BOSS case study: Dr. Kathryn Klement
The following is a blog post written by BOSS Praxis Student, Dr. Kathryn Klement.
Dr. Kathryn Klement is an assistant professor of psychology at Bemidji State University, where she teaches sexuality, gender, and research methods. Her research focuses on attitudes about women's sexuality, sexual violence, and abortion. You can follow her on twitter at @krklement.
If someone asked me a year ago what would become one of the biggest influences on science communication and pedagogy, I would have no idea how to answer. (I would also probably raise an eyebrow at the use of “pedagogy.”)
I do now, though, and it’s definitely Dr. Echo Rivera’s BOSS course. I first encountered Echo’s work through a guest post on the The Professor Is In, a blog devoted to helping graduate students and faculty navigate the academic job market minefield. She was talking about how to create effective presentation materials for an academic job talk, and she spoke heresy like “1 slide/1 minute is a terrible rule” and “You shouldn’t have so much text on your slides.”
I was intrigued. I signed up for two of her free email courses before I registered for her next cohort of BOSS, and it is one of the best decisions I have made in my professional life.
As a social psychologist, it was so comforting to hear Echo’s methods and perspective explained with psychological theory. (Not that I don’t think it would be comforting for others. She has Reasons! Evidence-based Reasons! That should be comforting to us all in the current climate.) Her course modules are laid out in easy steps and with the idea that I could continue making small improvements to always be a little better. As a professor, this is also helpful, because changing all of my lecture slides immediately was a pretty daunting task.
You might wonder, are the changes so big? What is even the point if students are used to walls of text in class anyway? Below are examples of my slides before and after taking Echo’s course:
The after slides are a lot less cluttered and easy to walk through. I also found that lecturing with more, better, slides was easier than struggling to remind myself of what I wanted to say with 7 bullet points of text. Whereas before, I would be confronted with a wall of text (just like my students) that was mostly provided by a textbook publisher and have to stumble through the high points (with occasionally, “you might not be able to see this in the back, sorry!”), now I have to be familiar with the material, because I’m finding new ways to represent the information. I’ve found it easier to cue myself with great visuals or a few words, which helps my students, too. Abandoning any ideas of “X slides in X minutes” has also helped with this, because I can have as many slides as I need to in order to convey the information. A recent conference presentation I gave, in a 15-minute slot, had almost 60 slides! But I used them effectively, so it didn’t seem like there were so many.
There were intermediate steps. This didn’t happen overnight. I used to be someone who tried to use a different slide template for each lecture, and to be fancy with serif fonts (trust me, you’ll learn all about fonts and typefaces!) and different colors. But I learned that all those things are just getting in the way of students’ learning. I never thought I would be someone to embrace an all-white background. But here we are.
This isn’t to say that my slides are boring. Perish the thought. But they’re better. I also learned that using awesome, full-slide visuals can convey what I want to say much better than some words can. And this has helped me start to rethink how I provide information via lecture to my students. I don’t want to be another boring professor who talks at their students. I want to be a professor who tells great stories and challenges my students to keep learning and asking questions.
Another important lesson I learned was that stellar slides are great, but they’re not all there is to effective presentations. I have to be better at presenting, too, and not just reading material off the slide.
So, literally, this course changed my life and my perspective on teaching and presenting my research. I no longer feel trapped by the traditional formula of conference talks, where I go through a literature review, then the methods of my study, the results and conclusions. I tell a story. I give them a “so what?” before getting into how I got there. Below are before and after examples of dataviz I presented at conferences.
I’ve always been excited to share my research at conferences, or to broaden students’ minds in class. But now I’m also proud of the stories I tell with my slides, and that is all down to Echo and BOSS (well, I did do some work…).
I'm really really glad I went with the community [Praxis] version of BOSS...
... because it's really helped me with getting feedback from the folks on fb, or through office hours. It's an awesome, welcoming, safe space. If I have a question about whether my visual makes sense, or my storyboard flows well, I can post that to the fb group, and I’ll get several constructive responses. Being a part of the BOSS community has helped me create and deliver a kickass job talk, several conference talks, and everyday lectures. I also love seeing what my fellow BOSS students are doing. Seeing their work helps to ignite my own creativity, and I like being able to give encouragement and constructive feedback to them, too.
If you’re on the fence and wondering, “well, how can I do all that stuff? I have 27 other things on my to-do list!” I totally hear you. I’m finishing up the first year of my first post-PhD job. I was also still on the job market, went to a conference (where I gave 3 presentations – not something I suggest), and prepped and taught 5 courses. Completing all the modules in BOSS does take a while. You can schedule in time like a responsible adult, you can binge through 10 modules in a day like I did several times, or something else.
A definite perk is that if you join BOSS, you’re in for life, so you always have access to the course materials. Even though I’ve finished the course, I still go back to lessons when I need a refresher. And if you need encouragement and motivation getting through, the BOSS community has your back!