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September 12, 2007 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-12

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-V -- U

8B The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WenedySptmbr12 007 - heMihianDaly 5

NASA thinks dumbed-down slideshows could have
contributed to a deadly space accident. Is the
application making University students dumber too?

The basement of a building on Main Street formerly occupied by students that has fallen into disrepair, besieged by mold and plumbing problems
Forgt the Needy.
Save a colle student.
How some of the poorest people in the nation could be living in a nicer apartment than you are


Magazine ditor

hen people tell you that
your years in college are
the best years of your
life, you can take comfort in the
statistical reality that, in mon-
etary terms at least, they're lying.
Even if your liberal arts degree
and your barista skills allow you
to only barely squeak past the pov-
erty line after graduation, chances
are you'll never live in anything
approaching the squalor of Ann
Arbor student housing again.
With the poverty threshold for
a single person at $9,250 per year,
as of 2004, about 12.5 percent of
Americans were living on less than
$30 a day for rent, food, utilities
and clothes. That may sound like
an impossible feat, but in Ameri-
ca, the homes of even the poorest
of the poor might be more livable
than your apartment.
Most poor people -that is, those
who bring in less than $9,250 ayear
- have some amenities many stu-

dents can only dream of. Accord-
ing to a compilation of government
reports released by the Heritage
Foundation, a conservative think
tank, about 65 percent of poor peo-
ple have an automatic dishwasher,
89 percent own a microwave oven
and more than a third own their
own washing machine. To many
students, especially those in the
residence halls, the idea of legally
owning a microwave is glamorous,
and at least anecdotally, having
your own dishwasher is a big deal.
And though many students man-
age to avoid having to trek down to
the basement to use the coin laun-,
dry, washing machines are just
the beginning of the disparities in
appliances between students and
the poor.
About 80 percent of poor fami-
lies have air-conditioning. That
might not seem like a lot, unless
you consider that only about 54
percent of apartments currently

listed on the University's off-cam-
pus housing website claim to have
AC, and in the dorms it's usu-
ally available only to those savvy
enough to get a doctor's note about
The living spaces of the poor
have more conveniences, but
surely they also have less rooms
to enjoy it. Dozens of poor people
must be huddled in front of each
air conditioner, right? Not quite.
Impoverished Americans also
have more space than many stu-
dents. In the University residence
halls, the average bedroom holds
1.6 people, according to statistics
from the University Housing web-
site. To put that into perspective,
a building with any more than 1.5
persons in each room meets the
census criteria for being "severely
crowded," a rare condition even
in poverty, though that figure
accounts for total rooms and not
just bedrooms. In terms of square

feet of
the ave
the avt
two roo
not har
of stud(
poor ho
rooms I

alone, people living in that's likely not the case. The
ce halls have 280 square 'more you look at the fiscal stand-
living space per person, ing of students, the more tragic it
rage poor person 439 and becomes. Student borrowing great-
erage American 721. Even ly outpaces that of poor people,
traditionally thought of as the most
debt-laden class. In 2004, the most
e amenities of recent year which census data was
available on the topic, the bottom
very poor are 20th percentile of American fami-
lies carried $5,500 in total debt,
ter than many $1,100 of that on credit cards. Col-
lege students, on the other hand,
students'. typically graduate with $19,202 in
debt, according to the InCharge
Institute of America, with $2,700
spus, it's hard to imagine a of that on credit cards.
dwelling with more than Whether it's because of rising
ems for each person, but it's tuition or predatory student lend-
d to find if you look outside ers, right out of college, most stu-
ent housing - 66 percent of dents are facing more economic
useholds have two or more hardship than the nation's poor-
per occupant. est people, though we'll at least be
le it might seem like stu- used to living in an ugly apartment

here's a little wiggling at the
bottom right corner of the
screen, and a digitized paper-
clip begins to demean my presenta-
His name is Clippit, and he wants
me to spice up my slides. Clippit
says I'll get a better response if I
add a funky color scheme and some
But it's 4 a.m. and I need to give
the presentation in five hours.
Should I worry about relevant con-
tent or sleek transitions?
One upon a time, there was no
such thing as Microsoft Power-
Point and animated slide transi-
tions hadn't been dreamed of. It's
so prevalenttodaythat studies esti-
mate 95 percent of presentations
worldwide are produced using
PowerPoint. That's millions and
millions of them every month.
Lot's of University professors use
PowerPoint slides in class, and even
NASA engineers have employed it
to make lessons on space shuttle
repair more palatable. But after
the Space Shuttle Columbia and
its PowerPoint-trained crew were
incinerated as they attempted to
reenter the atmosphere in Febru-
ary 2003, government officials sin-
gled out the Microsoft software as
a possible cause of the disaster.
"PowerPoint Makes You Dumb,"
was the headline of a New York
Times story the year after the
crash. Years later, University pro-
fessors can't seem to resist using it
to keep their Friday morning class-
es lively and colorful. So is it that
much easier to Economics 101 than
it is to teach NASA officials how to
repair a space shuttle, or is Power-
Point making University students
dumber too?
A 2006 nationwide survey of fac-
ulty and students by the Center for

Research on Learning Technology
found that two-thirds of professors
use PowerPoint several times per
month, and many use it every day.
The conventional wisdom is that
the prevalence of PowerPoint is a
good thing. Using multiple medi-
ums to communicate an idea is
intuitively more effective than only
"A general principle of learn-
ing is that people tend to connect
better to ideas when you link to
them in multiple ways," said Barry
Fishman, an associate professor at
the School of Education, who also
researches learning technologies.
Watchingvideos of anti-Vietnam
protests, for example, is far more
movingthan reading about them.
Although he maintains it's a use-
ful learning tool, Fishman warned
it can be misused. Some professors
allow students to rely too heavily
on slide presentations instead of
the lecture; other professors are

just boring.
"Constantly popping off bullet
points to just go with what you're
saying, I think that's counterpro-
ductive," RC Prof. Tom O'Donnel
O'Donnell compared a Power-
Point presentation to a sheet of
notes used in making a speech,
guiding the presenter through
key points and ensuring none are
forgotten. In his natural science
classes, slideshows are mainlyused
to show graphs or diagrams, with
other text simply serving as aguide
to keep his lectures focused.
Even though PowerPoint lec-
tures have the potential to be dull
or scattered, Fishman cautioned
that the blame can't rest solely on
the computer.
"It's the job of a teacher to be
compelling enough that people
need to listen to them," he said.

BULLET POINTS slides use graphs to show the pass-
With every great tool, naysayers ing of four score and seven years
find fault. PowerPoint's no differ- while lists include objectives like
ent. It's the butt of countless jokes "Men are equal."
and the topic of many books on Complex ideas can't be presented
style and public speaking. in bulleted chunks of information,
These qualms are all neatly sur- let alone be presented eloquently.
mised in an online PowerPoint pre- Many presentations, lectures or
sentation outlining the Gettysburg speeches made with PowerPoint
take on the tone of a corporate
T eh z r so One of the foremost critiques of
Tufte, a scholar of the presentation
reducing speeches of information. Tufte wrote a book
calledl"The Cognitive Style of Pow-
to bullet points erPoint," which argues against the
use of PowerPoint and similar pro-
Tufte claims PowerPoint slides
Address. As you click through the "weaken verbal and spatial reason-
slides, you can imagine Abraham ing" and over complicate stories
Lincoln fumbling with a projec- with hierarchical lists. He says that
tor and laptop before presenting using bullet points and lists breaks
his famous Civil War oration using up ideas and destroys complex argu-
graphs and bullet points. Awkward ments. And with an average of just
40 words per slide, PowerPoint pre-
sentations can consist of hundreds
of slides that bore the audience.
One of his case studies involves
the Columbia disaster. As the space
shuttle circled the earth, NASA
engineers noticed that a piece of
foam debris had impacted the shut-
tle's underside during liftoff.
As is standard practice, engi-
neers prepared a series of Power-
Point slides to explain what had
happened and potential outcomes
to top NASA officials. But the slides
weren't effective, Tufte wrote.
PETER Using bullet points and the
SCHOTTENFELS/Daiiy short, truncated sentences familiar
An Angell Hall to PowerPoint users meant simple
classroom where a ideas were condensed into techni-
his lecture with a cal jargon that even NASA execs
PowerPoint slide- couldn't understand.
show in a class- One bullet point simply read,
room designed to "Volume of ramp is 1920cu in."
showcase a projec- A longer sentence would have
tion screen. See POWERPOINT, page 12B

frugality confines them to
n-glamorous apartments,

See HOUSING, Page 101B

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