The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Education

Your slide presentation / PowerPoint presentation can be improved ENORMOUSLY with this one incredible presentation tip. Get the promotion that you deserve!

Background:

Slide presentations are now a main ingredient in almost all lectures and presentations (Figure 1).

 

table

Fig. 1: A simple presentation setup: laptop plus projector/screen.

The issue:

Computers have made slide presentations extremely easy to make (example in Figure 2), but haven’t helped with one issue: presentations often go on FAR TOO LONG.

For example, none of these ideas for promoting short presentations are available in standard presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides).

  • Not a feature: A timer showing the elapsed time on a specific slide. This timer would change color once the user spent over-the-allocated amount of time on the slide.
  • Not a feature: A “progress bar” showing the position of the current slide in the entire slide deck.
  • Not a feature: A per-slide time estimation: if a 15-slide presentation has a 30-minute scheduled time, it should be trivial to display “You have an average of 2 minutes per slide.” This could be updated as the presentation went on; if the user takes 20 minutes to go through the first 5 slides, the remaining slides could display “10 minute remaining for 10 slides; you only have one minute for each of these slides!”
  • Not a feature: Allowing the software itself to automatically advance the slide when the user has dwelled on a slide for too long.

 

presentation-top-half.png

Fig. 2: A standard presentation: slides are shown along the top. The timer bar along the bottom (showing the total time consumed vs. the specific slides remaining) is a hypothetical feature that does not currently exist.

Proposal:

This proposal is for a flexible method of encouraging presenters to remain on schedule: the slide advance fire.

In this method, the slide deck is metaphorically on fire: all the slides in the slide deck are slowly consumed by a fire effect that moves through the entire slide deck (see Figure 3 for illustration), rendering the slides un-usable after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

The presenter can stay on a blackened-and-charred slide as long as they want (so they can continue to discuss a slide, or field questions from the audience, even after it has burned away), but the contents of the slide will no longer be visible.

This will also discourage presenters from cramming a slide full of text and then slowly reading the slide to their (presumably literate) audience.

presentation-burned

Fig. 3: Top: the second slide from the left is in the process of being consumed by the “slide advance fire.” The timer indicates that two minutes (2:00) have elapsed in the entire presentation.  Bottom: the second slide has been entirely consumed by fire, and only a glowing ember remains on the right edge. Hopefully the presenter has moved on to the next slide. Active slides also contain a timer in the bottom right (the small circle / stopwatch / pie chart), showing the remaining time until that slide burns up completely.

Implementation details:

  • The slide deck begins as normal.
  • Once a slide has appeared for more than five seconds, a timer starts and the slide “ignites”: the slide is now “on fire” and has a fixed amount of time before it burns away. (The reason for the five second delay is to prevent the slide from starting to burn due to an accidental “next slide” mis-click that is immediately corrected.)
  • After the allocated time has elapsed, a fire effect appears on the screen, and the slide begins to quickly burn away. Over the next ten seconds, the fire completely consumes the slide, leaving behind only a charcoal-black rectangle.
  • The user can still switch between slides normally, but burnt-out slides remain charred.
  • In order to prevent the user from just restarting the slide deck to circumvent this restriction, a minimum of four hours must elapse before the slide deck can be viewed again.

Optional idea #1:

  • Each slide could have a timer on it that is visible to the audience (as described in Figure 3—the circular timers in the bottom-right of the active slide), which would give the audience more of an appreciation for the punctuality of the presenter (assuming they managed to advance the slide before the slide burned away completely).

Optional idea #2:

  • One common presentation mistake is to just read a slide verbatim to the audience. The presentation computer could have speech recognition software on it, and if it detected that the presenter was reading a substantial fraction of a slide aloud, it could sound a warning siren and automatically advance to the next slide.

Conclusion:

This new presentation feature should immediately be implemented in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Apple Keynote, in addition to any other presentation programs that may exist in the future.

PROS: Prevents lectures, presentations, and meetings from going over time. Allows a lazy presenter to set the burn delay very low, allowing them to make confusing and terrible slides and rely on the “slide advance fire” to save them from any hard questions.

CONS: Would make it difficult to take questions from the audience (“Could you describe the X-axis on…. oh, it burned away.”). Would make it difficult to do a practice talk and immediately revise a slide deck while audience feedback was still fresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perform untested and non-ethics-board approved human testing, with this one weird tip! A terrifying mobile for babies, with a twist!

Background:

The Indiana Jones movies (especially #1 and #3) have taught that it’s a serious liability for an adventurer to acquire a phobia against any animal that may be seen in the course of adventuring (e.g., snakes, rats).

Proposal:

In order to avoid these problems, we can easily desensitize a future adventure to dangerous animals at a young age, via constant exposure to a likeness of that animal in “stuffed animal that dangles from a mobile” form.

(The official term for this is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_therapy )

Compare the two mobiles in figures 1 and 2.

mobile-friendly

Fig. 1: This classic mobile has minimal educational value and confers NO resistance to snakeophobia or fear of spiders, which is known as “spiderophobia.”

 

mobile-dubious

Fig. 2: The enhanced “horror-mobile” can be customized to help a child grow numb to the most terrifying aspects of existence. It’s unclear whether this would actually be 100% helpful: a healthy degree of scorpion-o-phobia is probably a useful trait for a person to have.

Conclusion:

You could be the first to try this totally unproven and un-tested parenting tip!

PROS: May help when the child (who has now become a grizzled adventurer) encounters a pit of snakes in an ancient Egyptian tomb.

CONS: Might have unintended negative effects, like the “aggressively criticize children when they stutter” study (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Study). Additionally, the chance of actually encountering a snake pit in the course of a typical lifetime is < 50%.

Solve your getting-research-participants problem in one easy step with the medium of VIDEO GAMES. Possibly even ethical, who can really say!

The issue:

Gathering data for scientific studies can be difficult. So why not tap into the world of VIDEO GAMES to conduct experiments on willing participants for no additional monetary cost!

Normal scenario:

  • Researcher: “I wonder what factors lead to a person trusting Person A instead of Person B?”

or:

  • Researcher: “I suspect that—all else being equal—ugly defendants in murder trials are convicted twice as often as attractive defendants”

Then, a ton of work has to be done to design a study and recruit participants for it.

Plus, people are always going to nit-pick your conclusions, for example: “what if ugly criminals are also just worse at committing crimes than attractive criminals? Then you’d expect them to be convicted more often, too, thus invalidating your results!”

But, maybe we can short circuit this process AND get scientifically-valid conclusions!

Proposal:

Instead of making researchers talk to a bunch of undergraduates and/or figure out how to get a sufficient number of participants over the Internet, we can perform research via video games.

A researcher would come up with a scenario that they’d like to test, for example:

  • “People with annoying voices are less likely to be helped by a random passerby.”

Then, they’d set up a scenario like:

  • Record both annoying and not-annoying voices for a character in a game.
  • Later, see if the player is motivated to save the character from falling into a volcano / being eaten by a carnivorous plant / falling behind on their car payments, etc.

This could be done for a variety of scenarios, as shown in Figures 1 through 3.

suspects

Fig. 1: We can randomly generate a huge variety of different faces to test how players’ behavior is determined by appearance. For example, upon finding out that the middle guy here is a murderer, does the player let it slide (“well, he had it coming”) or turn him into the police? Maybe we’ll find that EVERY triangle-headed individual is let off the hook, which would raise interesting sociological questions.

 

final_candidates

Fig. 2: Here is a feature that can be added to any game where the player accumulates money: one of the characters above steals money from the player, but there is evidence implicating all three characters, so it’s difficult to determine the actual perpetrator. The culprit is randomly chosen for each player, and is equally likely to be the colonel, the horse or an octopus. However, players are FIVE TIMES more likely to accuse the octopus, as seen in this fabricated figure!

Fig. 3: For a Cold War spy thriller game, any one of these three characters might be a spy. Despite the fact that all three characters have essentially equivalent behaviors (randomly chosen) and backgrounds, we might find that the horse is usually executed when he is discovered to be a Soviet agent, while players allow the toaster to escape back across the Iron Curtain—thus revealing a widespread callous disregard toward the welfare of horses.

PROS: Probably could be a useful research tool!

CONS: Expensive! Requires very specific programming and art expertise.

Teachers: help your shy and introverted students engage in discussion with the HELM OF UNRELENTING GAZE, the newest and most valuable teaching fad.

Background:

One problem that educators face is that, with so many students in a lecture hall / classroom, it can be difficult to easily interact with these students on a one-on-one basis.

Specifically:

  • Students are far away. Quieter students are difficult to hear.
  • It’s hard to single out a specific student to talk to.
  • Less assertive students will often never manage to ask their questions—more outgoing students will monopolize the discussion!

Proposal:

What is needed is a way for the lecturer to specifically single out a student in the audience in a way that is obvious to both the student and the rest of the student body.

Additionally, we need a way for the lecturer to easily be able to hear the student (who is most likely far away and not using a microphone).

The best solution, as shown in Figure 1, is a special piece of headwear for the lecturer that has:

  1. A directional microphone (for ease of hearing the student in the far away audience), and
  2. The ability to shine a directed beam of light onto the student, so the student feels like part of the discussion.

helm-1-ray

Fig. 1: This “Helm of Unrelenting Gaze” allows the lecturer (pictured) to easily engage with the students in the audience. It features directional microphones (located on the “ears” on the crown) and an aim-able beam of light that can be directed toward the student being interacted with.

helm-2

Fig. 2: Sometimes, we may want to acknowledge more than one individual in the audience: for example, when the teacher is talking to one student, but also wants to inform another student that they are “next in line” for the discussion. This Crown of Twin Accusatory Snake Heads can track both the current question-asker and the next-in-line individual.

helm-2-annotated

Fig. 3: The dual spotlights allow the current speaker to be interacted with in one color (yellow beam, part A), while also acknowledging the member of the audience who is next in line for the discussion (orange beam, part B).

Conclusion:

It was once believed that computers would totally change the way in-classroom education is done, but clearly that was mistaken—the actual technological advance that will revolutionize education is the HELM OF UNRELENTING GAZE.

PROS: Increases student interaction, makes it easier to allow shy / introverted students to contribute without being pushed out of the conversation by their more extroverted peers.

CONS: None!

 

 

 

Be tricked into learning with hybrid educational games! But don’t use the word “edutainment” this time.

Background:

There have, in the past, been many attempts to make educational games. With the exception of a few unusual successes (with The_Oregon_Trail perhaps being the earliest), these “edu-tainment” titles have generally been colossal failures.

The proposal:

However, there is no reason that the fusion of gameplay and education must necessarily result in a terrible game.

Here, we consider a few ways to sneak educational elements into games without ruining the gameplay (and in some instances, the educational element is what inspires the gameplay in the first place!).

Proposal 1: Space Shooter + Spelling: (Galaga + Scrabble)

spaceships-all


Fig 1:
This is a traditional arcade space shooter. The player controls the gray ship at the bottom of the screen, and various alien invaders menace the ship. These invaders are also marked with letters, like Scrabble tiles. The player’s goal is to spell high-scoring words by shooting ships in the right order to spell a high-scoring word.

completed_words

Fig 2: Words that the player spells are listed on the screen (optionally with a definition, to make this game suitable for SAT / GRE preparation).

The 1991 game “Wordtris” (a Tetris spinoff) is somewhat similar to this—it’s like Tetris, except that the player’s goal is to spell words (instead of creating horizontal lines). Screenshots here: https://www.google.com/search?q=wordtris

Proposal 2: Retrofit any game genre into an “educational” game by taking over the loading screens

Most games have occasional loading screens. This would be an easy place to provide useful educational facts about the world without impacting gameplay at all.

For example, below are a screenshot of a loading screen from Dark Souls II and a corresponding “edutainment” version of the same loading screen.

dark_souls_item_textFig 3: Loading screens in many games show you gameplay tips (e.g. “Press X to use the grappling hook”) or world-building information. The example seen here is from Dark Souls II.

world_facts_item_text

Fig 4: Instead of showing fictional tips, a loading screen could provide actual facts about the world. This might lead to both an increase in bar trivia performance and in occasionally motivating a player to learn something more about the world.

Proposal 3: A survival game where friend / foe is determined by text

In this survival sim / zombie game proposal, one’s fellow survivors are marked with a sentence that changes every hour.

For uninfected individuals, this would be some random true statement (“The United States was originally composed of 13 states.”). However, if a survivor is seen with a false statement (“Aquatic snakes are known as eels“), it means they have been infected by the zombie virus.

Conclusion:

Although “edutainment” is not a well-regarded genre, perhaps it can be revitalized with techniques similar to the examples above.

PROS: Helps train the next generation of leaders, scientists, and artists.

CONS: Possibly the next generation of leaders, scientists, and artists will be made obsolete by a huge all-knowing robot brain, thus rendering these efforts futile.

 

 

Stop coddling students with “participation” awards just for showing up—instead, have them traverse a scorching desert and deadly volcano!

The issue:

One common criticism of education, both at the grade school level and at the college level, is that students don’t come away with practical skills.

Although it was once sufficient to know basic math, reading, and writing, more is generally expected in the modern era.

Proposal:

As a supplement to traditional teaching, a month-long “capstone” obstacle-course project is added to the curriculum.

This would involve students working in teams and/or individually to accomplish a complicated practical goal, one example of which is described below.

terrain

Fig 1: In the proposal here, students would need to:

  1. Construct a boat to float across the river (1)
  2. Figure out how to climb up the cliff (2) without falling
  3. Create shelter and build a fire in the forest (3)
  4. Successfully apply navigate skills to traverse the harsh desert (4)
  5. Work together to climb the desolate and possibly snow-covered mountain slope (5)
  6. Finally, avoid being melted by the volcano (6) and locate their diplomas somewhere near the peak

diploma

Fig 2: After ascending the volcano, students are deemed to have sufficient life skills to graduate.

PROS: Teaches valuable survival and/or practical skills.

CONS: Sub-par lava traversal methods may reduce graduation rates.

 

 

 

 

One weird tip to having every meeting end punctually! It involves sharks, though.

TITLE: One weird tip to having every meeting end punctually! It involves sharks, though.

Background:

People giving presentations are famous for going over their allotted time. However, presentations are frequently unmoderated or have a lax moderator, leading to time overages being the norm rather than the exception.

Proposal:

An automated system that made the presentation stage increasingly unpleasant as the presenter reached (and went past) their assigned time would greatly improve efficiency both at conferences and in college lecture halls.

Specifically, the proposal is as follows:

  • The lecture stand is in a small sunken area of the stage (or surrounded by small walls). This area is also connected up to a large tank of water by a pipe (see figure 1, tank is on right hand side).
  • As the lecturer goes over time, water is pumped into the lecture stand area, gradually increasing the water level until the presenter is knee-deep (or neck-deep) in water.
  • This will encourage the presenter to quickly wrap things up, instead of going over time with no consequences.

lecture-3d-view

Fig 1: Orange / red: lecture stand with laptop. The lecture area is surrounded by a low transparent wall. Right: a tank of water is connected to the lecture stand area, allowing water to gradually be pumped in to encourage the presenter to wrap up their talk.

shark-lecture-diagram

Fig 2: An alternative arrangement, where the lecture area (B, C) is slowly lowered into an ever-present aquarium (D) by a system of overhead cables on winches (A). The audience sits in the seats marked at E.

shark-octo-buddies

Fig 3: Some presenters may not be fazed by mere water; in these cases, we might want to introduce denizens of the deep to also encourage the presenter to finish their talk. Pictured: a rare purple octopus and extremely lethargic shark.

PROS: Saves many hours of time for college students and professionals in various fields. Encourages presentation discipline for both the talk and any subsequent Q&A sessions.

CONS: Would probably exacerbate any existing “stage fright” due to the presence of deadly animals. Presenters with rivals in the audience may find their talk extended by irrelevant questions as their foes attempt to cause them to descend into the aquarium with an over-long talk.