Cognitive Science and Google

Posted by Stuart Herbert on March 5th, 2008 in Teaching.

I picked up a copy of Stephen M. Kosslyn’s Clear and to The Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations recently. Professor Kosslyn is Chair of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and a leading authority on the nature of visual mental imagery and visual communication.

These are two areas of cognitive science that are particularly useful to anyone who teaches Tai Chi. As instructors, we teach primarily by demonstration – we literally communicate visually with our students. What we communicate, and the way we do it, make or break us as effective teachers. A key aspect of teaching the martial aspects of the form to beginners is to get them to imagine that they are applying their technique to an opponent who is standing in front of them (or beside them, depending on the technique, of course). We ask our students to have a visual mental image of their opponent at all times. Without that image, the techniques practiced will miss the mark.

His advice on escaping from PowerPoint Hell is built around eight key principles:

  1. The Principle of Relevance
  2. The Principle of Appropriate Knowledge
  3. The Principle of Salience
  4. The Principle of Discriminability
  5. The Principle of Perceptual Organisation
  6. The Principle of Compatibility
  7. The Principle of Informative Changes
  8. The Principle of Capacity Limitations

I’m going to explore each of these principles (and how they can be applied to teaching Tai Chi) in a series of follow-up posts, but I can already testify that they work extremely well. I used these principles to design the 20 minute assessed microteach that I did on Monday evening, and I passed with an ‘A’ grade! (The 20 minute assessed microteach is part of the grading for the Adult Teacher qualification I’m currently studying for, on the ET01: Introduction to Teaching course). If you have to present or teach, I can’t urge you enough to go out and get this book.

What does this have to do with Google? Er, nothing, really 🙂 Just that Google’s part of the other news for this week.

I’ve finally registered, and over the summer I’ll be building a website for the Tai Chi school. The plan is to keep it simple: a few pages about the school and our classes, and then a protected area where my students will be able to download electronic copies of the course notes and some videos too. Rather than create all the web pages and underlying software by hand, I’ve decided to build the website using the new Google Sites. I’ll let you know when the website is up and running.