Teaching and Tufte-style Presentations

~350 words, ~2 min reading time

So, Tufte is a fairly well-known name in data visualization circles. He has some significant work on the visual presentation of information. But, it turns out that he also has suggested a particular style of presentation that could be used for meetings, for example. It goes like this:

(1) Start with a “reading period”. Give the participants in the meeting a packet of information – either paper or electronic – and a fixed amount of time to absorb the information. This information should be “flat”. What that means is that it should have different “depths” all presented in the same place, and be easy for the user to navigate those depths – or skip the depths they think they don’t need.

(2) Talk. This involves two things: point out the important stuff from the reading and add annotations to it.

(3) Q&A – though how long you want to set aside for this depends on how big the group is. Since people like to talk themselves (including asking questions) more than they like to hear others talk (including asking questions), you want to minimize how much time people have to hear other people ask questions. For a small group, then, a long Q&A makes sense. For a large group, it’s probably better to do break-out sessions or meet with people individually after the presentation.

You may notice that, if you push the “reading period” to before class starts, this feels like a fairly typical college class. Students have information they’re supposed to read ahead of time. They come to class. The prof talks about it, and then they do Q&A (though Q&A may be interspersed with the “talk” portion).

The problem we professors face, of course, is that some (most?) students don’t do step #1. There are a number of solutions to this… But, Tufte suggests a pretty simple one.

Assume no one will read before the meeting. So, start the meeting with reading time.

Don’t “lecture the readings” (which is what I find myself doing once I realize students aren’t actually doing the reading).

I think I’m going to try this with my Business Analytics course this coming semester. We’ll see how it goes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *