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Engaging Virtually: slides, water, and variety

by Athena Capo-Battaglia

Creating an engaging class can be difficult, but fortunately many things can help! When making the slides for my course, I tried to keep the slides simple, and included helpful pictures/diagrams/bullet points to accompany what I was saying rather than writing everything on the slide. I, then, put the information in my speaker notes (love those) so I could refer to them during my presentation and keep what I was saying coherent and concise. Making the slides dark with light text is also easier on the eyes (I like dark blue or purple with an off-white), especially if you are going to put longer chunks of text on the slide. Also, be sure to express emotions and take pauses when speaking to sound enthusiastic and lively. Especially now, when students are attending so many Zoom classes (Zoom fatigue is real), trying to keep even a lecture sounding more like a discussion can help a lot! Taking pauses in general is a good trick, too. To make sure my throat doesn’t dry out, especially when I am nervous, I take breaks to drink some water after every few slides. This way, students have a moment to finish looking at the slide, process what you just told them, and see if they have any questions. Videos can also be great to show examples of what you are teaching since introducing more variety better captures attention. Finally, Kahoots can be a good idea, but make sure they aren’t rushed. I learned this the hard way a few months ago, and it ended up being my students’ least favorite part.

For my course, I taught how brain injuries can help us understand the functionality of brain regions. Today during my first section, I was asked whether we can regain lost functionality (unfortunately we usually cannot), and it reminded me about my first neuroscience course in college about brain regeneration. Although some neurons can undergo mitosis later in life, most cannot and thus we cannot regenerate our brains, but this is not true for all animals. The axolotl happens to be an exception! (Irrelevant but I actually got to see an axolotl lab in person through that college class!) So not only are they cute and the mascot for this program, but they are able to regenerate almost any part of their body! One can remove the front part of their brain, and it will regenerate in several weeks. Of course having a non-regenerating brain means we can carry out complex tasks (our neuronal connections carry very important information that once lost, is lost, even if we could regenerate), but it’s still cool to think about. In conclusion, axolotls are super cool.

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