a slide make-over. I thought, “I can do that.”
I started trying to make more visual representations of content, but I realized I didn’t know what I was doing and needed to learn more.
I was captivated during the free webinar (and later the course). I generally plan to multi-task and only half pay attention to webinars (they can be so boring), but this one had me glued to the screen. The visuals, organization, succinctness made me want to pay attention.
“THIS IS WHAT I WANT FOR MY STUDENTS,” I thought – undivided attention during a lesson.
I immediately started to implement some of the strategies Echo discussed in the (free) webinar. While my slides DID get better, they still didn’t give me the same feeling as Echo’s webinar slides. I needed more training; two days into the webinar I knew I was going to sign up for the full course to learn how to make BOSS’ed slides.
Before and After Examples
Getting and keeping students’ attention and focus is my goal.
In the BOSS course, I learned how to help students focus on the content that was the most vital.
For example, I used to have this sentence as I defined conformity.
With some guidance (from the content videos and video call activities), I learned how to use photos in a different way.
In this slide, I wanted students to focus on and think about the gravity of 65%, but the number was buried on the slide.
I literally had students audibly gasp when this slide came up.
SUCCESS! That is what I want – students so invested in class that it evokes emotions. Talk about improving focus and content retention!
I would NOT have gotten to these captivating slides without BOSS.
I progressed through the BOSS content lessons on my schedule and got to work morphing acceptable slides into something worthy of students’ attention.
As registration for the next semester courses began, I had several students approach and ask, “what classes do you teach next semester? And will you have the same types of slides?”
Another student said, “I came into this semester thinking this was going to be my least favorite class [not their major area], and it has ended up being the only classes I want to come to each meeting. I love seeing the funny pictures and GIFs you are going to use!”
Explicit validation that it is absolutely worth the effort I’ve exerted (note: It IS going to require effort, but well worth it in the end.)
Stuck? There are options:
As a member of the BOSS Praxis community, I was able to connect with the content posted (videos and handouts), Echo directly, fellow cohort members, and even an ever-widening group of BOSS graduates. The Praxis community provided me access to current and past BOSS students through a system called Slack. On Slack, I was able to post questions, see others’ questions and answers, post and receive tips, tricks, and hacks all from BOSS-minded colleagues.
As part of the Praxis package, Echo also offered live video chats (coaching sessions).
Thus far I have participated in four of these, each proving invaluable.
I was able to see and hear other BOSS students as we progressed through the course. We celebrated, commiserated, and assisted each other with the steady guidance of Echo.
An amazing advantage to the Praxis community is that it doesn’t end when the cohort ends! I still use Slack to communicate with others, and I look forward to the start of a new cohort as co-working sessions and video calls resume.
I joked with Echo that her course should come with a disclaimer – “In learning how to make better slides, you will find previous slides extremely boring and irritating.”
As I sit through presentations that were just like my mine a few months ago, I find myself drifting, bored, and irritated at the difficulty of focusing on the content.
“Why do they make it so hard to learn” I often think. But that was me not that long ago – boring my students out of focus.
As I reflect now on student engagement pre and post the BOSS Praxis course, I am amazed at the difference. I floundered for years thinking there were better options and not knowing what to do to make improvements. BOSS taught me how to make slides that are engaging, focusing, and motivating. From myself and my students, “Thank you Echo!” Thank you for teaching me a better way!