Look out PowerPoint: UNC students use Social Computing Room as a presentation tool

To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, change the communication medium and you’ve changed the message.

It’s a concept that’s well understood by the students in Rebecca Nesvet’s English 102, (Writing in the Disciplines) classes at UNC Chapel Hill.

This semester, students worked in teams to develop presentations on a wide range of scientific fields of inquiry. But instead of expecting the usual PowerPoint slides filled with bulleted talking points, Nesvet brought them to RENCI’s Social Computing Room and turned them loose.  The room, with a floor-to-ceiling computer desktop that projects on all four walls, allows users to immerse themselves in panoramic montages of data and images.

Suddenly, a new technology offered new possibilities for the students to tell their stories. According to Nesvet, this expanded communications toolkit enhances the learning experience.

“To adapt an old saying. if you give a student PowerPoint, he’ll eat for a day. If you give him the opportunity to inductively find the unique potential of any new communications technology, he’ll eat for a lifetime,” she said.

Unlike a typical presentation shown as flat slides on a screen, an SCR presentation allows students to present multiple ideas, facts and visualizations in a larger context. The room also makes presentations more immersive and more understandable, said Nesvet. A discussion of habitable zones in our solar system, for example, is made more powerful when the presenter stands inside a digital frame of the Mars Rover.  Graphs, charts and timelines become more clear when the presenter can move inside the frame and touch actual data points.

The room, said Nesvet, underscores the importance of working together as a team, as students take turns “driving” the displays and talking about the data on the screens. It also offers more choices on how to present, giving students the chance to be creative and to take charge of the format of their talks.

“Most importantly,” said Nesvet, the SCR enhances intellectual curiosity and student engagement.

“One of my students claimed that his SCR assignment was ‘the first presentation I’ve given that I felt was worthwhile for anything outside class,’” she said.

Next, Nesvet plans to use the SCR for a digital humanities editing project, which will project facsimilies of 16th – 19th-century broadside publications onto the walls.

Watch video of English 102 presentations in the SCR.

[youtube lJwVCHMcUSI nolink]

Video Credit: Adam Engel and the SITES Lab Team, department of English and comparative literature