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Stefani Relles

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Thursday is TechDay: Square Peg Round Hole

Personal technology at ASHE this year was notably present. The tablet seems to have entered higher education research at least as a fashion statement. I saw a few people using their tablets to write notes (pen and paper are still the preferred utensils), but just you wait … by AERA, I predict the stylus will go head-to-head with the ballpoint pen.

But this blog post is not about tablets, or internet access (which was happily available at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas). This post is a plea to the higher education research community for open-mindedness. It’s a cold PowerPoint world out there, and we need your help to push forward.

Bill gave marching orders to all of us at the Pullias Center to think outside the PowerPoint box this year. I’d like to give a personal account of how challenging (and time-consuming) the assignment turned out to be. If you haven’t heard of Pecha Kucha, let me be the first to introduce you to its concept. Imagine a paper presentation absent of text heavy PowerPoint slides. Instead, each presenter gets 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds. That the slides are absent of text is implied. When the Pecha Kucha is mastered it is as scholarly as it is fun. But mastery—like most things worth doing—is a journey.

My own presentation this year was a prime example of progress not perfection. Briefly, I used pop culture photos as visual metaphors to “show” (while I “told”) the traditional topics: research problem, literature review, methods, data, discussion points. Some of the images were impactful, others were less successful, and a few were downright … quirky? I displayed a bowl of oatmeal to underscore the peculiarly plain landscape of writing assessment options. I finished with a sense of unease. On the one hand, I had (at Bill’s request) tried something different. On the other hand, I felt peculiarly unscholarly afterwards (partly because my symposium colleagues gave such elegant “inside the box” talks). I felt silly, which is not a good thing when you’ve conducted rigorous research. I felt like I did my findings a disservice. I am not discouraged. I’m done with the PowerPoint, but not yet sure of the sound I am after for my conference voice.

It takes a thick-skin to dare to be different, and I must say as a job market candidate, I’m not sure different at ASHE was a safe strategy. Technology enthusiasts will understand what I mean. I’m proud to fail if it moves the conference needle forward into a more participatory digital culture. Look out for more Pecha Kuchas from the Pullias team at AERA 2013!

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