Humboldt State University

Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching

Learning & Teaching Blog

Less is More … but HOW MUCH Less?

posted by Joan Van Duzer on 10/08/2009

During Humboldt State’s Learning & Teaching Institute last May when Dr. Craig E. Nelson emphasized the importance of including “less content” and replacing some lecture time with learning activities in the classroom, I was reminded of an article by David Shieh that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education just a couple months earlier, “These Lectures Are Gone in 60 Seconds” (PDF)

Shieh’s article describes the adoption of microlectures of 1-3 minutes in online courses at San Juan College in New Mexico—followed by a related reading or learning activity—where students have responded very favorably. The microlectures provide a condensed overview of topics where “little seemed to be lost except ‘verbiage’,” according to one instructor who has adopted the technique after overcoming her wariness.

Microlectures in online classes could take a variety of forms: narrated slide presentation, screencast (capturing actions displayed on a computer screen, often with text or audio narration), or short video/audio-only clip. Along with a text equivalent transcript or captioning, these can easily be inserted into the course management system.

While exploring the application of microlecturing in a face-to-face class, I stumbled upon a relatively new presentation technique, Pecha Kucha, that is gaining popularity around the world in corporate and artistic venues. A Pecha Kucha (PK) presentation lasts a mere 6 minutes 40 seconds—with (exactly) 20 seconds on each of (exactly) 20 slides. The animation timer within the presentation software (usually PowerPoint) is used to automatically advance the slides at the 20-second pace.

In this video of a live PK presentation, a big PK fan, Felix Jung, uses images to convey part of his message so that his spoken comments can fit in the 20 seconds for each slide. His presentation also demonstrates some best practices for presentations by avoiding too much text on the slide, using the slides to support his message (rather than the other way around), and with little text, he is not reading his slides.

Pecha Kucha Chicago: Repetition and Variation (Live) from Felix Jung on Vimeo.

Although this video shows an example of a live PK presentation, it’s also possible to record a PK presentation and publish it in your Moodle course shell or directly to the web.

Students could also use the PK format for their presentations in class—presenting them either live, or posting a link to where they’ve posted them online.

Felix Jung has developed a guide to Pecha Kucha. Are you willing to give it a try? Contact CELT for more details on or assistance with tools to use to prepare and publish PK presentations.

Although the microlecture is reportedly popular in online classes, how practical are such short lectures in a traditional class when followed with related learning activities or discussion? What do you think? (I’d love to “hear” your comments on this!)

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