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From ME alright? They learned it from watching me!
March 7, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe


 
I got bored half-way through and started playing Free Cell.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:56 AM on March 7


At first I was like, "Isn't that a dated topic?" but then I was like, "yeah, since everybody stopped using powerpoint the first time someone complained that it was mind-numbing evil..."

So far I've gotten through the term wthout a single slide, but I do have to give an exam, and an exam review, so my perfect record may be spoiled next week.
posted by Mngo at 8:05 AM on March 7


Well before PowerPoint was invented, I had a professor whose lectures amounted to his reading out of a book (which, of course, he had written). When students stopped attending lecture, he made attendance mandatory.

plus ├ža change...
posted by Slothrup at 8:08 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I thought this post was going to be about how everyone is copying Maine. Ayuh?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:13 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


What I've found really engages students is to open a PowerPoint, but then instead of lecturing, I just allow the class to collectively control the PowerPoint using simple text commands, like TwitchPlaysPokemon, and we all argue loudly over what should happen next. It's the new new future of the classroom!
posted by oulipian at 8:19 AM on March 7


The key lesson is to regard the slide deck as a visual aid to the presentation, rather than "the presentation" itself.

And also realizing that if you want to have a standalone, web-delivered version of your lecture, you are going to need a separate slide deck from the one that you actually used in class / meeting. If you try to use the same deck for both purposes, you will do at least one of them very, very poorly.

If the slide deck stands by itself, without your lecture to accompany it, then you might as well just email it to everyone and not waste their time with your blabbering. If it doesn't, as a simple visual aid shouldn't, then it won't make sense out of context and you need something else for it to work as a standalone artifact -- a video recording of the presentation perhaps, or at least audio or substantial written notes.

But I feel like I'm fighting the tide here, because I noticed in graduate school that many professors were having students produce Powerpoint decks in lieu of papers, as though for some hypothetical business presentation, with no expectation that they'd ever actually give the presentation. The slide deck was the sole deliverable and it was expected to stand on its own. That's teaching students how to create exactly the wrong sort of shitty slide decks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:29 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I spent much of last week at a conference where I endured at least twenty different PowerPoint presentations. I do not know what on God's green earth makes people decide the best use of everyone's time is to show you an entire paragraph of text and then read that paragraph of text to you.

If the slide deck stands by itself, without your lecture to accompany it, then you might as well just email it to everyone and not waste their time with your blabbering. If it doesn't, as a simple visual aid shouldn't, then it won't make sense out of context and you need something else for it to work as a standalone artifact -- a video recording of the presentation perhaps, or at least audio or substantial written notes.

I have in the past been asked to send out my PPT to everyone ahead of time, then heard complaints that it was "incomplete." Well, yes -- I will be standing at the front of the room talking, you know.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:32 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


I hate bad powerpoint very, very much. VERY much. And a lot of her suggestions are absolutely spot on.

On the other hand, banning slides altogether (which she says she does with her students, about 75 clicks in) rather than teaching how to use it effectively is sort of like banning essays because your students can't structure a paragraph. Digital graphics are part of modern professional/technical communication. We need to teach it.

And that's what these slides are supposed to do, I guess. So I wonder if she'll lift the ban now, as long as they all click through this before they start their projects... And I wonder if it'll make any difference.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 8:36 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Is PowerPoint use in the real (non-academic, duh) world better or worse?

I once worked for an organization that employed a Person Very Much Smarter Than Everyone Else who would give the same meandering presentation at staff meetings, accompanied by PowerPoint slides that looked like one of those apocalyptic screeds handed out at street corners with text everywhere, text in the margins, so much text text text.
posted by univac at 8:42 AM on March 7


Just going to link to Mathowie's presentations for introverts guide here, because that there is some good advice for slides that make sense (along with the Beyond Bullet Points book that he links to).
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:51 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


I spent much of last week at a conference where I endured at least twenty different PowerPoint presentations. I do not know what on God's green earth makes people decide the best use of everyone's time is to show you an entire paragraph of text and then read that paragraph of text to you.

I have a friend who is a professor of medicine. The last time he attended a conference this exact thing happened to him. His neighbour turned to him and said: I see we are in the remedial reading class again.
posted by dudleian at 8:59 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't buy it at all. A bad PowerPoint lecture is better than a bad non-PowerPoint lecture. And the sort of people who give bad PowerPoint lectures would give bad non-PowerPoint lectures, too. (I'm primarily thinking here of the many times I've sat through a philosophy talk where the speaker literally read a paper at the audience.)

The problem here is bad lecturing, not bad media.

But then, I make a lot of slides, which I post (with a too-long delay) online, and I constantly worry about whether I'm doing a good job with them. So ... grain of salt, I guess.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:00 AM on March 7


In my field decks are very much used as reference material, so presentations tend to be ugly (focus on content) and crammed with information. The typical reaction of the audience to this is "we will get a copy of the presentation, right?" they don't want to take notes (not ALL the notes at least) but also they want to share with colleagues and minions. So we do presentations with this in mind because we are both creators and consumers and it is an unwritten rule that the presentation be somewhat self-explanatory even in the absence of notes.

This kind of presentations also happen because we tend to create "one fits all" decks so that you don't need to spend your life doing new slides that yeah, could be more fitting to this specific situation, but you know, the standard is just fine (the executive version is just the standard one where every other slide has been hidden).

My point is that bad style is not deliberate but a result of adaptation to business dynamics, most derived from busy schedules. I simple do not have time to put together a deck for your needs, you do not have time to clean your notes and pass on the right information.

Also, attention span in this information saturated era. Send a nicely structured doc file constructing solid arguments; nobody will read it: so many words! can they get a few out of context screenshots please?

And I'm definitely guilty of all of the above faults.
posted by valdesm at 9:09 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


A bad PowerPoint lecture is better than a bad non-PowerPoint lecture.

I'm not sure I agree. Bad slides are really distracting. If you want to explain something to somebody one-on-one, do you need slides? Don't you just explain it to them? Sure, you might need to draw a diagram, or show some graphical data or sales figures or photographs or whatever. So put those on your slides, since you need a whole room to see them. But put only those things on your slides.

And yeah, if you're posting them for people to read on their own, this won't work. But designing effective slides for talks and designing effective "report" slides are really completely different problems. I've sometimes dealt with "mixed-use" presentations by putting bullet points in the presenter notes only, so you get them when they're printed off or someone else is just reading them on their laptop.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 9:11 AM on March 7


I once worked for an organization that employed a Person Very Much Smarter Than Everyone Else who would give the same meandering presentation at staff meetings, accompanied by PowerPoint slides that looked like one of those apocalyptic screeds handed out at street corners with text everywhere, text in the margins, so much text text text.

Replace 'text' with 'blood'.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:18 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


Anyway, this is probably a fairly pointless discussion since use cases vary so much that our experiences are never going to line up. But I do think that the more information-dense slides need to be, the more they stand to benefit from considering the anti-powerpoint brigade's criticisms, especially regarding things like chartjunk.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 9:19 AM on March 7


Oh, for fuck's sake. Schuman is old enough that she should bloody well know that in the era before digital projectors sprouted from classroom ceilings all over America, professors made the same fucking presentations and lectures with transparencies and overhead projectors.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


A while back I had the clever idea of making a training deck where the powerpoint slides were nice large images (application screenshots, diagrams, flowcharts, etc.) with key places numbered and then the wall of text was in the lecture notes view. That way I had something to read, without the attendees being distracted by reading along, and I had enough room on the slides to make the visual aids actually visible from all points in the room. Then, when we passed out the .ppt file, folks could simply expand to the lecture notes view for a full reference document with illustrative images and searchable text! That's when I learned that apparently nobody else has heard of the lecture notes view and can't find it even after it's been pointed out to them.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:34 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Ideally, PowerPoint is a good thing because it gives people some context to follow along, allows for visual aids, but most importantly, because it should force the professor to actually give some thought to how the information is being structured before they deliver the lecture. Even in post-PowerPoint days, I had a few instructors in undergrad who actually read out of the book, and several more that just droned. In law school, of course, they do the Socratic method, which is good when it's good--but I wondered on a number of occasions if some of my professors would have been capable of distilling the information they thought they were providing into the outline that we were supposed to be creating of it.

Unfortunately, that ideal way of using it is rarely done, and I think in the end the problem isn't PowerPoint, it's the lack of emphasis on pedagogy in post-secondary education.

I do think that the people who made several textbooks I used in my business degree who distributed ready-made slides to the instructors so they didn't even have to do that much? Those people should be flogged. They usually weren't even good.
posted by Sequence at 9:58 AM on March 7


Is PowerPoint use in the real (non-academic, duh) world better or worse?

Worse. Academics might be boring; their slides might be ugly; they might be overwrought and busy. The people who use PowerPoint in business, though, I've found are invariably selling something smelly. They will appropriate graphics from Google image search, throw them together with some low-rent PowerPoint word art, and proceed to sell their terribleness to the credulous.

(Cloud symbol! Arrow! Picture of a computer! Light bulb! Listen to me, not the programmers!)
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:05 AM on March 7


Hey, now. A well-crafted bad Powerpoint deck can get you through an Architecture Review Board meeting like a stealth fighter through shitty air defenses. Best paired with a 2PM lunch-coma timeslot, an overwarm conference room, and a couple of dozen warmup slides with big text blocks just to get everyone's eyes to the proper level of glaze.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:18 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I really hope this slideshow was given at a conference, and automated so completely the slides just played without any speaker.
posted by pwnguin at 10:26 AM on March 7


Slides are just the modern day version of notes on a chalkboard. Except legible and hand-cramp free.

If you're looking for a multi-media presentation, look elsewhere.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:36 AM on March 7


Slides are just the modern day version of notes on a chalkboard. Except legible and hand-cramp free.

I remember my Japanese classes when one of the teachers discovered she could print her handouts onto overhead projector transparencies. And these were teachers that had only recently discovered you could do word processing in Japanese and print it out on a laser printer. This was a vast improvement over watching the teacher scrawl on the whiteboard endlessly, while we tried to decipher her semi-cursive handwriting and copy it down. Suddenly the class spent its time learning instead of transcribing, and the teacher could face the students instead of the whiteboard.

Note PowerPoint images are commonly called "slides" which comes from the era of 35mm slides in a Kodak Carousel. I sat through many "slide lectures" in art history classes with two projectors putting artworks next to each other for comparison. Back in those days, they didn't even have laser pointers, just a big 20 foot long pointed stick. One day when the lecture was over and after the last slides, two blank white screens appeared side by side, one was bluish and the other reddish. This was the only audience that could possibly care about the color balance of the slide projector's light source. I felt like everything I had seen in slide lectures was wrong. My art school had a room full of file cabinets of 35mm slides. Back then, it was a courtesy between art schools and museums or collectors to make slides of their holdings available for only the cost of reproduction. My school collected them for decades. Now they're digitizing them all.

The slides / overhead transparencies model is built into PowerPoint. I remember when PowerPoint first shipped, there was an option to transmit your file to a service bureau that would image them onto 35mm slides and ship them to you by mail. Some of my clients that did a lot of PowerPoint actually owned 35mm slide printers, they'd do the imaging themselves and take them to film processing shops for developing and mounting.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:08 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Oh the irony of complaining about shitty PowerPoint presentations using a shitty PowerPoint presentation.
posted by chavenet at 12:27 PM on March 7


It's hilarious how people blame the ineptitude of the craftsman on the tool.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:35 PM on March 7


It's hilarious how people blame the ineptitude of the craftsman on the tool.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:02 PM on March 7


There is great power, or at least great fun, in simply refusing to accept a PowerPoint presentation as a written document. Seriously, when somebody emails a ppt file to you just politely respond "Do you have a written document as well?" Do this often enough and people will get the message. You might also get fired, but they will get the message.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:49 PM on March 7


At the Korean megacorp where I've worked for the past decade, Powerpoint is used for fucking everything (including actual presentations, where it is used badly, but at least for the purpose for which it was intended). Things that ought to be done as, say, Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, or as plain text, or you name it, really -- Powerpoint to the rescue!

It is maddening and inexplicable, but then, many things here are maddening and inexplicable, and you kind of just get used to it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:19 AM on March 8


It's hilarious how people blame the ineptitude of the craftsman on the tool.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


Well, no, Powerpoint and its analogs are pretty flexible tools.

Funny how this complaint never was lodged against makers of overheads or slide trays. I think that's because a lot of thought went into presentations made with those technologies. They were expensive and took time, so the presenters spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the slide or overhead set really work to enhance the presentation. These days most presenters use Powerpoint as a pretty way to mock up their notes directly into a presentation, putting very little thought into it because they don't have to. It's not the fault of Powerpoint that they made the creation of a presentation easier. It's the fault of the presenters who invest so little time in creating an informative and engaging presentation.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:51 AM on March 10


I think that's because a lot of thought went into presentations made with those technologies.

Not in universities, nope.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:45 AM on March 10


I think that's because a lot of thought went into presentations made with those technologies.

Not in universities, nope.


I work at large research university and have gone through graduate school as well. I don't remember the incessant whining about slides and overheads, but YMMV.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:53 AM on March 10


I don't remember people whining about slides and overheads very much* either. I think the big difference between now and then is not that people did better with overheads but that the "modern" web has dramatically expanded the opportunities for highly-visible bitching, which makes it easier for bandwagons to exist and for people to jump on them.

*Exception: informal lessons in putting together conference presentation overheads that were pretty much the same as you'd get for powerpoint/LaTeX-beamer nowadays.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:18 PM on March 10


Mental Wimp: "I work at large research university and have gone through graduate school as well. I don't remember the incessant whining about slides and overheads, but YMMV."

Thinking back to grad school, the only good use of slides I recall was one where the professor made liberal use of the 'new blank slide' feature in the lecture recording system to make drawings for network protocols and distributed algorithms.

The worst was the guy who distributed handwritten notes and diagrams of x86 segment registers, etc. If there was ever a subject that called for graphviz, it would have been that.

The rest is kind of a blur of chalkboards. Honestly, most of the learning in CS grad school takes place between you and a piece of paper, or between you and a compiler / test suite / proof checker.
posted by pwnguin at 1:17 PM on March 10


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