Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Opinionated Review of the Orlando Presentations

As I said in my previous entry, the quality of the presentations varied widely. There were many presentations I thought were very good.

But it's more fun to attack the bad ones.

By far the worst presentation I saw was blue text on a lime green background. In ALL CAPS. Incredible. It was so bad, I couldn't look away. It was like a cheesy horror movie. I can't remember at all what the research was about, but I was so fascinated by the abomination that I just had to make a spoof of it. See it for yourself.

Oh but it wasn't just the slides; his presentation style was... unique. Picture this: this guy loads his slides up on the projector and you can tell from his title page that it's going to be a terrible presentation. He steps out in front of the crowd, and says... nothing. He looks at us through round coke-bottle glasses a gives that deer-in-the-headlights look that only public speaking can inspire. (Did you know some people fear public speaking more than death?)

So this poor guy steps out and just looks at us for two minutes and I'm thinking, poor fellow, he's going to die of pure fright right there in front of me. When he finally spoke it was barely more than a mumble through the whole presentation.

A different presentation that struck me as funny was not bad in the usual sense, in fact it was a polished presentation and the speaker was well-practiced. Problem was, it didn't look like a research talk. It looked like a coporate motivational presentation. Straight out of Dilbert. "In order to maximize your profits, you want to minimize your costs and maximize your revenues!" Complete with a histrogram showing costs that are down and revenues that are up, but the chart doesn't mean anything because there is no Y-axis and no units! It was also full of motivationally meaningless phrases like, "The future is tomorrow's now!" and "Today is yesterday's tomorrow!"

That presentation was supposedly about data mining - stick to your subject, please!

Another presentation was about the effectiveness of a new teaching method. This was a good presentation but here I consider the work itself questionable. The researcher gave a pre-test to a student on a subject they were doing badly in, spent one hour tutoring the student, and then administered a post test. Naturally the students did better. Based on this data, the researcher declared the teaching method a resounding success.

Wait, no way. How is this science? Setting aside the issue that he has hand selected his subjects (it is not random) the form of the experiment is also bad. He has an experiment with a variable but no control. I suppose he thinks the pre-test is a control. That's not a control, it's your baseline for your measurements. A control would have been to administer the pre-test and post-test with one hour in between in which you did nothing. Or to compare it to doing the pre-test and post-test with a different tutoring method for one hour. Only then can you get a real comparative analysis.

I told the presenter I personally liked his teaching method, but I can't consider it objectively if he doesn't compare it to anything else. He said that in all of the previous literature, the other researchers in this field are doing what he does - comparing pre-test and post-test only for their own method.

In other words, it's ok because everyone is doing it.

(How much science would a scientist chuck if a scientist could chuck science?)

Some other things I found hilariously bad in other presentations:
  • Slide transitions that make it take ten seconds for everything to finish. The speaker is trying to make her point but words are flying around like helicopters.
  • Talking with your hands in your pockets. Good: you don't wave your hands around like a madman. Bad: Makes you look sheepish. "Ah gee shucks Mr. Wilson, I didn't mean nuthin' by it."
  • Getting defensive over questions. The moment you get defensive, you've lost all credibility with the audience.
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