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One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to write a weekly “tech tips” column for the online faculty news. This is one such tip.

Making Things Run Smoothly

  • Make sure that you always insert pictures into your presentation using the Insert Picture command from the Insert menu. Do not copy and paste pictures into your presentation. For arcane reasons, copy and pasting pictures can make your PowerPoint fail to display your pictures on other computers.
  • Keep a folder of all of the pictures and video that you add to your PowerPoint. Just in case you need to re-insert it (for example, if you messed up on following the tip above).
  • Video is not embedded in PowerPoint, pictures are – share Zip files. That is, you can insert pictures into a PowerPoint presentation and send the presentation to someone else and they can see the pictures but you cannot insert video, send the presentation to someone else, and expect them to see the video. PowerPoint creates a link to the video instead. To get around this, if you are going to use video, put your presentation and your video files in a folder together, then insert the video. When you are ready to share your presentation, right-click on the folder and Send To > Compress or Zip Archive and send out the Zip file instead. Your recipient can unzip the archive and will have the presentation and the video.

Making Things Look Pretty

  • Black text on a white background is not traditional by accident. It’s easy to read. Think carefully before trying a novel color combination.
  • One picture per slide lets you show the picture big, in all its glory. Multiple pictures per slide lets you compare pictures. Think about which it is you want to be doing (and remember that postage stamps are hard to see!).
  • Don’t stretch your pictures. You can scale your pictures proportionately by holding down the Shift key when you drag the grab boxes on the corners of the picture. This will make sure that the picture doesn’t get distorted.
  • Use text judiciously. This one is complicated: you don’t want to have too much text on a slide because it will get small and hard to read. You don’t want to put your script on the slide, because then you’ll be reading from the slide, which is deathly dull (unless, maybe, you’re Morgan Freeman). But you do want to present text that will support your arguments and highlight important ideas. And you do want to present quotations that are illuminating. One rule of thumb is the “six by six” rule: no more than six words per bullet point, no more than six bullet points per slide. This is totally artificial and you should violate it as needed… but remember it and what it is really urging: don’t overwhelm your audience with text!
  • Less is more. This is true of almost everything involved in PowerPoint, but particularly when it comes to animation and sound effects. They have a campy appeal, and can sometimes underscore a point you’re trying to make. But you ain’t Spielberg and PowerPoint ain’t ILM, so don’t go trying to put in gratuitous special effects just to make your PowerPoint more appealing. Your research and ideas should be the focus, not your ability to make car crash sound effects.

May 6th, 2010

Posted In: "Tech Tips" Column

Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve spent the last few days wrestling with a curriculum unit that an outside consultant built. In PowerPoint. On Windows. And which we have been trying to set up in such a way that we can share the interactive document with students. Who are using Macs. And, perhaps, without asking each student to download a ~200MB file to use it.

I have learned and grown much in the process. And have discovered that Microsoft PowerPoint 2008 does an execrable job of exporting PowerPoints as web pages (it does an execrable job of doing a lot of other things too, but we can talk about that at another time). Here are the key fixes that I made to the exported web page and supporting files so that the presentation would fundamentally work (all of this was done using regular expressions in TextMate):

  1. I stripped out all of the fancy Javascript calls that PowerPoint inserted as links to navigate from one slide to another. It turns out that a simple HREF to the actual page’s HTML file works (and the JavaScript Does Not.)
    Find:

    (href=")[^"]*(slide\d{4,4}.htm)[^"]*(")

    Replace with:

    $1$2$3
  2. The export to web page takes all of the already URL-encoded links in the PowerPoint and reencodes them, rendering them useless. I stripped off the second encoding.
    Find:

    (%)25([a-fA-F0-9]{2,2})

    Replace with:

    $1$2
  3. Finally, because the links were built in Windows and then URL-encoded, all of the Windows-style paths needed to be turned into POSIX paths for use on the web.
    Find:

    %5[cC]

    Replace with:

    /

At this point, in an average PowerPoint, most of the damage has been fixed and things more or less work. However, the curriculum unit that we were working with also linked to external Word documents (hence some of the Windows-style path issues above). This meant I had a few more fixes along the way that are worthy of note:

  1. I replaced the links to Word documents with links to the corresponding PDF files (and script I used generated PDF files with .doc.pdf extensions and I didn’t bother to fix that).
    Find:

    (href="[^"]*docx?)(")

    Replace with:

    $1.pdf$2
  2. These links to external documents open in the same frame as the slideshow. Which defeats the purpose of the slideshow being a navigational tool. So I redirected all of the new PDF links to a new window in the browser. As the hyperlinks are broken across two lines in the HTML source code, this took two steps.
    1. Find (changing {{name of Links & Sources folder}} to the, well, actual name of the Links & Sources folder):
      (href="((http://)|({{name of Links & Sources folder}}))[^"]*")\n

      Replace with:

      $1
    2. Find (modifying as noted above):
      (href="((http://)|({{name of Links & Sources folder}}))[^"]*"\starget=")_top(")

      Replace with:

      $1_blank$5

September 24th, 2009

Posted In: Educational Technology, How To

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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