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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 77.4 (2003) 927-933

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Slide On Over

Russell C. Maulitz

Readers of these columns will have to wait a bit longer for my Disquisition on the Next Big Thing. Instead let me now propose, in response to a slew of requests (all right, one request) for the Old Thing, to discuss shifting one's lectures to presentation graphics applications. PowerPoint™, an application that is part of Microsoft's "Office" suite, has become the best-known and probably the most frequently used of such programs—but what follows applies equally well to any of a number of other programs that perform the same functions. What these programs all offer to lecturers, or at least to those who like to lecture with a slide projected behind them, is the ability to move, finally, beyond the traditional 35 mm format that dominated virtually every medical lecture hall, and many history lecture halls, for a couple of generations.

Old Versus New

Indeed, digital presentations (DPs) have finally become, truly, the Old Thing. Presentation graphics software is now stable, accepted, and enormously supportive of our work in the history of medicine. Yet it is still misunderstood, exploited rather poorly by many, and denigrated, as I reported here a couple of columns back, as "too much like an undergraduate experience." (I am uncertain why that is bad—does it mean "too linear," or "too lucid"? But never mind.) When robust applications for presentation graphics became available, lecturers immediately gained key advantages for their work, including cost and labor savings on photography for graphical materials and, most critically, enormous portability and "reuse potential." One could tweak one's presentation on the train to the venue, at the same time modifying, adapting, and interpolating new and old material into, as it were, one's "this-generation" version [End Page 927] of a lecture discussion. What make DP applications even more compelling and even more of today's Old Thing are the newfound affordability of the projection equipment needed to close the loop of computer-based lecture material, and the relationship that that loop has now come to bear with the Internet.

Hence it is reasonable to discuss "sliding" in a NetNote. Here is the link between the two, between DPs and the Internet. First, give the talk. Then, if desired, put it on the Web. Indeed, for those who want their material to be uploaded to the World Wide Web in some inviolable form, it has even become trivially simple to convert one's presentation material into a "non-editable" format such as Adobe Acrobat™. This form of dissemination has, in just the years since I have been editing these columns, become a famously Old-Thing means of amplifying the effect of lecturers' presentations on audiences outside the immediate lecture hall—so much so that one might, in some few instances, raise legitimate questions about priority and intellectual property. Such questions lie, however, outside the scope of this NetNote. I mean this short disquisition to be a vade mecum only: a brief how-to for those who have waited until now to plunge into the medium. For obvious reasons, it only scratches the surface. Readers are welcome to send me emails with questions about aspects that I have omitted.

A lot of what I have to say is necessarily generic—that is, not particularly specific to the history of medicine. But, necessarily, it all flows naturally in terms of how a lecturer, when first contemplating her topic, may set out to create a DP. And of course what I have to say, equally necessarily, represents simply the viewpoint and practices of one physician-historian: as they say, your mileage may vary.

Why Do It?

What a new user must first know is that DPs have become easier, overall, than the old ways of preparing slide lectures. If it feels otherwise initially, it is only because use of the slide carousel and the audiovisual team at one's institution have become comfortable, like an old shoe. Remember, however, that, like many an old shoe...


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