Video Statement ►

About Teaching ►

I am, first of all, a teacher. My educational philosophy is a philosophy of teaching. Teaching is not restricted to the classroom, but in the classroom I am a science teacher, a physics teacher. Physics is a particular way of thinking, of seeing the world, of interacting with nature, and that is what I try to teach: how to think in the particular way that is physics.

For the student, this means that he must be prepared to think differently and to see differently. This is what it means to learn. He must also learn how to work with the tools of physics: the language and vocabulary of physics, the equations of physics, the ideas and concepts, the solving of particular kinds of problems in a particular way.

This is not easy work, thinking differently, and I must use the tools of teaching to bring the student to the point of change and learning. The student must trust both me and herself, and she must be convinced that the journey is possible. It is up to me to make physics engaging, intelligible, and achievable for the student. I must help her experience it from every conceivable angle until she can see its many facets on her own.

In the end, the approach and goal of teaching is the same whether I am teaching physics, chemistry, philosophy, or music. The young student’s vision and abilities are limited, but the capability is there. A journey is embarked upon by both teacher and student. Enlarging his vision, expanding his ability, tapping into his capability, employing what he already knows and can do – this is what the student must do for himself, but with guidance from a teacher who can see who the student is and what he can accomplish, and who knows the appropriate route and all its vicissitudes.

About Instructional Design ►

In the ILT program at UC Denver there is an emphasis on effective design. A set of basic design principles is taught in each class, summed up with the acronym CARP. It stands for Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity. But why CARP? CARP is certainly shorthand for something – the premise is that by following these principles, your design will be “correct” or “good” in some sense. There must be some fundamental mechanism at work, though, undergirding these principles.

Consider any document that you design. What are you trying to do with it? You are trying to communicate, at least initially. Perhaps you are trying to sell something, or convince someone of something. In my case, I am always trying to teach. I need to consider how a person learns and try to align my document with how learning works.


I want to address two aspects of learning. One is the broad principle of engagement. Without engagement, your document is effectively ignored. Without the right kind of engagement, your document will be less effective as a teaching medium. Visual clutter and confusion, for instance, creates a kind of anxiety as the eye tries to figure out where to go. This is not conducive to learning. Nor are extraneous visual elements which can be entertaining or decorative but also distracting and irrelevant.

Garr Reynolds presents the CARP principles in the first edition (2008) of his Presentation Zen (p. 153). I think it’s telling that he replaces CARP in his second edition (Presentation Zen Design, 2013) with principles related to beauty, balance, and harmony, states of mind conducive to learning (p. 221). Not coincidentally, these principles are applicable to digital modes of presentation, like video, audio, and synchronous eLearning, for which the CARP principles may not apply as readily.

Coherence and Structure

The second aspect of learning I want to address is an aspect that concerns me as a physics teacher. It is possible to teach physics as a collection of vaguely related topics and practices, but I prefer to teach physics by constantly referring back to the coherent series of basic concepts on which it is built. When I design a document for my students, I try to be careful about what my design implies. Is it implying a connection where there is none, or is it implying levels of organization that do not, in fact, exist? Or does the design reflect the coherence and structure in physics that I hope my students can sense?

Microsoft’s PowerPoint is a common document format, a tool that seems to result in notoriously incoherent design. A classic critique of PowerPoint design is Edward Tufte’s essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (2006). Tufte explains in detail the kind of structural incoherence that can come about when a designer does not pay attention to structural levels of information.

A designer needs to know that all graphic elements carry information, not just in the literal sense (these letters form a sentence which can be understood) but in a structural sense. When a font changes color, for instance, the brain is alerted to the possibility of a new level of information for the literal text. Consider, for instance, the information provided when text in a blog post changes color to indicate that the text is a hyperlink. Or consider, as Tufte does, what it means to use bullet points. Bullets are not just a graphical device for separating text. Bullets are like the headings in an outline. They indicate levels of organization arranged coherently according to some principle or concept. Hinting at organization when in fact what you are presenting is arbitrarily arranged causes confusion. It does not create a frame of mind conducive to learning.

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It can take a lifetime to discover and absorb the principles of how a person learns from a document, and how that learning can be augmented or interfered with by the graphic design. With the easily remembered principles of CARP, a designer at least stands a chance of producing attractive and effective presentations without having to become a metaphysician of design, communication, and learning.


Reynolds, G. (2014). Presentation zen design: Simple design principles and techniques to enhance your presentations (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
Tufte, E. R. (2006). The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within (2nd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Graphics.