Thoughts on Lecture, Slides, and What We Take Away

Most of you have seen a presentation of mine. My usual presentation style involves big pictures and titles, the occasional joke, and every now and then a diagram to illustrate a point. I certainly like this style, and I know that I can at least be entertaining when I try. But I’ve come to believe it is not a style that really works for teaching.

The main problem as I see it is that you have nothing to take away. The slides are just props to the performance happening up front; they’re useless by themselves. And even if things have been video-taped and are available after the fact, all that detailed motivation and funny stories is just fluff the second time through. That said, your average “regular style” slide deck is pure torture to see live and only marginally better after the fact.

A good set of notes is one alternative and I have no beef with that form. But I’ve been thinking about an alternative, riffing on Tufte’s idea that a good visualization can convey plenty and also be the sort of thing you can take home with you. But the difficulty with these information-dense formats is that they are hard for novices.

I’ve been thinking about a presentation centered around a sheet of graphical notes (pdf). You could use something like prezi to zoom around the sheet, adding digressions and details and explaining. And the sheet acts as “cheat sheet” as well, providing a physical source for definitions and other details that may not have been internalized when they were presented. And then, when the presentation is done the physical artifact acts as a trigger – not only containing its raw summary text but also potentially the memories of the jokes and digressions and examples that came along with the presentation itself.

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