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16 March 2014

Great Link: Commentary (biting wit included!) on digital slideshows

Screenshot from Rebecca Schuman's "article" at
Physics teaching is, fundamentally, performance art.  I never use a prepared slideshow, because I want to be spontaneous in front of the class.  Even when I do the same demonstration in three different sections, I often change things up a bit each time in order to produce a fresh and entertaining performance.  In any case, students are attending my class not to see prepackaged slides, but rather for me to help them understand this daunting new subject of physics -- if they could just watch some slides and understand, then I wouldn't be worth a quarter of the money my school is paying me.

Rebecca Schuman's digital slideshow complaining about digital slideshows -- Zen! -- makes many of my points about how (not to) teach in a much more effective way than I ever could.  Click through the whole thing -- her slideshow isn't all sarcastic "aren't professors lazy and dumb," she goes on to make useful, constructive points about how a powerpoint presentation CAN be used effectively.

And that's why I will assign all of my research students to watch Schuman's "presentation."  I struggle every year with students who don't understand that a slideshow is meant to enhance an oral presentation, not as a substitute for performance.  I regularly make students present with whiteboard-and-marker only, no slides allowed.  The bulk of my time in research physics is spent vetting presentations, explaining how a slide should include fewer words, but more pictures and graphical elements that enhance the message.  I need to find a way of delivering a painful electric shock to any student who reads more than a few words directly from a slide.

My hope is that Schuman's presentation will set the tone for this spring's research auditions, in which students must give a five-minute presentation based on their preliminary work on a USIYPT project.  Watch it for yourself -- you'll see how it can communicate appropriate use of powerpoint better than anything I could possibly say myself.

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