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Physics Forum At Fermilab Bans Powerpoint 181

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Amanda Solliday reports at Symmetry that six months ago, organizers of a biweekly forum on Large Hadron Collider physics at Fermilab banned PowerPoint presentations in favor of old-fashioned, chalkboard-style talks. 'Without slides, the participants go further off-script, with more interaction and curiosity,' says Andrew Askew. 'We wanted to draw out the importance of the audience.' In one recent meeting, physics professor John Paul Chou of Rutgers University presented to a full room holding a single page of handwritten notes and a marker. The talk became more dialogue than monologue as members of the audience, freed from their usual need to follow a series of information-stuffed slides flying by at top speed, managed to interrupt with questions and comments. Elliot Hughes, a Rutgers University doctoral student and a participant in the forum, says the ban on slides has encouraged the physicists to connect with their audience. 'Frequently, in physics, presenters design slides for people who didn't even listen to the talk in the first place,' says Hughes. 'In my experience, the best talks could not possibly be fully understood without the speaker.'"
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Physics Forum At Fermilab Bans Powerpoint

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:10AM (#46427801)
    I always get much more out of a lecture if the instructor is actively diagramming on the blackboard. Maybe I'm old fashioned.
  • by delt0r ( 999393 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:20AM (#46427849)
    For precisely this reason. It also means you go at a speed where students can pick up the material. Slides you just go too fast. Most of the students like it. The ones that don't show up at class, not so much.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:23AM (#46427875)

    Incompatibility between versions, useless features (plots) and absolutely broken formatting issues means most scientists are using TeX -> PDF these days. I spend a lot of my time talking them through converting video to animated GIF because codecs are flagrantly nonstandard worldwide.

  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:32AM (#46427967) Journal

    The bullet-point presentation was always about presenting evidence and alternatives for an executable decision. Classically, in a hierarchical organization where the receipients of the presentation are the functional leadership who are empowered to make and enforce operational decisions but expect their minions to gather "decision-grade information" and present it in a minimal-overhead, maximal-efficiency format.

    It was never about collaboration or exploration. It gets used like that, but it's a terrible fit. It was never intended to encourage discussion. A well-crafted slide deck ends all conversation because all the facts are in. If the leader has to ask questions, or another participant questions your facts or your conclusion, your presentation was sub-optimal.

    A bullet-point presentation is supposed to be the shortest path to an incontrovertible and non-debatable decision.

  • by chihowa ( 366380 ) * on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:33AM (#46427979)

    The article is about research presentations and not classes, but I completely agree with you wrt classes. One compromise that I like is slides for complicated figures (that would take forever for you to draw, poorly, on the board) and handouts of those slides so that the students don't have to try to recreate them (again, poorly). Then everything else goes on the board while talking.

    As for research presentations, I love chalk talks (both giving and attending) and loathe powerpoint presentations. There's something about ppt that seems to make everybody check out.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @11:58AM (#46428197) Journal
    There was a time in biology when the movable type made it really cheap to produce books with lots and lots of words. But pictures were very expensive. Botonists everywhere needed an unambiguous way to describe the plants to do the taxonomy and create the cladograms and genus-species classifications. So they came up with tons and tons of terms, like striated, ligule, periole, orbiculer, pinnatisect, ... ( You can see the whole glorious set here []).

    Then with the advent of lithography to replace the woodcuts, the price of including diagrams in books started falling. So one would think the botonists everywhere shouted hallelujah and thanked the providence. No. There was serious opposition to these line drawings of simple plant forms to describe the species. They railed that the pictures were a distraction. Pictures are ambiguous(!), Images do not have the clarity of description afforded by the precisely defined technical terms. Pictures are for kids. Not for serious scientists. It took quite a bit of time for images to become common in botony books.

    Now a days other than providing a rich source of words to stump the adults and torture small children preparing to be the spelling bee and to weed out the slackers in botony 101, there does not seem to be much use for these terms. (Well, I am not a botonist, and I am sure an army of them are going to rise up and roast me here.)

    Power point was a novelty, and suddenly every one can produce slides and make presentations. Most people suck at content creation, and no amount of transition animation and font choices is going to make them better. Good communicators will excel in using power points. Bad ones will suck even with the chalkboard.

    I agree most power point presentations are a waste of time. Most of them have very little content. Most of them suck big time. Where I disagree is, blaming the tool for the sins of the tool wielder.

  • Re:Just a Tool (Score:2, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:24PM (#46428379)
    Indeed. "A bad workman always blames his tools." If you think my powerpoint is confusing, I've got news for you: my chalk talk is the same level of poor organization, but now it has awful handwriting too.

    Next up: physics forum bans verbal or written communication. You have to dance your research.
  • by Bootsy Collins ( 549938 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:14PM (#46428761)

    I could be wrong, but you seem to me to be operating from the premise that the only meaningful difference between communicating via chalkboard and communicating via PP is that PP is more featureful -- hence, referring to using a chalkboard as "regressing to using ONLY CHALK." I don't think that's true at all.

    What TFA is suggesting is that communicating by chalkboard has fundamental differences from communicating by PP, in the same way (if not to the same severity) that communicating by in-person lecture is fundamentally different from communicating by a video on YouTube. It's conceivable that you could eliminate some of those differences by using PP in a way similar to how one uses the chalkboard -- for example, by entering content into slides live, in front of your audience -- but it's not obvious to me that there's a gain to doing that.

  • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @01:45PM (#46429037) Journal

    What TFA is suggesting is that communicating by chalkboard **has fundamental differences** from communicating by PP, in the same way (if not to the same severity) that communicating by in-person lecture is fundamentally different from communicating by a video on YouTube're in the ballpark but the comparisons are off-angle

    chalk-only (or whiteboard) vs ppt is the wrong context that causes confusion

    1. it's a false dichotomy...both can be used

    2. disctinction must be made between using a 'projected computer screen' and the **software** called "powerpoint"...I can show a youtube video in a ppt, or I can show it in a browser, or I can download the video to the hard's all video!

    3. it's not a question of "features"...we're not buying a fsking BMW here...this is about channels of wide & how much noise is there?

    In the context of any presentation, the speaker uses **all the tools available to their most funcitonal**...that's it...

    You can't get around the fact that the whole "problem" of "bad powerpoint" is due to the speakers themselves not undertanding how to use a **more complex** communication channel effectively

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