Dr. Emdin’s “Teach Teachers How To Create Magic”


Dr. Christopher Emdin‘s hook got me.  He tells the story of an aspiring teacher writing a 60-page paper about a super old education theory developed by a long-dead man and wondering what in the world that paper has to do with her future career goals and aspirations.

As a graduate student AND a full time teacher, this is something I’ve too often experienced.  I’ve found that research-based universities (the big universities such as the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida) are concerned with just that: research.  Teaching duties are secondary to research and publication, conferences and journals.  Research-based universities employ scholars: the thinkers, philosophers, and inventors of our day.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have learning-centered institutions (formerly community colleges, now state colleges, such as Valencia College or Seminole State College).  These colleges are concerned with teaching and learning.  Check out Valencia’s learning-centered mission statement here.  As opposed to research, faculty members at learning-centered institutions are expected to be strong teachers.  Teaching is the primary goal, not the means to an end.

As Dr. Edmin’s introduction continues (watch him continue this train of thought until 1:30), he asks us to focus on this research-based university system which, from personal experience I can agree, trains students how to become scholars and researchers.  Teachers aren’t focused on engaging students or on creating magic in the classroom to inspire learning.  And Dr. Edmin thinks that is a bad thing.

You may be wondering who Dr. Emdin is.  A professor at Columbia University and a Director of Science Education for the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education, Dr. Emdin is a superteacher.  He is the creator of the Hip Hop Ed social movement and has also collaborated with Wu Tang Clan’s GZA and the website Rap Genius on an initiative designed to engage students in science through hip hop battles.  Watch Dr. Emdin’s TEDx Talk below:


His argument is that superteachers aren’t often found in the classroom.  We know from people like Dr. John Medina, Garr Reynolds, and Nancy Duarte that great presenters (and great teachers) are storytellers, engaging presenters who focus on delivering content in an audience-centered fashion.  Superteachers and super-presenters are bound, linked, tied together, and this is a huge reason why I live and breathe public speaking and presentation.  Dr. Emdin says teachers are educated on theories and standards, but they have no idea how to develop that magic in the classroom, and that magic comes from careful study of effective communication and presentation techniques.  If we ditched education curriculum and replaced it with books like Brain RulesPresentation Zen, and Resonate, imagine the classrooms filled with students on the edge of their seats, excited and ready to learn.

Just like Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Christopher Emdin sees that the system of education is broken.  His solution: teaching teachers how to develop “that magic” (as he calls it).  Dr. Emdin’s solution is that we should study effective presentation content and delivery, and I wholeheartedly agree.

What advice or suggestions would you give a new teacher to help her become a superteacher?

M.A. Update: Thesis Preparation


When I began teaching Professional Communication and Presentation as well as Public Speaking, I decided to go back to school to obtain 18 graduate hours in the Communication discipline.  Little did I know I would quickly fall in love with my program and my professors.  My quest for 6 classes has now turned into the goal of a second master’s degree.  Today, I presented and submitted my final paper for the class that marks the halfway point in my M.A. in Communication.

Reflecting back on what I’ve learned so far is essential as I move forward with the next phase in my studies: the thesis process.  I’ve begun thinking about my topic and my committee as well as my potential research interests.  I want to make sure my thesis will include content I can build upon in the future.  For about a year now, I’ve kept a running list of potential topics, things I like, things I read about in my spare time, things I’m interested in.  I also started keeping a Pinterest board of fascinating popular press articles.  These articles and my list helped to inform the direction my thesis will take.



So far, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am a qualitative versus quantitative researcher.  I also know that I am a social constructionist, and because of my background and my first M.A. in English Literature, I gravitate toward critical theories.  For the past few months, I’ve been studying and reading about many modern communication theories in Theories of Human Communication by Littlejohn and Foss.  I added the theories and theorists that interested me the most to my ongoing list of potential thesis topics.  Theorists I enjoy include Goffman, Butler, Buber, and Bakhtin.  I have recently studied facework as well as standpoint theory, and my favorite theory from a previous course was dialogue.  Tonight in class, the most fascinating fellow student paper was on Kenneth Burke.  There are so many ideas still swimming in my head that it will take me another few months to finalize and figure out my direction.  My goal is to have my thesis topic nailed down at the end of the summer.

For my remaining coursework, I am taking two core classes: Qualitative Research Methods and Statistics.  I am very excited about Qualitative.  Since the thought of taking Statistics at the graduate level is enough to make me want to drop out of college (kidding… kind of), I was happy to hear from our graduate coordinator that I could take a Sociology Statistics class focusing on application in the social sciences.  My remaining electives will be Communication and Conflict, Communication in Close Relationships, and a course from the Women’s Studies Division called Theories in Gender Studies.  It’s hard to imagine after only a few additional classes, I will have another degree and be one step closer to a Ph.D. in Communication.

It’s that time of year… Students are in the home stretch before graduation.  Are you one of them?  Or are you, like me, in the middle of a degree program?  Please share your experience with me in the “Comments” section.

Skillshare: Your New Favorite Website


If Lynda.com‘s hipper, artsier younger sister and a MOOC had a baby, that baby would be Skillshare.  Skillshare’s manifesto is as follows:

“Education is what someone tells you to do. Learning is what you do for yourself.”

Sir Ken Robinson delivered a TED Talk called “Schools Kill Creativity.”  Education is a stuffy classroom with a syllabus, rules, guidelines, and assignments.  A teacher at the front of the room lectures using slides filled with bullets.  After 10 minutes, the students’ brains shut off.  Little learning actually happens.  I believe Skillshare is giving “education” a great new direction to help remedy that.  Take a look at this short video to learn more about what the folks at Skillshare are doing.



From personal experience, I know “learning” is much better than “education.”  When I was first introduced to Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, learning about a new way to present information lit a fire under me.  My passion for the subject lead to countless hours reading, studying, writing.  I began this blog three years ago today because of the fire I felt for learning how to communicate and present successfully in the 21st century.  I was so fired up that I decided to go back to school to pursue a second M.A. in Communication.  While my education has been wonderful, my education was designed to mold me into a researcher and scholar.  My education was not something I could apply in the real world but something that would help me on my path to a Ph.D. in Communication.  The learning I was doing on my own resulted in a practical application at my job and helped me become a better, stronger teacher and communicator.  For me, the gulf between “education” and “learning” is wider than ever.

I had the wonderful opportunity to try a class for free on Skillshare.  Seth Godin has now developed two courses: “The New Business Toolbox: Help Your New Business Do It Right The First Time” and “The Modern Marketing Workshop.”  (Skillshare, you had me at “Seth Godin!”)  I am enrolled in the latter course, and I love it.

Skillshare focuses on teaching students the way that they learn.  I’m seeing short, 10 minute video lessons combined with activities to teach software and subjects like fashion, graphic design, and painting.  With such an intense focus on courses crafted by industry leaders and a commitment to practical application in the real world, Skillshare’s biggest appeal is that it’s current, relevant, and useful.  To learn more about Skillshare, check out their website here.

Have you taken a Skillshare class yet?  Share your experience with me!

Design Challenge: Poster Session


My classmate Sunshine Baker and I worked on a paper together for our Quantitative Research Methods class.  Earlier this year, our project was accepted for the UCF Graduate Research Forum Poster Session.  We excitedly began working on our poster.  Sunshine typed up all of the relevant information into the PowerPoint template we were required to use.  Here is our “Before” poster:


After adding in the content into the template, Sunshine handed over the first draft to me to focus on design.  We had a list of requirements from both UCF and the Nicholson School of Communication.  I compiled that list of requirements together in a Word document.

Next, I took a look at some sample posters while considering how I would approach our design and layout.  I was not impressed.  To learn more, just do a Google search and a Google image search for “poster session examples.”  YIKES!  Hideous.  I also did a survey of the posters in our graduate lounge and the graduate conference room, but I wasn’t super impressed by anything I saw.

I turned to other places for design inspiration.  UCF has a page on their website called “Brand and Identity Guidelines” explaining our school fonts, colors, and design samples.  I used this as inspiration for the poster to promote a sense of school pride and spirit.  I decided to go with black, white, and gold for our colors based on the brand and identity guidelines, and I selected the fonts used by our school: “Americana” from the UCF logo and “Adobe Caslon” from many marketing materials.

After I decided how I would approach the design for our poster, I realized I just couldn’t work in PowerPoint 2007.  After calling the poster “help” line and hearing that the template only existed in PowerPoint, my genius designer/superteacher BFF Chiara Ojeda suggested that I just open the template in Keynote.  Voilà!  (And also: why didn’t I think of that?)  I began designing the poster using Keynote, a far superior program if you asked me.  After many, many long days of work and the help of Flickr and The Noun Project, I created our finished product.

Here she is, our “After” poster:


If I had one more week to work on the poster, I would be 100% happy with it, but knowing the time limitations, I am definitely satisfied.  The final task in this journey is to prepare for the Graduate Research Forum.  The posters will be judged first, and then the poster session will begin.  Sunshine and I will be talking to people about our research and answering questions about our work.  I can’t wait!  Since this is my first poster session, I am nervous because I don’t know what to expect AND excited because it’s new and fun and challenging.

Have you ever been given a serious design challenge you had to work hard to overcome?  Share with me!

Precious “Thank You” From A Student


A superstudent named Lance Smith shared this beautifully designed slideshow on the last day of our Professional Communication and Presentation class:

lance1 lance2 lance3 lance4 lance5 lance6 lance7 lance8 lance9

Lance is an amazing human being.  Not only is he thoughtful, professional, considerate, and hard-working, but his eye for design is out of control!

Contact Lance via his website or his social media platform.

What awesome, surprising gift has a student given you?

Defining My Communication Research Interests


When I graduated from high school, I attended a community college in my hometown.  At the time, I loved reading and writing, so I decided to pursue my A.A. degree in Communication.  My coursework included many public speaking classes but also many literature classes, and my passion for dissecting novels and short stories grew.  In addition to this love of books and of thinking and writing critically about books, I developed a passion for leadership.  My small community college offered me many opportunities to grow my leadership potential.  I joined and actively participated as a Student Ambassador, a Senator in the Student Government Association, and with Phi Theta Kappa among other clubs and organizations.

When it came time to transfer to a university, I knew I wanted to attend the University of Florida.  I decided to seek a B.A. in English, and I took a wide variety of literature classes.  My favorite course was Irish Literature, where I read The Autobiography of Maud Gonne; Elizabeth Bowen; and, for the first time, a whole lot of James Joyce.  Irish Literature quickly became my favorite genre.  After graduation, I pursued a Master of Arts degree from the University of North Florida because of its many course offerings in Irish fiction, drama, and poetry.  Outside of the classroom, I read Southern authors like William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, and Truman Capote.



After graduating with my M.A. in 2008, I took a few years off from attending school as I transitioned into a teacher role.  I taught classes at a community college and then at a university.  Four years later, I returned to higher education for a second M.A. in Communication from the University of Central Florida.  I’ve been taking one class at a time since 2012, which moves slowly but gives me ample time to read, study, and consider my path.

This semester, I am taking a communication theory course which comes at the perfect time in my academic career.  I am considering PhD programs as well as the kind of research I want to do in the future.  Now that I have almost completed 15 graduate COM hours, I can also begin thinking seriously about my thesis.  But there was and still is a problem… I haven’t quite figured out how my previous interests while pursuing my M.A. in English will intersect with my current M.A. in Communication.  Where would the research collide?  How could I mesh both worlds together?

Answering these questions started with an important first step.  In my discipline, scholars are either qualitative or quantitative researchers, and I knew after only a few semesters that I am 100% qualitative.  Since most of my professors were quantitative scholars, I knew I had to network to find people with similar interests to guide me.  My classmate suggested I talk to Dr. Sandoval, and as soon as I stepped into her office, I knew I’d found a mentor.  Her work, her thought process, and her focus inspired me.  After 45 minutes of talking with me, she sent me on my way with three books on critical theory that I haven’t been able to put down.  In addition to my favorite professor, Dr. Hastings, I’ve now connected with the people who will shape the researcher I plan to become.

Learning about all kinds of communication theory this semester has gotten me closer to identifying exactly what I want to research and study as I continue with my PhD.  I am interested in critical theory, social constructionism, feminism, dialogue, and identity.  I want to learn much more about ethnography.  I also want to keep looking for where those communication interests meet with my favorite literary works and authors.

I can’t wait to finally find my path and to forge ahead with new research that will invigorate me and maybe even inspire others!  Are there any other Communication graduate students out there struggling with identifying their research interests?  I’d love to hear from you!

Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Three


In “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One,” I discussed our three major goals as an instructional team at a university and how we implemented those goals.  In “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Two,” I covered three innovative things we’re doing in our online classroom.  The last in our “Teaching Public Speaking Online” series focuses on our three biggest challenges ahead and the ongoing solutions we are working on.

Challenge One: Student Resistance

My colleagues and I do receive student emails flat-out refusing to do the work.  Students will tell us they don’t want to put their personal information out on the Internet and thus don’t want to sign up or participate in Google+ Hangout team meetings.  Students say they can’t present in front of a live audience because they’re new to the area, they don’t know anyone, blah blah blah.  I’ve heard enough excuses from online students in the last four years to last me an entire lifetime.

Student resistance is problematic because if the student refuses to try one or more elements of the online class, they aren’t going to learn public speaking, and they definitely aren’t going to do their best work.  As an instructional team, we try our best to overcome this by creating a safe, fun, positive learning environment for students, but the online medium proves challenging.  We will continue to work on encouraging students to take a chance on uncomfortable curriculum…


Challenge Two: Live Presenting

The second challenge my team faces is that balance of synchronous and asynchronous communication.  While recording a video and uploading it to YouTube is one way to practice a speech, synchronous public speaking and presentation is significantly more likely to happen in the real world.  Unfortunately, the instructional team doesn’t have time to meet with every single student in order for that student to deliver a “live” speech via FaceTime or Google+ Hangouts.  Though we simulate the live presentation environment as best we can, is there ever really any substitute for standing in front of 25 live people in your class and speaking to us?  At this point in time, I don’t think there is.  We can continue to get closer as more and more technology emerges.

Challenge Three: The Online Medium

Online learning itself is the third and largest challenge.  When compared with the on-campus version of Public Speaking, students in our online class are more likely to fail the class, more likely to drop out of the class, more likely to earn a lower score in the class, more likely to be negative and unprofessional, and more likely to have a negative experience in the class.  Technology is a beast.  Email and AIM/iChat often provide a barrier behind which students hide, and they often forget they should be professional in language, tone, and content.  On campus, we can hold students to 60 contact hours of lessons, activity, and discussion.  Quite often, online students don’t dedicate the time it takes to learn the material… let alone to successfully apply the material.  The nasty student email over a simple miscommunication in the directions and the hostile student voicemail because he didn’t check his comments for his grade are daily issues that bog us down.  We will continue to seek solutions for education in the online environment since e-learning definitely isn’t going anywhere!

Help!  Do you see any solutions to our three ongoing Public Speaking Online challenges?  Let me know in the comments section, or email me at alexrister1@gmail.com.

Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Two


In “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One,” I discussed the three major challenges we faced as an instructional team at a university and how we overcame those obstacles.  In today’s installment of the “Teaching Public Speaking Online” series, I want to cover three innovative things we’re doing in our online classroom.

Live Presenting

Public speaking is vastly different in the modern age of technology than it was when Aristotle was doing his thing over 2,300 years ago.  Still, an online public speaking class cannot consist of students filming videos in their bedrooms and uploading those videos to Youtube.  My team and I developed a course with a variety of live 21st century public speaking situations in order to help students learn and practice their communication and presentation skills.  For example, Rebekah Lane suggested a perfect addition to the Public Speaking Online classroom: student Google+ Hangout team meetings. Since our students have two major presentations (an informative and a persuasive), they meet with their Google+ Hangouts teams twice during the month-long class.  During those Google+ Hangout sessions, students are asked to play improv games to help with presentation anxiety and delivery; to discuss parts of their in-progress presentations; and to give each other feedback.  These sessions allow for online synchronous communication in an otherwise lonely E-learning environment, and they also prepare students for potential speaking situations like these in the future.  For example, I am meeting with Phil Waknell this week via FaceTime, and I am using Skype later this month for a project that I will reveal in February.

In addition to peer-to-peer Google+ Hangout sessions, students are also required to attend live GoTo Training sessions.  These instructor-led, one-hour meetings are as close to a classroom environment as possible online, and they provide time for a student to interact live with fellow classmates AND instructors.

Last, but not least, we added a live presentation in front of an audience to our curriculum.  Yes, students still have to learn how to record a video of themselves presenting using PhotoBooth or QuickTime (and, yes, those videos have to be recorded in one take without the magic of video editing).  However, to challenge students in a positive way and to prepare them for the live presentation environment, we asked that they present their final persuasive speech in front of 3 to 5 actual living, breathing human beings.  Since they know this last speech of the month will be live, they have four weeks to find their audience members.  No, they cannot use Google+ Hangouts or Skype; the speech has to be live.  While I am getting some minor pushback (“I’m new to the area and I don’t know anybody!”), most students work with me if they are concerned about finding 3 to 5 people to present for.  The threat of the “0″ on the assignment for failing to deliver a live presentation helps their determination to find an audience, too…


Video Feedback

The online learning environment is a tricky place for giving and receiving feedback.  Fortunately, many programs exist to help with this.  My favorite such program is QuickTime.  I can record student feedback while watching his or her video presentation.  Check out this example.  In the past, I’ve also recorded video feedback for students using Jing, which I loved.

I’ve found in my time as an online teacher that students don’t like to write response posts, and their response posts are typically pretty worthless.  Since asking students to also create video feedback for one another, the quality of constructive criticism has gone through the roof.  Check out this example of one student giving feedback to his classmate.  This kind of feedback allows students to practice the lessons they’re learning; to analyze a speech which will, ultimately, help them with their own presentation skills; and to give their fellow classmates some great advice to consider and to apply.

Assignment Structure 

It’s easy to give an online student written directions for a presentation assignment and to never hear from that student again until the speech is due.  Instead, in our new Public Speaking Online course, we’re focusing on a more clear assignment structure based on preparation and feedback.

First, the student is asked to create a working outline for a presentation.  That outline gets feedback from classmates and from the instructor.  After tweaking the outline a bit, the student meets with his or her Google+ Hangouts team to practice that outline – to talk a bit about the speech.  Additional feedback happens live during those Google+ Hangouts sessions.  After quite a bit of time revising, editing, and tweaking, the student finally delivers his or her presentation.

Now, this assignment structure hasn’t solved all online public speaking problems.  Some students, for reasons unknown, refuse to use the outline they’ve created for their presentation, and those speeches are terrible.  Other students simply read the outline word-for-word, and those speeches are boring.  For one group of students, however, I am seeing strong, engaging, audience-centered speeches as a result of hours and hours of preparation and practice.

In the final “Teaching Public Speaking Online” installment, I will discuss our ongoing challenges and solutions I’d like to work on this year.  Join me for “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Three” next week!

Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One


Last summer, when I was promoted to the head of our Public Speaking courses and fearless leader of our instructional team, I took on an enormous task: revamping our online course.  This was my first order of business because the online course had devolved into a complete mess for a number of reasons.  When I saw the state of affairs online, and when I read angry/frustrated/hateful student critiques and emails, I was alarmed and immediately sprang into action.

My first goal was to ditch the worthless online platform we’d ordered from a textbook publishing company.  I’ve spoken about this before on the blog, but the entire platform was like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Nothing worked, and nothing could be fixed.  Students couldn’t use the platform.  If students tried to use it, items would take hours to load or would simply disappear.  The publishing company talked in circles and had its best salespeople offer us training after training filled with doublespeak.  As you may have guessed, all the training in the world won’t solve a malfunctioning platform, so after a lot of pushing and fighting from me, we got rid of the whole shebang.

The second order of business was to create a unified course under one university-approved syllabus.  A huge problem our team faced was lack of leadership.  In one year, two leaders had come and gone, and in the process, no one was using a syllabus (!) and each teacher was doing his or her own thing.  While this allowed for a lot of growth and innovation, some students were really pissed.  Emails and critiques would ask why one online class was so easy and why one was so difficult.  Additionally, without a syllabus, the online courses were a free for all.  Courses were not being designed with standard learning outcomes and an appropriate, common Public Speaking Online workload in mind.  After I fought to get rid of the terrible online platform, I fought to create a common syllabus that balanced all of the online classes existing at once.



The third and final issue was and still is the biggest: how does a student actually learn public speaking online?  While some classes are more intuitive for the online environment, public speaking and presenting seems like a tough fit.

I started by creating a video explanation of “public speaking” for my students to help them see how presentations have shifted and changed.  I focused on the difference between the “Latin style” and the “modern style” so that students had a basis for understanding why the course COULD be taught, learned, and implemented online.  In addition to the video, I provided my students with links to a variety of resources I labeled “21st Century Public Speaking and Presentation.”  These resources included “Every Presentation Ever,” a short interview with Nancy Duarte on how/why presentations are broken, Garr Reynolds’ TEDx Talk on 21st century presentations, and Phil Waknell’s “Secrets For Delivering A Great Presentation.”  My goal was to expose my students to the material but then for them to chew on that material a bit during the first week of the course.  The Week One assignments allowed for the chewing to take place.

The very first assignment in the course was a “21st Century Presenting” discussion board post and response post.  Each student was tasked with answering questions about the material above: What is the difference between the Latin style and the modern style of public speaking?  How can we study and implement online presentations?  What is your definition of 21st century presenting based on your lessons?  What mistakes did you watch in “Every Presentation Ever” that you’ve made in the past?  What, specifically, do you want to implement in your own speeches after watching Reynolds’ and Waknell’s speeches?

The second assignment was the first video presentation of the course.  With a goal of practicing online presentation execution and delivery for the first time, the content of the speech was easy but tied back to those same resources listed above.  I asked each student to introduce him/herself, to identify one personal presentation problem, to set three public speaking goals to work on during the course, to talk about a plan of action to achieve those goals, and then – importantly – to discuss the professional execution of the video.  Students have a difficult time with execution (lighting, camera placement, background, noises, attire), so having them talk me through that execution has done wonders for the quality of presentation videos.

Week One was successful.  Students are getting it, and they express excitement (mixed with nerves, of course) about moving forward.

The course has been rebuilt, but it certainly isn’t perfect, and I have one nagging concern.  As you may know from reading a few previous blog posts on the subject, my goal is to find us a new textbook.  Our current book is absolutely ridiculous.  I re-read it several times while revamping the online course, and I hate it more with every turn of the page.  Luckily, my colleague Phil Waknell contacted me this week to brainstorm a possible solution.  More on that in the future…

Up next, in “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Two,” I discuss the additional curriculum changes and updates to the online course including GoTo Training sessions; Google+ Hangouts meetings; video presentations and live presentations; video feedback; and more.

Do you teach public speaking and presentation classes online?  How do you make them work for your students?