As learners and teaching technology continue to evolve, faculty are recognizing the importance of teaching for active learning. Two decades of detailed slide presentations have resulted in students who multitask during class. During a two-hour lecture, the average student spends 37 minutes doing non-class related activities on their devices (Ravizza et. al. 2017). One of the most common downsides of popular presentation formatting is that students do not need to be active (or even present if files are made available) during delivery; they become a passive audience. Student exam performance then becomes a matter of cramming course content into short-term memory, without ever really mastering, considering, or owning the course material in a meaningful way. The goal of teaching for active learning focuses on re-engaging students for better outcomes.
Although its definition is somewhat abstract, active learning is an approach to instruction that involves actively engaging students with the course material through activities such as discussions, problem solving, case studies, and role playing. Scientifically proven to result in significantly increased message retention; active learning involves multiple parts of the brain, increases collaboration and creativity, and improves both critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Incorporating active learning strategies with course lectures not only allows the student to be fully present, it can also be used to break-up lecturing into shorter segments, more manageable for most adult attention spans.
The task of embracing change can be daunting for both faculty and students. One National Academy of Science published study indicates that despite active learning being identified as a superior method of instruction, most college STEM instructors continue to choose traditional teaching methods. This same study identifies one student-based reason for instructor reluctance—though students in an active classroom learn more, they feel like they learn less. The study believes this negative correlation is caused, in part, by the increased effort required of students during active learning (Deslauriers et.al, 2019). Students claim that instructors aren’t actually teaching, and instructors can face negative reactions to a change in their lecturing methods that were already difficult to create and introduce.
In this educational quagmire, Pecha Kucha is an answer.
Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit-chat) is nothing new in academic circles. It’s a presentation style that emerged around 2003 and has since been leveraged in performance and conferences across the world. In its original form, a presenter offered 20 slides, and had 20 seconds to present each slide (Zepeda, 2014). Each slide is to be comprised of a photo only, no words. This storytelling presentation utilizes imagery and efficient use of spoken word to create a memorable, meaningful, and concise presentation. It’s a great method for teaching students, and their instructors, how to create their best presentations for active learning. In the classroom, it’s a good bet that it might take more than six minutes and 40 seconds to explain any one topic, but the model has powerful applications when it comes to introducing course content. Storytelling is a powerful teaching tool promoting a sense of community and belonging. Research shows that when individuals’ needs are being met and they feel a sense of security and trust, their environment is more conducive to academic development (Zepeda, 2014). Integrating experiential storytelling into lectures has been used extensively, Pecha Kucha, or PK for short, provides a format to incorporate this active learning.
When the instructor presents in PK style:
- The audience cannot rely on pre-printed text notes or presentation text. Instead, listeners must pay attention to the speaker, in order to understand the information and identify items worthy of notetaking for future studies.
- The presenter is unable to simply ‘read’ information off of the slides. This allows increased eye-contact with students. Students will perceive instructors as being knowledgeable on the topic as they are perceived to be able to lecture without notes.
- Modeling the ability to be concise while presenting details of a new and challenging topic can help students learn the importance of being able to put complex ideas into their own words when learning new things.
When students are asked to present in PK style:
- The results of a case study on Pecha Kucha for a unit on Translation Localization at the University of Western Australia found that teaching their peers using PK gave them the opportunity to learn a topic while also providing the instructor a time-effective method to assess a large number of students over a short period of time (Colombi, 2017).
- Studies show that the Pecha Kucha style can improve English speaking skills in general. This has particular relevance when teaching international students who speak English as their second language (Robinson, 2015).
- The 20-second timeframe for each slide requires concise presentation of topic information, and practice of the presentation itself for clarity and confidence. This results in improved presentation skills, and ultimately, self-confidence in both the presentation and the topic knowledge.
- While focusing on getting the topic message into a short presentation that still gets the point across, the student presenter has to have a good understanding of the topic, in their own words. They will have fully learned their topic in order to teach it to their peers, instead of memorizing a presentation.
- Selecting images representative of the topic, or eye-catching in effect, adds another element of preparation that reinforces the learning being presented on the topic.
But how might this look in practice?
One might imagine how a PK presentation might look in an anatomy course. A slide of an anatomical landmark might be accompanied by lecture comments about its features and functions.
And for history? Perhaps classic or museum displays might provide visual insight for lecture commentary.
But what about something without visual content? What about literary devices such as hypophora or malapropism? How can they be explained without words? Emotions, wisdom, satire—can these be approached with PK?
- Topics that don’t have an immediate visual inference can still be presented as PK. Use anything you like such as pictures, doodles, newspaper clippings, quotes, charts, tables, and even maps—or combine them all together as long as you respect copyrights.
- Complex emotions such as anger or greed are difficult and subjective. In these instances, you will have to weave a story and look at situations where these emotions show up. You can also use plain text, such as quotations for such slides, although you’ll have to restrict such quotations to just a few slides. You can break the rules and use a word or two without sacrificing opportunities for active learning.
- Not everything needs to be PK, the idea is that some topics may be approached with this technique.
- As for the malapropisms: Dance the flamingo!
Diane Shew taught college-level anatomy & physiology for several years, which lead to roles developing and teaching courses specific to assisting adults of all ages and cultures as they identify the skills they will need to overcome their own unique obstacles to success. In her current role, she coaches students at Mount Carmel College of Nursing’s Student Success Center.
Columbi, A. G. (2017). The Impact of Pecha Kucha Presentations in the Assessment of a Translation Studies Unit at The University of Western Australia. IAFOR Journal of Education. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1162674.pdf
Deslauriers L, McCarty L.S., Miller K., & Kestin, G. (2019) Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1821936116
Ravizza, S. M., Uitvlugt, M. G., & Fenn, K. M. (2017). Logged in and zoned out: How laptop internet use relates to classroom learning. Psychological Science, 28(2), 171–180. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797616677314
Robinson, R. (2015). Pecha Kucha: How to improve students’ presentation Skills. The European Conference on Language Learning 2015 Official Conference Proceedings. http://papers.iafor.org/wp-content/uploads/papers/ecll2015/ECLL2015_17575.pdf
Zepeda, J. (2014). Stories in the Classroom: Building Community Using Storytelling and Storyacting. Journal of Childhood Studies, 39(2), 21-26. https://doi.org/10.18357/jcs.v39i2.15220