The slideshare lessons

In my last couple of posts I have been thinking about sharing presentations, particularly through Slideshare, and I wanted to wrap up some thoughts about this. Slideshare has long been one of my favourite web 2.0/social media sites (I concede that slideboom and others may be as good, but it was Slideshare where I landed first). It isn’t particularly amazing in what it does, but what it does, it does well.

What intrigues me about Slideshare is that I think it is beginning to become a case study in how new media can impact upon academic practice. This is varied, and I suspect we are only at the beginning of it.

However, I find myself increasingly turning to Slideshare to illustrate points I wish to make about new technologies. I think these apply (or will apply) across many different technologies and related practices, but concentrating on one helps demonstrate the point. So, in five easy steps, here are the lessons we can learn from the Slideshare example:

1. Sharing improves your own practice – this is  a point myself and almost everyone else has made so often that even if it wasn’t true, we’d make it so. But it is true – compare the style (we’re not concerned about content at the moment) of one of my early presentations on Slideshare (from about 3 years ago):

to this more recent one:

Simply by seeing what others do, I have been forced to reflect on my own practice and improve it.

2. A new form of artefact is created – these aren’t just presentations, but a new type of artefact. They are presentations that need to exist in an online world. This produces a different criteria for success to purely ‘live’ presentations (although there is a good deal of overlap). A shared presentation needs to be visually arresting, particularly the first slide so people will want to view it. The slides need to be clear and not require lots of explanation. It should be something that people want to pass on, or embed. These three criteria have led to a Slideshare-type presentation style – usually one image per slide (from Flickr) with one line of clear text overlaid on top. This itself may become a style we come to dislike and deride, but my point is that it is a style that has been created by the process of sharing. This is especially true if we consider the slidecast (synchronized slides and audio), which has no real equivalent. A new type of academic output has been created, without us realizing it or intentionally setting out to establish it.

3. Presentations are social objects – by sharing good Slideshare presentations you are sharing ideas, and people will react to these. It can be in the form of comments on your blog post which features the presentation, on the Slideshare site itself, or through other social media such as twitter. The presentation is not a static file but rather the means through which you share ideas and promote discussion. It becomes a way of building and communicating with a global network. For instance Mike Ellis posted this excellent slideshare on open content and data:

and Tony Hirst then used the presentation to ‘introduce’ him to Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie on twitter. The presentation was the object around which this social interaction could be facilitated.

4. The audience is distributed – I made this point in the guest post I did for Marieke. Unlike a real presentation your audience is now distributed over place, but also over time. Thus a presentation may gain significant numbers as it accrues views over time. Going back to my first two ‘lessons’ this reinforces the imperative for creating engaging presentations that people will want to view. This means that ‘audience’ figures and thus impact (to reiterate the point I made in my last post) can far exceed that of a live presentation.

5. It’s a learning object/OER
– for a few years some of us struggled to promote the concept of ‘learning objects’. I still believe that fundamentally their logic is irrefutable, as Stephen Downes put it:

A high quality and fully interactive
piece of learning material could be produced for, say, a thousand
dollars. If a thousand institutions share this one item, the cost is a
dollar per institution. But if each of a thousand institutions produces
a similar item, then each institution must pay a thousand dollars, or
the institutions, collectively, must pay a million dollars. For one
lesson. In one course.

But this principle got lost amongst isolated repositories, metadata standards, lack of motivation, rights, etc (a classic example of Scott’s talking about sharing rather than just sharing). And more recently we have had the OER movement, which has seen more success, but reuse isn’t quite what we might expect (see David Wiley’s excellent post on whether we are kidding ourselves). My feeling is that it’s still early days for OERs, but there is plenty we can learn from the Slideshare example. If we include these as OERs, then reuse looks to be in a healthy state. I posted a while back on whether Slideshare was the best OER site around, using the graph of site traffic to illustrate my point.
I’m not going to go over those arguments again, but rather what I want to emphasise here is that this is a great example of reuse and open education happening. My own slides have been taken, adapted and used by others in presentations, and integrated as resources in some courses, all without me needing to be aware of it, fill out pages of metadata, give consent or sign an agreement. I think that’s great.

Overall then, Slideshare reveals to us that simple tools based around sharing are starting to have an impact upon real academic practice.


  • R3beccaF

    I think it’s more than ‘Simply by seeing what others do, I have been forced to reflect on my own practice and improve it.’ After all, academics have been going to conferences for years, and some still produce illegible PowerPoints with 20 lines of 10pt text in yellow on a green background.
    With Slideshare it’s important that people respond to the slideshow – not just the content, but also the presentation. (Almost) nobody ever stands up at the end of a conference presentation and takes the speaker to task for appalling slides – but people feel free to do that on Slideshare, and they then carry that practice over in to Twitter streams, so that there is discussion of the medium as well as the message.

  • Mike Johnson

    Rebecca’s right – poor media sense has a long tail. I’ve found that engagement is a very important variable in networked learning. Without it, the best laid plans fade and die. Bearing in mind what I’m about to say, how likely is it that your ‘illegible PowerPoints’ producers will ever arrive at the starting blocks of slideshare to benefit in the ways you describe?
    Re. Slideshare, I have not contributed for a few reasons, amongst them:
    1. I’m not ready to join yet another social network – although would greatly value (and not fear) the peer review side of it.
    2. It doesnt fit well enough with my current ‘discourse creation practices’ – i.e. I’d have to re-purpose a lot of my work as I mainly design slideshows to have me _with_ them – i.e. in person.
    3. The design quality levels of the slideshows you refer to is so high that I fear investing the necessary time for something not closely aligned to my current unending list of priority projects. To which I had better return now! er… what was the test match score again…?

  • Martin

    @Rebecca – yes, I think some of what you say is subsumed in the other points too. It is more than just seeing, but the very act of sharing I think exposes you to what others do and makes you more reflective.
    @Mike – to take your reservations:
    1. I don’t really use Slideshare as a social network. Some do, but for me it’s really just a place to host my powerpoints for my blog, and to find others. I dont’t spend much time in the site itself, so it’s not necessarily the same as joining a social network, because it has a very specific content focus.
    2. Sure, but with a slidecast you can add audio which puts you in them, although this does take time.
    3. I don’t think the design level is that high, it’s something you evolve over time, and being in that space helps the process.
    I’d say – you may as well put your slides up there, you’ve kind of got nothing to lose and you may find the process useful.

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