When it comes to explaining and demonstrating to students how to complete a task on the computer (such as making poster using PowerPoint), our first thought might be to show them how to do it step by step, from the beginning to the end. Although this approach works, it comes with a number of challenges. For example, it forces students to remember a large quantity of information and they will likely require support (from you or from materials) along the way to recall the steps. It also requires students to remain focused during the possibly long demonstration. If they have their computer with them, they will likely want to get started before the end of the demonstration and miss some information.
In this article, we suggest three alternative approaches to explain and demonstrate to students how to complete a task on the computer. They all have their pros and cons, so choose and adapt based on what works best with your group and for the context.
1. The Incremental Approach
The incremental approach consists in dividing the demonstration into its main components and spacing them out so that students can alternate between watching and doing. In our example, the task of making a poster using PowerPoint could be divided as follows: 1. Creating the document and adding text; 2. Adding images and shapes; 3. Editing text and colours; 4. Exporting.
- Explain the task in general and demonstrates the first set of instructions.
- Students start working on the project and perform these actions.
- Once you notice many students have completed the first set, ask them to pause and close the lid of their laptop so that they can give you their attention.
- Demonstrate the second set of instructions, then let students work again.
- Follow this pattern until all the instructions have been demonstrated and students are engaged in their work.
*Depending on the complexity of the task, it might be a good idea to have a set of written, visual or video instructions that students can refer back to.
- Students are not overwhelmed by the quantity of information and steps to recall.
- Students who are comfortable with technologies might work ahead, at their pace and independently.
- Students get their hands on the computer faster, which is good to sustain their motivation and to learn by doing.
- It might be difficult to get students’ attention back once they have started working. Make sure you establish consistent classroom norms regarding the use of computers while someone is talking.
- Students who work ahead of the instructions might diverge from your plan. Make sure to show a completed example at the beginning.
2. The Synchronous Approach
The synchronous approach consists in demonstrating and explaining the task while students are doing it. This approach works well when students have basic knowledge of how to use the tools, but don’t necessarily know how to get the task done. In our example of creating a poster using PowerPoint, students should know how to use PowerPoint, but not necessarily how to compose and align the elements of a poster.
- Explain the task, show an example of the expected result and tell students which tools to use.
- Use your SmartBoard to show the content of your screen, and begin demonstrating the task students have to complete, giving the instructions out loud. Ex: “I am creating a new document, but I need to adjust its size, to make a vertical poster format…“
- Students begin working immediately, following some of your instructions if they need to and working independently when they are comfortable.
- Some students who are comfortable with the task might ask you to go work in a quiet space, while some might gather close to you to ask questions as they work.
- As questions arise, demonstrate the answers and solution on your working example for everyone to see. Ex: “Someone is asking how to make a gradient background. I will do that on my poster to show you…“
- The approach is adapted to students’ level whether they can work independently or need lots of support.
- Students’ questions are addressed once, for the whole group.
- You have very little to prepare, in terms of written instructions and examples, since you are demonstrating live.
- Students are encouraged to engage in an iterative process. As they see your example evolve and discover new tools, they will likely want to implement new ideas to their work and improve it.
- While you are busy working on this live demonstration, it might be more difficult to address classroom management issues. This approach works well with older and/or calm groups.
- If students are not comfortable with the tools used, they are likely to have too many questions, which will prevent you from progressing through the live example. This is not the best approach for a first contact with an app.
3. The Backward Approach
The backward approach consists in showing students a completed example of what is expected and deconstructing it from the most complex to the simplest. Students will watch this backward presentation for as long as they need to feel comfortable with the task, and then begin working. In our example, show a poster created on PowerPoint and then demonstrate the most complex tools first (such as gradients and image transparency) before moving on to simpler tools (such as shapes). This approach works well when students have some knowledge of the tools they are about to use and a certain level of autonomy.
- Show a completed example of the task to help students understand the expectations.
- Announce that you will demonstrate all the steps needed to get there, but that they can start working whenever they feel comfortable with the task.
- Name all the tools used to complete the task. For example, “this poster was created using gradients in the background, images including crop and transparency, and text.“
- Demonstrate the tools from the most advanced to the simplest one. Students who are comfortable with the tools but just need a few tips will begin working early in the demonstration. Students who are less comfortable with the tools might stay with you until the end of the demonstration.
- Once the backward demonstration is over, attend to students’ questions.
- Students get “just what they need” and start working immediately.
- It is a good way to introduce more advanced tools to students who are very comfortable with technologies and might not always pay attention to the whole demonstrations.
- Since they have to judge when they know enough to start working, it encourages students’ metacognition about their knowledge and skills of the demonstrated tools.
- Students who begin working early and have questions might have to wait for the end of your demonstration.
- Students who are not comfortable with the tool will have less time to work since they watch the whole demonstration. Make sure to give them more time and keep the others busy with challenges.
- If students have never used the demonstrated tool, they will be overwhelmed by the backward approach that begins with advanced tools. It might not be the best in introductory situations.