should you remove your talking head?

My, that sounds a little painful, but it might be in your students’ best interest.

There’s been an interesting thread on the NMC (New Media Consortium) listserv (please read this post about our membership in the NMC) about whether a talking head in an online presentation–think Presenter or Connect–is a distraction to students/attendees.

[Removed a video of my own talking head for vanity reasons–bad lighting, etc. I was just musing about the value of my talking head in this post. Next time, I’ll have my avatar speak.]

One argument cites this research on the eye movement of online viewers: If the article research is true that watching is a passive mode, then we should think hard about whether the presence of the speaker’s talking head creates a passive response instead of an active engagement with the presentation content. Of course, if the presentation is recorded, we have to work hard to make it interactive, but at the least, taking notes during the presentation, even if the slides are being copied, is active.

Anecdotally, I have, myself, been mesmerized by a talking head in a recorded presentation and missed some slide material, having to go back once I shook off the trance.

The counterargument refers to lecturers whose dynamic presence positively influences learning, but are we capturing that kind of presence with only a small talking head in a corner module? One post cites Richard Mayer’s The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (2005) as supporting little effect from the small head image. Another post cites and attaches one of Mayer’s articles, “Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning” (Educational Psychologist 38(1): 43-52. © 2003, Erlbaum.), which discusses the possibility of cognitive overload in processing material in multimedia environments.

What do you think about all this as you struggle to create presentations? I’m wondering if we can have the talking head come in at appropriate moments–those moments when we might pause in the material and ask viewers a question to make them stop and think. In a recorded session, this could be during a poll or quiz. Or it could be a moment when you ask viewers to write a short response, one of several, all to be submitted to you after the entire presentation.

I’m not ready to say “off with their heads” yet, but neither do I think we should use them without due consideration of their effect.


Categories: cognition, communication, education, pedagogy, student-centered learning, technology

1 reply

  1. Hello,
    If the talking head is non-germane to the learning, then do not use it. Adding it sometimes adds a layer of technical complexity or file size on top of the cognitive overload.

    A talking head can help build a social connection, but reserve that use for an introductory or summation video.

    A tool like Camtasia Studio gives you control over when the talking head appears and even where it appears. It may the tool to use if interjecting a talking head at key moments is appropriate.


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