17 March 2013

Slideshare? Oh for pity's sake, OU....

There's a high chance I won't be finishing the Open Education course after all.  I may just have started, but first impressions last.

Particularly when the first impression is delivered by Slideshare.

PowerPoint: the bane of students and employees everywhere.
Death by PowerPoint: the feeling of lethargy induced by an hour of listening to some middle manager drone on about "as you can see on the slide..."

The first prescribed reading is an article from the Open University's Journal of Interactive Media in Education, an open access journal I think I'll probably be reading a lot in the near future.  (I hadn't heard of it before.)  Slideshare was listed as a useful tool for open educational resources (OERs).

The next reading was a PowerPoint slide deck.  On Slideshare.

Nononononono.  Don't do this to me.

OU, when we first met, I thought we had something special, but you just keep finding new ways to hurt me.

Setting aside arguments about the effectiveness of PowerPoint (I personally agree with Edward Tufte -- I never liked it before I read his essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint and he helped me understand why), the distribution of slides has become a universal of the last decade, and it has become an absolute obstruction to communication rather than a facilitator.

One of the most criminally underused features of PowerPoint is the notes page -- most people don't know it exists.  PowerPoint lets you create a set of speaker notes with the slide at the top, and detailed notes below.  It's a very simple mechanism, but when used correctly, it's of inestimable value.  In a former life, I was tasked with organising various meetings and assembling PowerPoint slidedecks.  Most of these were just compilations of slides submitted by managers from across the organisation... and none of them included any speaker notes.  This was awkward, as quite often I had to pass these slide decks on to one of the local management team to deliver.

Have you ever been in a presentation where the presenter was reading the slides for the first time as he delivered his presentation?  I have, and far more than once, I'm sad to say.  In the corporate world, it comes across as a sign of disdain and disrespect for the workers.  Why am I sitting here listening to you when you haven't taken the time to prepare what you're going to say?  If you can't tell me what the figures actually mean, why did you bother coming?  Why not just put it in an email and stop wasting everybody's time?

The notes page -- the notes page can fix that.  I never wrote a professional presentation without extensive notes, so that someone else could pick it up and present it.

I knew the most important truth about PowerPoint: the slides never tell the full story, and a person with only the slides normally doesn't even understand everything included in the slides.  In short, without the notes, the presenter is even less useful than the slides themselves.

Now, back to Slideshare.

I have looked at Slideshare many times, but I've never seen any slide deck through to the end, because there's a heck of a lot missing.  Without the speaker, the story simply doesn't flow; all we have is a disjointed series of statements and assertions, often in confusingly abbreviated English.

and Slideshare does not show the notes page.  To me, that's almost criminal.  The one thing that can help the reader make sense of a slide deck, and it's just not there.  It may be in the PowerPoint file that you can download... or it may not be.  Probably not.

(I did in fact download the set reading to see, and sure enough, there wasn't a single note added for any of the 74 slides included.)

And that's the thing.  By hiding the notes page from us unless we specifically ask for it, PowerPoint encourages people to write without making notes.  If Slideshare exposed the notes page, maybe people would start making a point of using it, and maybe slide decks would be useful to someone other than the original author.  Until then, they're useless to everyone else.

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