[OS X TeX] NASA, Word, TeX and PowerPoint

Rene Borgella macmechanic at fastmail.fm
Wed Feb 4 20:43:57 CET 2009

Joseph C. Slater PE, PhD wrote:

> My sense, in having worked with NASA and US Military folks for 18 years, 
> is that they are briefed and briefing to death. Instead of a few high 
> quality reports, the tendency is to generate PP after PP presentation in 
> what turns into a dog and pony show. IMHO an excruciating amount of time 
> is spent trying to show that things are "getting done" in place of time 
> better spent a) doing it, b) documenting it. I really don't think 
> Beamer, etc. solves the real problem. It's about the fact that 
> presentations have an environment, and an expectation, that is not 
> conducive to critical thinking about details. The details can't be shown 
> in a presentation lest the presentation last more than the allotted 
> time/attention span/donut supply. We spend a year of class time in 
> engineering going over Newton's laws for a variety of situations, and 
> it's not exhaustive. However, give me the details showing whether it's 
> safe to de-orbit the shuttle seems to have gotten 3 hours of 
> presentation. The devil indeed was in those details. The first 
> presentation had an obvious statement that would have made me panic, but 
> someone important sipped coffee at the wrong time, and oops, the test 
> conditions being totally irrelevant to the situation was blown right over.
> Joe

I think Joe hits the nail on the head, especially with his points re. 
'presentations have an environment and expectation that is not conducive 
to critical thinking ...."

Tufte also would agree with Joe's points.

I've read a few of Tufte's books and have re-engineered my lectures to 
take advantage of his insight. In short, what he recommends is that:

1) presentations should focus on Visuals, NOT text

2) the majority of the text and details should be given in handouts

3) this allows the presenter and the audience to focus on the ideas and 
to think

4)  Tufte argues that we are asking too much of our audiences if we want 
them to listen to us, read the text, and look at the visuals 
simultaneously, all while thinking about the ideas we are presenting

5) Later, those wishing more details can consult their handouts.
He also argues that audiences may be initially surprised by this 
unconventional approach, but the handouts will help them see that you 
are thoughtful and what you have to share is substantive.

6) The specific problems with Power Point are that
	a) the canned themes are usually too busy or use fonts and style in 
ways that defy good practices
	b) the bullets and indents structure our presentations in ways that 
don't coincide with how we learn and communicate
	c) PP style presentations lower our expectations of actually being 
engaged learners.

For me, reading Tufte's books has fundamentally changed the way I teach 
and present information to my students and colleagues.



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