Smart and Beautiful

This week I’m planning to write a series of posts on design and graphic issues in teaching. The first thing I want to say on this is that it is possible for all of our teaching materials to be full of knowledge AND to look good: “Smart and Beautiful.”

Why think about visual design? Because, if you’re actually carrying out a design process, it’s not all that much more effort to add into the mix. If you’re not actually sketching out a design before you put a course or course materials together… urm… why? I realise that there are people out there who can put an entire course together in their heads, present it flawlessly and make it look beautiful and effortless. However, I’m pretty sure that a lot of you are like me – with work you can achieve a lot but to appear effortless and beautiful takes a lot of preparation and a looooooong run-up.

All of you who can throw it together with no planning – you’re excused, have a coffee or beverage of your choice. I’ll be talking about other stuff that will interest you tomorrow. For the rest of you, let’s quickly talk about basic design principles again: what am I trying to do, who is my audience, what do I have to work with? Your visual design comes in for the last two. Limitations of presentation should not have an impact upon your teaching (although, sadly it can if you’re resource starved). Knowing who you are writing for and what you have to write WITH tells you a lot about what your course will look like.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying “Your PowerPoint must be beautiful”, I’m saying “Are you going to use PowerPoint? How are you going to communicate your information to a predominantly visual group of learners?” (Those of you dealing with the visually challenged have another challenging problem that I hope to discuss later this week. I’m not ignoring this issue, but I want to focus on the graphic issues first.)

May I give you a small piece of work to think about? What was the best presentation that you ever saw – do you remember it? The one where the information unrolled itself so well that a single image or slide conveyed a vast amount of information? We can’t all have stage presence and be good presenters, so I don’t want you to think about the best presenter you ever saw, I want you to think about the resources that were used.

Now, thinking about that, could you use anything from that in your own teaching?

I’ll see you tomorrow to talk about this some more.


One Comment on “Smart and Beautiful”

  1. Alex H says:

    “What was the best presentation that you ever saw – do you remember it? The one where the information unrolled itself so well that a single image or slide conveyed a vast amount of information? We can’t all have stage presence and be good presenters, so I don’t want you to think about the best presenter you ever saw, I want you to think about the resources that were used.”

    This is really tough. (It’s obviously tough for other people too, judging by the number of comments here.) I can’t pick out a single best presentation. I can clearly identify the two best teachers of my undergraduate days (two people with very different styles, but equally effective and equally popular), but I can’t remember a single thing about the visual aspects of their teaching. What I remember is the personalities: their ability to engage an audience, bring the subject to life and make complex ideas accessible.

    In other words, I’m disobeying the instruction in the last sentence quoted.

    It bothers me that there’s so much emphasis on the visual aspects of presentation nowadays. For me, the fundamental thing about almost any presentation (lecture, tutorial, seminar, conference talk, public lecture etc.) is the living human being standing at the front and (hopefully) engaging the audience. The visual aids are just that–aids, something to underscore the main ideas of the presentation, not the ideas themselves.

    Of course, all other things being equal, good design should be preferred to bad design. I’ll read the next few posts with great interest to see where you’re going with this. But all other things are so rarely equal. Since returning to university life, I’ve seen way too many talks where the speaker has expended a great deal of time and effort on making slides yet can’t actually speak coherently.

    Like


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