I know one thing Secretary of Education Ben Jones needs to improve: his slides design. Take a look at what Secretary Jones threw up on the screen for legislators on Monday:
This slideshow demonstrates brilliantly why the Department of Education is the last bunch of people we want in our classrooms: they have no idea how to present information effectively to an audience. Almost every slide Secretary Jones brought to Joint Appropriations yesterday is illegible from more than 24 inches away.
The fonts are generally far too small. My rule of thumb is not to use anything smaller than 28-point font, but you can easily test your own slides by going to the classroom or committee room where you’ll be presenting, connecting your slides to the projector, and then walking to the back of the room to look at the screen. If your slide looks the way the slide over Senator Nesiba’s shoulder in the photo above does, you obviously need bigger fonts.
Secretary Jones’s slides are also far too busy, trying to pack too many sentences and images onto the screen. The second slide above, the “90-Day Implementation Steps,” is far too complex: either viewers can’t make out any of the details or they are working so hard to make sense of the squashed font and radically jig-jaggy, cram-packed chart that they have no attention to spare for whoever is speaking (Oh, sorry, Secretary Jones, were you saying something?). Likewise with the wordy slides: the tenth slide above, on 11th-Grade reading standards, as so much text that the words run over the bottom line on the department’s own slide template. That visual error should clearly signal to the slidemaker, Gee, maybe you should make this two slides, but Secretary Jones plows on, heedless of either effective communication or design.
Even where the Secretary manages not to overpack a slide, he fails to use the space effectively. The eighth slide shown above, labeled “College and Careers: Assessment Ready,” has one simple graph. But he maroons it, tiny and indistinct, in the middle of a mostly empty page. The graph could have been made to fill the entire left half of the page, with the header moved to the side and the legend made legible in a font three times the size shown above.
The fourth slide above, the one showing that South Dakota had 149 districts, 681 schools, 9,701 teachers, and 134,993 students in AY2019, is the only one that almost works. The heading and numbers are clear and visible from the back of a committee room. But the grey headings for each number are too faint on a white background. Plug those colors into this handy-dandy contrast checker, and you get a contrast ratio of a measly 2.14:1. Web accessibility standards say your text and background should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
I share Senator Brock Greenfield’s skepticism about some legislators’ effort to cut the legs out from under Secretary Jones’s authority to manage K-12 education. But I’d support a proposal to send someone over to teach Dr. Jones how to make good slides… and for Pete’s sake, don’t leave Jones’s department in charge of drafting the visual literacy and digital communication standards for our youth!