Death by Powerpoint, Internet Science Nerds, and #Solo10

Lord Rees avoids Death by Powerpoint at #Scio10
Lord Rees avoids Death by Powerpoint at #ScLo10. Photo (cc) Team Mendeley.

As the undergraduates I teach will testify, I’ve railed many times against ‘Death by Powerpoint’. Somewhat amazingly, a few talks at the Science Online 2010 Conference Solo10 did combine this decidedly 21st century phenomenon with mediaeval techniques to create a new level of torture, ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartered by Powerpoint.’ But in my own talks, I’ve found it hard to get away entirely from Powerpoint – firstly, the very visual nature of my chromosome work makes illustration essential ( for a very Web 1.0 presentation of my work, including links to talks in Powerpoint such as this PDF), and making my talks understandable by those where English is not a first language makes use of some text essential. But for my next seminar, at the Stochastic Modelling and Systems Biology workshop organized by Xuerong Mao later in September, I’ll be using the program which I learnt about for the first time at Solo10. I’ve spent much of the weekend trying out its facilities which make mind-mapping and hierarchy come naturally. It looks perfect for a workshop where I hope to be able to have some audience interaction and dynamism in my talk.

Of course, being part of a completely different style of conference has a special novelty for me, especially with the exciting development of Coming from Science Online 2010 or #Solo10, with so many bloggers there, you can get a real feel for what was going on from cyberspace. Nature Networks has put together lots of these summaries. Just now, Alan Cann has posted particularly useful reflections.

  • Agreed. However, in lectures ppt seems to have 2 functions:

    1. A crutch (script) for the lecturer (particularly handy when the lecturer doesn’t know what they are talking about!)

    2. As notes for the students.

    Over the years I have received a number of ‘complaints’ in student feedback that I have put figures/diagrams on the screen and then talked about it for 10 minutes (usually a metabolic pathway or signalling diagram), basically this was how I was taught at University. The students don’t seem to like this as they have to take notes, and I am not providing the notes. I have now adopted the approach of talking about the figure and then having 5 – 10 summary slides that I then proceed to skip over. So the ppt has become longer, and potentially more boring.

  • Spot on!

    Re (2): Quote from my student feedback in last academic year: “he will give a lengthy speech, then click through about three slides, which would have had more manageable information on them, and really should have been shown as he was speaking.” The ‘about three slides’ need not be there – they are only included to provide notes in the general area of the illustration on the first slide! I’d hope that listening and making notes was more relevant than reading bullet points while explaining more actively and asking questions of the audience.