Skeuomorphism and the online presenter


horse pulling car

I’ve been preparing slides for a virtual talk I’m giving next Wednesday on how learning technologies work (all are welcome). I’ve done virtual presentations using webmeeting software countless times before. Until now I had never thought to change the aspect ratio of the slideshow from that of the default, which is of course designed for lecture theatres and standard projector screen ratios.

How weird is that? 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to squeeze a chat box, a video, some online presence indicators and sometimes more into the tiny space left on the webmeeting screen once the usual 4-by-3 slides are showing. Makes no sense at all because the constraints of the virtual space are entirely different from those of a lecture hall. It’s a classic example of skeuomorphism, in which a design element replicates something that was essential to the original technology but no longer has any functional value. In this case it actually introduces a harmful and entirely unnecessary constraint, making it much harder to sustain and follow the interesting dialogue that typically occurs in such sessions.

The particular irony here is that the talk I’m preparing is largely about how to use technologies and how they can, if we let them, use us. I feel used.



I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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