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3 Quick Ways to Breathe New Life into Your Old Instructional Content

3 Quick Ways to Breathe New Life into Your Old Instructional Content

We’ve all got them. Those tried-and-true lectures, presentations and activities that we’ve used again and again throughout the years to great success with our learners. But maybe things are feeling a bit, well, tired. Refreshing your old content doesn’t have to mean overhauling everything. There are some quick and easy tweaks you can make to update any instructional content in a flash.

Let's start with the easiest, and work our way up from there:

1. Swap Your Tired Cultural References For New Ones (aka "Get With It, Grandma")

When I was a high school ELA teacher back in the early 2000’s, I tried to make my lessons relevant to my students in the only way a woefully out-of-touch oldish white lady can hope to: by including pop culture references that often made my students groan, but always got their attention. If you’re the type to do this, too, you might notice that some of your stories, examples, and jokes are just sooooo 10 minutes ago. Here’s an example.

Circa 2003: I borrowed a lyric from the Notorious B.I.G’s seminal hit “Party and Bullshit” for a lesson on grammar when I was a teacher at the NY Harbor School in Brooklyn:

"If poor grammar smell bad, then these Harbor kids be stinkin’" - Adapted from Biggie Smalls

Circa 2016: If I were teaching that same lesson today, I might choose to tap into the Emoji zeitgeist to communicate the same message:

Doing a quick sweep through your instructional content and coming up with ways to swap out references your students won’t get (although I hope to god today’s high schoolers know who B.I.G. is, they probably don’t have his lyrics memorized the way my kids did) and replace them with some that they will.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say here that it’s important to be very careful with this tactic. It’s super easy to mis-appropriate youth culture and wind up embarrassing yourself or even offending your learning community. Have fun, but think critically about any reference before you put it out into the world.

2. Pick a New Presentation Template

Are you one of those educators who has an entire hard drive full of presentations, one for every possible lesson you might ever want to teach? While death by PowerPoint is real (just ask Edward Tufte), I’m not suggesting you trash all that work. Instead, why not think about a simple refresh on your presentation template? Microsoft Office 365 has a bunch of new, modern templates to choose from. And if you’re not looking to upgrade, you might consider converting to Google Slides. The built-in templates are fabulous (Beach Day is a real crowd-pleaser with millennials, I find). And whether you’re using PowerPoint or Google Slides, I find Slides Carnival’s free templates to be gorgeous, easy to use and super modern. 

An old slide from a deck I taught with circa 2003.

An old slide from a deck I taught with circa 2003.

The same slide, in the Beach Day template by Google Slides.

The same slide, in the Beach Day template by Google Slides.

Regardless of which platform you use, pick a new template, apply it to your old decks, and watch how your content suddenly feels fresh and engaging again.

3. Make Some Digital Media

Chances are, your most tried-and-true instructional content was developed before the proliferation of easy-to-use digital media creation tools we have at our disposal today. In looking at what you have, ask yourself: could an image, video or web experience better tell this story than whatever I have in place? If the answer is yes, do yourself and your learners a favor, and crank out some media.

One tool that I am really loving for this at the moment is Adobe Spark. With Spark, you can create quick images, animated videos and web sites to share with your learners or insert into your presentations and digital syllabi. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks and am super excited by the possibilities. It doesn't hurt that I just finished a gig to develop some learning resources for teachers using it, too.

Besides Spark, I also really love the iOS app WordSwag for images (I use this exclusively for the images on my mommy blog), Piktochart for quick charts and graphs, and LiceCap for creating animated gifs. All of these tools make it so easy to create media, you really have no excuse for relying on text and bullets to convey your ideas.

 

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