visual literacy

COETAIL, Part Deux

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Now that I have successfully completed the COETAIL program, I feel compelled to blog!

I already find myself anticipating the next course…only there isn’t one.

Really? No full Master’s or PhD? Wouldn’t it be awesome to be “Dr. COETAIL”? Hey, one can dream, right?

The good news is that COETAIL, Part Deux does exist…as an independent study of sorts. The bad news challenge is that now I’m driving, planning, and organizing what it looks like. This is both exciting and intimidating. Through the COETAIL program, I have developed some real skills and habits that, at a minimum, need to be maintained. These include:

  • a regular blogging habit: weekly blogging reflections were definitely motivated by the requirements of each course. However, in the process, blogging has become a way to put myself, my thoughts, my ideas, and my actions “out there.” As a result, I gain feedback that challenges my thinking and connections with others who only make me better at what I do.
  • a solid, ever-expanding knowledge base: this began with building up a personal (now ill-fated) Google reader. I regularly use other aggregators and curation apps (like Zite, Flipboard, and Netvibes) that help me to mine the gems within a variety of my interest areas as an educator, a runner, a vegetarian, and a tech geek.
  • an amazing PLN: via Twitter, I have crazy access to people with all kinds of knowledge, talents and interests! I am often humbled by the projects that are proposed, acted on, and shared across the globe. Of course, this doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction (although some days it does the trick!), but let’s face it, most of us only come into contact with a very limited number of the same people on a daily basis. Regardless of how collaborative and creative these people might be, it’s a bubble that can be very limiting.
  • Presentation Zen: this has been a game-changer for me. I can no longer create, nor sit through, slides of text. Presentation Zen is a concept that should become part of every school’s taught curriculum! There is still far too much death by Powerpoint happening in today’s world.
  • Doing and Sharing: integrating technology to enhance student learning is definitely something that I am very passionate about. I think that I have typically been a very good sharer of ideas and resources. COETAIL has provided me with a new  perspective on what can be shared (images, ideas, opinions, presentations) and how to share (Twitter, blog posts, iMovie presentations, YouTube, blog comments, Google Hangouts).

So, the big question is: how will I go about maintaining these skills and taking them to new levels?

  • Blogging. Well, here I am blogging without the extrinsic motivation of a course grade. 🙂 I see myself continuing this habit, but I will admit that maintaining a regular schedule concerns me.
  • Learning. Reading and keeping up with professional, eduction-related blogs is something that I see as being very easy for me to maintain. This is a habit that has become something that I do every day at some very predictable times.
  • Networking. I was getting great ideas and recommendations from Twitter connections well before joining the COETAIL program. Now I have a deeper and wider PLN which includes COETAILers from all over the world, at various stages in the program, and at different levels of tech integration. Within my PLN I am not only a learner, but am also a teacher at times. The really fun part of having a PLN is establishing a virtual connection that becomes a real live connection at a NESA conference, IB training, or some other professional meet-up.
  • Presenting. This is a new level of challenge that I would like to explore. I think that my learnings , activities, connections, and reflections that resulted from the COETAIL program have been significant confidence builders. I have often thought about presenting at a conference, but a lack of confidence has been a significant obstacle for me. I think some of the behind-the-scenes activities like blogging and tweeting have been really helpful for me in taking some risks, sharing my ideas, and being met with positive feedback and encouragement. Presentation Zen has also been instrumental in helping me to develop concepts and ideas on deeper levels. The power of using visuals to communicate big ideas has had a great impact on me. The search for the “just right” image to convey meaning requires me to dig deep into an idea. An in-depth image search leads me to clarify what it is that I am presenting. The end result is that I feel more confident in the knowledge and ideas that I am using to engage an audience.
  • Doing and Sharing. My current position finds me interacting far more with teachers than with students. I will need to be creative in how I continue to integrate technology. Integrating technology has a slightly different context in the ways that I work with teachers in collaborative groups. However, these opportunities will provide me with occasions to model and encourage the use of technology. How I go about doing this will be worth sharing through blog posts and the occasional summary video presentation. I think the challenges here are remembering to share and taking the time to organize projects worth sharing into an engaging presentation format.

So, there’s my vision for my COETAIL, Part Deux.

What is your plan for Part Deux?

How will you maintain and build on your COETAIL learnings?


Bigger Steps Towards Zen Presentation

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I recently blogged about some Baby Steps Towards Zen Presentation. Recently I have had the opportunity to take some bigger steps towards presentation Zen. The opportunity to collaborate was presented by the high school assistant principal and the MYP coordinator. Personally, I never pass up a good opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues.

Student engagement is a professional development topic to be covered in an upcoming high school staff meeting. Below is the original set of slides for the presentation that was offered up. I approached this particular slideshow as an example of analog planning, only using PowerPoint rather than a Moleskin notebook. Through examining the slides and talking through the purpose and the goals of the presentation with my colleagues, I eagerly volunteered to develop the Zen version of our presentation. Below are the before slides which served as an outline for the final slides that should be far more engaging for our audience.

As a group, we have very collaboratively developed a great opportunity for professional growth. As a result, I feel that I am farther along on the path to becoming a Zen presentation master!


Before: planning analog using PowerPoint to outline ideas

After: Presentation Zen


Baby Steps towards Zen Presentation

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In a recent blog post, I referenced my less-than-engaging PowerPointless presentations that often include screenshots. I must admit that I was somewhat relieved to learn in perusing the blog posts of another COETAILer that I am not the only one who has relied on screenshots to convey a message. However, if my goal was “to convey a message,” I feel safe in saying that my message may have been lost in the sea of presentation boredom (the audience’s, as well as my own!).

I know full well why I (and so many others) have fallen into the trap of using the PowerPoint default bullet format,  including lots of text, and embedding screenshots. Here are what I see as my personal obstacles to quality presentations:

  • fear of public speaking: detailed slides act as a crutch to hold me up when in front of a group
  • undefined purpose: failing to ask the question, “What am I hoping to accomplish with this presentation?”
  • lack of preparation: not taking the beginning steps to “plan analog” and to begin away from the screen and really think through the intention of the presentation OR just sitting in front of the screen and throwing up all of the information onto a series of slides

The presentation below is really a series of screenshots of how to log in and get started in the Atlas curriculum mapping system. Not necessarily the most fascinating of subjects, but in hindsight I realize that I missed an opportunity. Yes, teachers need to know how to log in in order to begin to realize the potential of Atlas; however, this series of slides resulted in a missed opportunity for me to convey that message.

You won’t be missing anything if you skip out on scrolling through it. I won’t be offended.


This school year I have been working with the MYP Coordinator on the role of the MYP unit planner and Atlas. The presentation below was created after only a few readings of the COETAIL course 3 resources. In an attempt to go Presentation Zen, I opted for no bells and whistles and stayed away from using a prefab template. I feel that I started strong and true to the concepts of Zen design (slides 1 – 4). However, those insidious screenshots make an appearance and hang in there until the bitter end (slides 5 – 9). Below I have highlighted how each slide served to support my presentation (or not).

  1. TITLE: A guiding question helped to focus my thoughts in the development of this presentation. This slide also served a dual purpose in that it helped the audience to immediately focus on the purpose and begin to anticipate what to expect.
  2. PUZZLE PHOTO: Here I used a photo of a puzzle as a metaphor for all of the tools that work together to support collaborative planning and student learning in our school. The image was enough of a cue for me as a speaker to know what to say without having my message typed onto the slide.
  3. COLLABORATION PHOTO: Again, this image helped to remind me of the point I wanted to stress with my audience. I also followed my on-screen presentation using the DocsToGo app on my iPad where I could use cues in the Notes section. This is now my presentation crutch, which is only seen by me and not my audience. The notes that I have are short reminders that help to keep me on message both during the planning and the delivery of the presentation.
  4. TEXT and PHOTO: This slide was only to provide the audience with the URL so that they could browse their planners in Atlas on their iPads during the next slides.
  5. SCREENSHOT: I couldn’t quite end my relationship with the trusty screenshot.
  6. SCREENSHOT: This is another screenshot that I chose to use to emphasize the look of the MYP planner within the Atlas system. The three pieces of Stage One planning got red circles because those were a major focus of the training session.
  7. SCREENSHOTS: The next two screenshots were used to share two years of significant concepts for the same unit. The MYP Coordinator and I are working to support teachers in upgrading the quality and documentation of units. These were used to exemplify an upgrade in quality. In hindsight, I would rework these slides to only emphasize the significant concepts.
  8. (see #7)
  9. LAST SCREENSHOT: Honestly, I can’t even remember what my point was with this slide! This was another missed opportunity to remind my audience of the message. Sorry, dear colleagues!

It’s the process…

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Bored People
Probably my Atlas presentations are the most boring visually. Boring for me as a presenter, so probably über-boring for my audience. I resort to screen shots. <hangs head in shame> I think presentations are the most challenging when, as the presenter, I recognize how easy it might be for the audience to disengage.


Presentation Zen

The timing is great for this week’s lessons as I have been trying to repackage the presentation and perception of the Atlas curriculum mapping system this year. Now, I don’t have a formal plan, per se. It’s just a series of a few ideas that I’ve been tossing around in my head, along with a mantra that I’ve repeated to a few people. I’ve been talking about it during small group professional development sessions. The more I have been talking (and, thus, thinking) about it, the more I realize that a visual representation of the concept that I am aiming for could be very beneficial. After this week’s readings, I definitely appreciate the various ideas developed by Garr Reynolds in a variety of his blog posts on Presentation Zen. Presentation Zen has helped to clarify that a well-thought out presentation is the realization of a plan.

Plan Analog

Somehow I need to rethink the boring slides of screenshots (the only thing worse is watching a presenter navigate through a program on a large screen) into an engaging series of visuals supported by design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Basically, I’ll be starting from scratch. Out with the old, in with the new. The idea to “Plan Analog” resonates with me. Too often I sit down and open PowerPoint or Prezi and just begin to create (as an English teacher, I totally discouraged this type of approach to writing!). I neglect the process and rush directly to the product. This is not very zen! How silly of me to skip the brainstorming and planning stages of the process! This is probably the biggest reason why I have walked away from this particular presentation less than impressed with my work. I have focused on the how-to use tutorial when what I really wanted to do was to sell usefulness of Atlas as a collaborative planning tool…and how is supports the MYP unit planner and backwards planning.

Images Speak

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Puzzle desde la ventana de la oficina


I chose this image to use in a teacher professional development workshop this week. In an attempt to help new teachers connect the work that they will do with MYP unit planners to other facets of planning, record keeping, electronic gradebooks, etc. that are part of our school culture. This image was intended to make that point that the Atlas curriculum mapping system, is one piece of the puzzle that is AIS. Other pieces include: IB programmes (PYP, MYP, DP), tech integration, literacy, Write Traits, critical thinking, MYP unit planner, Gradequick, etc. As these pieces are connected, a more complete picture of learning at AIS begins to emerge.

Rather than viewing each “piece of the puzzle” as an added layer of responsibility, many actually can be used to support each other; like Atlas being used to support the MYP unit planner and collaborative team planning. When the various “pieces of the puzzle” are connected a complete picture is revealed.



Making Sense of Visual Hierarchy

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This week’s readings and dabblings reminded me of just why I am part of the COETAIL cohort. Many of the basic ideas about visual design in Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design by Brandon Jones are not necessarily new to me. I’ve read and heard about them before. I find visual design very interesting from a non-artist point of view. However, I don’t consider myself an artist, which has allowed me to excuse myself from putting into actually practicing visual design elements. The difference that this course is going to make for me, though, is the practical application of all of these ideas and details. I am now forced (totally by choice) to experiment with this information through the creative design process, whereas without the level of accountability of coursework I would just continue to read about design, think about it, and move on without necessarily making a conscious effort to do anything specific with it.

 The Hierarchist’s Toolbox

So, I took a look at my COETAIL course blog armed with “The Hierarchist’s Toolbox.” Here is the current look, which has some aspects that I really like. Then there are other pieces that really bug me.


This particular blog theme doesn’t have much to offer when considering the size of the title of each blog post. For me, a title should stand out and grab the eye of the reader. Especially if the title is well thought out and sheds insight into the content of the post.


I remember plopping that picture in the banner. It is a picture I took of one of my favorite places in the world: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore in my home state of Michigan. The colors are fairly neutral, so it has the potential to go with anything. However, the right hand column is gray! Really?! Not a fan of this column at all (and for more reasons than the color that will be detailed below). There is just too much going on with respect to color in this particular screen shot. I am now aware that the photos that I use in each blog post need to be considered for their color scheme, rather than only the subject.


Aha! this is what drew me to the banner picture in the first place. For me the contrast between the sand and the foliage emphasizes a path. This symbolizes my COETAIL learning path and maybe the path of those who choose to read my blog posts. I do like the contrast between the white space of the blog post and the gray side bar, but is too much contrast a bad thing? The contrast of white and gray might be too extreme.


The top-right of a web page as an “official” space where people look for information is very interesting, especially since the placement of tabs within many WordPress themes are on the top-left. I imagine that it is no coincidence that the COETAIL Asia theme uses that top-right space just as Brandon Jones suggests.


Clearly I excel at the use of this element in my blog! Gray text paragraph after gray text paragraph. Even with a photo thrown in for good measure, not so visually stimulating,


The side bar has some proximity issues. I have included widgets with the intention of providing visitors with ways to find information on my site. Each widget area blends into the next without any clear visual boundaries. I like the idea of having a widget linked to my GoodReads account, but despite the book covers being organized in a grid, it still looks a bit crowded. That said, this blog theme does a good job of separating the left side content space from the right side widget space.

Density and Whitespace

I would say that this theme does not capitalize on this element of visual hierarchy. Of course, my placement of a photo near the top of this blog post on the right hand side only serves to clutter that area (what should really be part of the “official” area).

Style and Texture

For me, this is probably the most intimidating element of visual hierarchy. It sounds so artsy. You mean I have to have a style? Texture as a visual, rather than a tactile, element…This is going to take some serious thinking!

In summary, here is a list of what I am looking for in a blog theme along with aspects to consider during the design of future blog posts:

  • theme considerations

    • larger title font
    • top-right “official” space
    • visual boundaries within the widget space
    • better use of density and whitespace
    • a theme that provides or supports style
  • blog post considerations

    • establish a color palette
      • I’ll give this a try, but wonder if there is potential for a color palette to be too limiting.
    • does the color palette of the photos used in a post work with the color palette of the blog?
    • How best can I interrupt repetition to add emphasis?
    • How can I use blog posts to establish a style?