Visual explanations article: HTML version

HTML version of my visual explanations article is now online at:

Silva Content Management System -- Webmasters Brownbag

Here are the slides for my Mar 12 2008 presentation about "Silva", an open-source content management system powered by the Zope web application server. Silva is well-suited to the management of large organizations with many content providers. Silva can be downloaded from

PDF icon silva-webmasters.pdf452.75 KB

Webmasters Brownbag: Selecting a Content Management System -- Antics and Anecdotes

Presentation slides for a presentation I did for the Jan 16 2008 UIUC Webmasters brownbag about selecting content management systems. I told the story of selecting the Silva ( open source CMS for the ATLAS website (

PDF icon jwitte-webmasters-brownbag.pdf310.98 KB

Improve Presentation Slides with Visual Explanations

This is an article I wrote for the Spring 2008 campus "iTeach" newsletter on visual explanations in presentation slides. Attached article is formatted to be a paper handout.

The article is online at:

PDF icon jwitte_visual_explanations.pdf774.94 KB

Beyond Bullet Points: Suggestions for Effective PowerPoint Lectures

Materials to accompany workshops presented July 21 2007, Sept 14 2007, Oct 10 2007, Oct 11 2007 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Presenters: Brian McNurlen (CITES ClassTech), Chris Migotsky (CTE), Jim Witte (ATLAS)
Materials at:

Explaining with Graphics

Materials that accompanied a workshop on Oct 4 2006.
Available at:

Explaining with Graphics

Students learn better when the right kind of graphics are added to text. This page presents information on technical and instructional design issues involved in representing course content in a visual way.

Graphics are Useful

What kinds of visuals work well in instructional materials?

We all know that one of the major "value added" aspects of doing things digitally is the opportunity to include visuals with our materials, whether it be an online learning module or a powerpoint presentation. Tools abound.

If you've ever been on a website design committee, or tried to develop a powerpoint presentation that wasn't all bullet points and clipart, you're familiar with the challenge: We want to appeal to our audience in a visual way, break up or replace all the text, yet simply decorating the page or slide with decorative clipart doesn't help communicate what we want.

Turns out there are principles and best practices for developing graphics to support learning and communication. I've included a short list of my favorite books and resources below.

Tips for Using Graphics in Instructional Materials

  • limit your use of "decorative" graphics. Decorative graphics can actually impede learning. (Mayer 2001)
  • place graphic adjacent to text that refers to graphic (Mayer 2001)
  • text captions near graphics are often helpful

In cases where you're talking about concrete objects, by all means include a picture of that object. But so often our course materials deal with more abstract ideas. My advice is: don't work too hard at trying to find a graphic to represent the idea. It will be hard to do, and will not be that effective for your learners.

For example, say you are putting together materials on e-learning. You might be tempted to try to represent the idea of e-learning -- maybe a picture of someone reading a computer screen, or a graphic showing computer-mediated communications, or the like. It will be hard, and it won't be immediately clear to learners, so it won't carry much of the "explanatory load" of your presentation. Understand that you're essentially working on a decorative graphic. :-)

Required Skills & Competencies

An instructor wishing to use explanatory graphics needs to know...

* how to obtain graphics
o from a web page
o as a "screenshot" of their computer screen
o from a clipart site

* how to manipulate graphics
o by resizing pictures
o by drawing arrows and boxes on graphics

* how to use graphics in their presentation environment, be it Powerpoint, a web page, or a handout.


  • The GIMP: a free graphics program for windows, linux, and macintosh. GIMP for windows is at
  • Flickr: online service for organizing and sharing pictures. Free basic accounts, additional features available for pay accounts.
  • Picasa: free photo library software for Windows. From the fine folks at Google.
  • iPhoto: photo library software for Macintosh, from Apple. Part of the iLife suite of programs that typically come bundled with Macs.
  • Comic Life: Excellent software for adding thought bubbles, speech bubbles, and comic-like photo layouts. Macintosh only.


Why the Tail Wags the Dog: Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2007) 27, 203-215

Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2007) 27, 203-215

PDF icon jwitte-aral-2007.pdf74.17 KB

Beyond Bullets PPT presentation

July 21 2007, Sept 14 2007, Oct 10 2007, Oct 11 2007, Feb 14 2008 May 12-13 2008 workshops at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, presented by:

* Brian McNurlen, CITES
* Chris Migotsky, CTE
* Jim Witte, ATLAS

* A short URL for this page is:
* The main URL for this page is:
* Presentation slides and handout available at bottom of this page


* Alley, Michael. "Design of Presentation Slides." accessed May 10 2005.
* Clark, R. C. and C. C. Lyons (2004). Graphics for learning: proven guidelines for planning, designing, and evaluating visuals in training materials. San Francisco, Pfeiffer.
* Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning. Cambridge; New York, Cambridge University Press.
* Tufte, E. R. (2003). The cognitive style of PowerPoint. Cheshire, CT, Graphics Press.
* Russell, J. C. and J. H. Amernic (2006). PowerPoint presentation technology and the dynamics of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 147-160.
* Tufte, Edward (2003). PowerPoint is evil. Wired, 11.9.
* Witte, James. "Explaining with Graphics." accessed July 30 2007.
* Presentation Zen Blog on issues related to professional presentation design.
* Anholt, Robert R. H. (1994). Dazzle ‘em with style: The art of oral scientific presentation. New York: Freeman.
* Fink, Carl. (April, 2007). “You, too, can use video in your PowerPoint presentation.”
* Users sabatoge presentations with PowerPoint.
* Archives from the Golden Age of outliners
* Inspiration Outlining tool, brainstorming, good tool for thinking before writing.
* Finkelstein, Ellen. (Sept., 2005). “PowerPoint principles for education.”
* Finkelstein, Ellen. (May, 2005). “Combine animation techniques to create stunning PowerPoint slides.”
* Norvig, Peter. "The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation". 2000. May 10 2005.
* Creative Commons
* Google Images
* Illinois Accessibility Web Publishing Wizard or the UIUC Web Store
* Angelo, T. A. and K. P Cross (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
* Cmap :Free concept map software from Institute for Human and Machine Cognition,


* ATLAS EdTech Consulting:
* CITES ClassTech:
* CTE:
* Demo of HTML output using the Illinois Accessibility Wizard

Syntax and Semantics of Path-Denoting Particles and Prepositional Phrases In German

2001 dissertation. Generative linguistics, HPSG, Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar.

PDF icon jwitte-dissertation.pdf4.29 MB


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