Author Archives: profgarrett

End of year on the CMS/LMS

Tony Bates provides a retrospective look at e-learning systems in 2011.  I think he mainly hits the series developments on the head, ranging from the consolidation in the CMS market (aka BlackBoard), to the potentially disruptive influence of Pearson’s Open Class.

From my own experience working in an IT department and supporting faculty, I think that the major problem with the Open Class initiative is that it doesn’t truly address the core IT problems with those systems (training, support, and debugging problems).  We use Moodle at Woodbury, and while it’s a competent system, it is has a lot of odd legacy wrinkles that make using it a learning proposition.

I’ve played with a variety of Web 2.0 alternatives, but the integration of accounts and course enrollment makes a large barrier to adopting a mishmash of 3rd party systems.  Until we get a good standardized API for exporting that data, I think it’s unlikely that we’ll get broad adoption of 3rd party tools into the normal student’s experience.


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Are 30 million PowerPoints really given each hour?

Articles on PowerPoint frequently start by saying that 30 million presentations are given each day, and 1.25 million each hour.  Some examples include:

Where does this come from?  Following the tangle of citations leads back to a single sentence in a critical evaluation of PowerPoint (Parker 2001).

According to Microsoft estimates, at least thirty million PowerPoint presentations are made every day.

Parker also says in the same article that 250 million copies of PowerPoint are installed.  This suggests that, on average, that every computer with PowerPoint installed on it is used in a presentation every 8 days.

A second source is often found in Mahin 2004:

Yet no one disputes the importance and pervasiveness of PowerPoint. At a conservative estimate, PowerPoint can be found on 250 million computers worldwide. According to Microsoft, 30 million PowerPoint presentations take place every day: 1.25 million every hour.

This sounds suspiciously similar to the Parker quote, and contains no additional information that could be used to find how this number was generated.

An anonymous Microsoft representative is probably not the most reliable source.  Who is this person, how did they arrive at that number, and how that figure has changed in the decade since Parker’s article was published?

As critical researchers, we need to stop receiting a decade old ‘fact’ with this little support.  No one would dispute the importance and impact of PowerPoint; repeating old facts does not help build anyone’s case.


Mahin, Linda. 2004. Powerpoint Pedagogy. Page 219-222 in Business Communication.  Quarterly. Vol. 67. No. 1, March 2004.  Excerpt can be found at

Parker, Ian. 2001. “Absolute Powerpoint. Can a software package edit our thoughts”.  Page 76ff in The New Yorker, 28 May (Annals of Business Section).

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Glendora Mountain Ride Report

On my way to Claremont Graduate University, I took a slight detour through the Glendora Mountain Road.  Taking about an hour, it’s a great motorcycle ride through the Los Angeles National Forrest.

The first third of the trail is a soaring climb with plenty of visibility and heavily banked turns.  The middle part is a bit more worrying, as the road goes down to an unlined road, and there are plenty of blind curves.  The last portion down into Claremont is an easy and straight descent.

The road was almost completely deserted on a Thursday morning.  I saw three other motorcyclists, two parked cars, and close to 15 bicyclists.

The road got cold at the top, as you’re in shadow along the ridge-line.  You climb to around 5,000 feet at the peak.  Aside from passing a small town (Mt. Baldy), it’s a quiet ride through some pine forests and along the hill line of a series of mountains.

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The Long Tail of PowerPoint Design

Excellent image describing the degree of effort needed to turn your presentation from a basic list of bullet points into a more polished effort.  There are definitely rapidly diminishing returns after you choose some basic images and color/font choices.

Image from

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Having a clear thesis

Below is a quote from (emphasis added)

It is likely that you have done a lot of analysis and many calculations in order to come up with the conclusions that you want to present. The common view is that it is important for the audience to hear about all the assumptions, steps in the process, formulas, and calculations. You may also be tempted to include who did each step, how long it took, when it was done and even what office location helped out. While all of this information may be important to you, the truth is that the audience doesn’t need to hear it all.

Attend an hour talk by an academic, and you expect to get 30 minutes of literature review and background information, 20 minutes of how they set up their study, and only about 10 minutes of actual results.

I’m a big believer in a presentation having a strong point of view.  Jeff Attwood’s Strong Opinions, Weakly Held blog post describes his approach to blogging, but it applies just as much to presentations.

My students frequently approach talks in the same way.  They spend an hour or two doing Google searches for “Long Tail” and then dump the information into PowerPoint slides.  After a bit of massaging, they then add some generic clip art and call it a day.  It’s a low-risk approach, because just describing a concept doesn’t run the risk of being different than what the professor thinks.

As a listener, that’s not what we want.  The most significant critique I give of student presentations is that they lacked a point of view.  In opposition to Wikipedia’ NPOV (neutral point of view), a presentation has to have a strong argument.  In writing, we call it a thesis.

This argument needs to have some tension.  So, here are some other ways to have a more focused thesis:

  • Why the Long Tail will replace traditional Blockbuster movies
  • Why the Long Tail isn’t as important as Amazon thinks
  • How the Long Tail will transform TV

In each case, the student needs to take a more critical look.  I think it’s hard for many to do so, as the more interesting/provocative their speech is, the less likely the professor will agree with it.  Unless specifically pushed to have an argument, most students will simply do the easier thing and give a summary of the Wikpedia article.


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More wisdom from XKCD

Very funny, and also very true for anyone who has to search google for specific programming problems.

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Spotify Technology: How Spotify Works | Pansentient League – a Spotify Blog.

This is a great dissection of a paper on the nuts and bolts of Spotify.  Some highlights include:

  • 8.8% of music comes from Spotify’s servers; the rest is p2p or from user’s local cache.
  • The most popular 12% tracks accounted for 88% of plays
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Enhancing PowerPoint Bullet Lists

Although it’s generally better to use images, there are time when using a basic bullet list of points in PowerPoint or Keynote is the right approach.  Below is a tutorial showing how to quickly enhance the look of a bullet list to better highlight key words and phrases.

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