Hello everyone! Since writing my last blog post on decolonizing the classroom—and thanks to Reading Week—I’ve found time to look over a handful of books on learning. Adam Grant’s Think Againtaught me some lessons on intellectual humility, an important trait that I aim to develop more in the coming weeks and months.
Here are three of Grant’s key messages. I’m going to think about how to apply them to my own life and studies; why don’t you do the same and share the details of your plans on SASS’s social media feeds?
Seek out information that challenges your views
“You can fight confirmation bias, burst filter bubbles, and escape echo chambers by actively engaging with ideas that challenge your assumptions. An easy place to start is to follow people who make you think—even if you usually disagree with what they think.”
Information that aligns with our views is comforting. We are more likely to be invested in it, but simultaneously, we risk getting stuck in a path resistant to corrections. If and when you find yourself arguing for a certain view (e.g., in an essay or research paper), consider finding counter examples or works that go against the argument you support.
When you start forming an opinion, resist the temptation to preach your own view. Otherwise, you might fall prey to confirmation bias—a shortcut in our thinking that describes our tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs or values. Instead, think like a scientist. Assume your argument is a hunch that is testable and fallible in certain circumstances. Once you view the counterarguments, you can better convey your ideas and thoughts into something more complex and richer. Exploring the opposite of what you already think might help you prove your initial argument!
2. Remember that less is often more
“If you pile on too many different reasons to support your case, it can make your audiences defensive—and cause them to reject your entire argument based on its least compelling points. Instead of diluting your argument, lead with a few of your strongest points.”
If you have an essay, presentation, assignment, or especially a research paper where you are trying to prove a main point, it’s probably in your favour to support your view with strong, thorough examples rather than multiple, weak examples. Quality will almost always trump quantity. If you find yourself rambling when you speak during a presentation or interview, sometimes overloading the audience can hinder your performance. Adam Grant explains that when you’re negotiating or debating with another party, the more compelling argument comes from the one that tells a story with their examples; and a good story is full of details that draws us in: although academic writing isn’t usually the same as storytelling, the same applies in your papers.
3. Don’t shy away from constructive conflict.
“Disagreements don’t have to be disagreeable. Although relationship conflict is usually counterproductive, task conflict can help you think again. Try framing disagreement as a debate: people are more likely to approach it intellectually and less likely to take it personally”
Grant explains that it’s better to address conflict or disagreement early on in any work process. We can easily apply this rule when working on group projects! Don’t let problems build up and then react to them days before the project’s deadline. Even if you don’t know what those concerns may be, spend time with your group to figure out potential roadblocks. Everyone probably knows more than you about something, so find ways to boost your peers’ involvement and value their ideas and contributions. When trying to engage in constructive conflict yourself, ask several how questions to target the situation and not the people involved: how can we work together to resolve this? How can we find the best people for this task? How can we find the best and most efficient solution? How can we ensure we don’t needlessly argue?
Finding and responding to potential conflicts and blockages early on can be tough and frustrating, but it’s progress. Embrace it. Needless to say, learning is never perfectly linear; sometimes we have to persist through challenges to reach new heights.
There are many more lessons you could take away from Grant’s Think Again. I encourage you to check out the book to learn more about how rethinking can improve your academic life!
Since my last blog post about living a healthy 2021, I’m happy to report that I have kept up with my commitments! I have been running and doing yoga regularly, and have even got started on another goal: to read one work of fiction for pleasure by the end of semester.
Since writing my last blog, I realized that I have a lot of presentations on my plate right now, so I’d like to give you some tips on making a great presentation—especially if yours is online or a group task.
I recently took PSYC 400—Applied Research in Higher Education. For one major assignment, our class was divided into groups; each group had to present an instructional strategy. We managed to apply what we were learning about ways to make students learn better to our own presentations—rarely is school so immediately beneficial! Here’s how my group went about planning our presentation:
Figure out what your audience wants to know
If you don’t have a predetermined structure for your presentation, what is it that you want the audience to remember from your presentation? Look at the learning goals from your syllabus or from your course modules and determine what your viewers are going to take away from your presentation—think about the big picture!
For my group’s PSYC 400 presentation on decolonizing the classroom, we wanted our classmates to know both why decolonizing the classroom is important to everybody and how we can go about achieving decolonization. We kept that at the top of our minds as we planned everything else.
Organization is key: break it up
There is nothing more dreadful than a presenter who presents a whole bunch of slides without any reference to the key ideas, important ideas, supporting data, and so on! If you already have an idea of what you want your audience to take away, delve deeper: what are some of the key ideas that can be turned into main slides? For my PSYC 400 presentation, there were four main ways of achieving decolonization in the classroom: by facilitating inclusivity in the classroom climate, curriculum, individuals’ indigeneity/identity, and assessments. We then broke our presentation down into these digestible sections, knowing that it would be easier for our classmates to understand our content, then started to build slides and content around those four key sections.
The last thing you want is to mash a presentation together and figure out who’s speaking what parts right at the last minute—so start on this early! Once you’ve figured out what you want your audience to take away, and linked your main ideas to this “big picture”, determine who is most comfortable presenting each part. This requires asking one another about the knowledge you already have, assessing what group members wants to learn more about, finding out what others are uncomfortable with, etc. Because there were four individuals in my group and four key ideas we wanted our audience to know about, we were able to take on an idea each and research it. When deciding who would take each idea, we considered both what we already knew and what we wanted to learn more about: the perfect balance of strong product and learning experience! SASS has lots of tools to help you plan your group projects in this way in our online resource.
The aesthetics of your presentation are essential when it comes to engaging your audience! Nobody wants to see slides with garish colour clashes or, on the other end of the spectrum, dull slides with no visual interest at all. In assigning roles, find out who is good with presentation design and give your input on what you want to see: incorporate animations, a colour palette, transitions, videos, images, icons, etc. but do not clutter your slides! In the past, I have used Canva because of its easy-to-use interface and the fact that the tool has SO MANY beautiful templates to choose from. I’ve also downloaded these templates into Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to add animations and transitions—making the best of both worlds (or tools, in this case)!
Here’s an example of one of my group’s slides, designed on Canva, that points out one of the key ideas we delivered. It’s visually interesting, but uses simple colours and just a few key words.
If using Zoom
Zoom is great for delivering online presentations, and all Queen’s students have access to a premium account using single sign-on (SSO) so make the most out of it! For engaging your audience,
Make sure you and your group members are the co-hosts. This will ensure you can do things like polls and breakout rooms, described below:
If you plan to pose a question, why not get some answers through a poll? These are engaging, and your audience is interested in seeing the results and what you make of them, but you have to prepare the poll in advance.
Breakout rooms. Don’t just put people into rooms and pose them with a single, general question. Give them a breakout room activity instead! Provide a series of questions and a worksheet (use Google Docs for collaborative writing) to document their engagement. To save time, you’ll need to decide how many rooms you want prior to the presentation.
Other useful tips
Please, please, please do not wing your presentation! You’d be surprised as to how many things you need to revise when you actually run through your presentation, especially with a group! Practice in advance, do a little planning, and share your
Know how to use Zoom. Do some practice as a group before the big day: try setting up a breakout room, running a poll, sharing your screen, and so on.
Content is not everything. Lots of content does not equate to more learning (in fact, probably less). Try not to overwhelm your audience by bombarding them with details (not that our professors would ever do that…). Keep your eyes on the prize: those big picture ideas you listed at the start of your planning process!
I hope you find this guide to presentations useful—let me know how you get on, and I’ll see you all soon!