Desk Top Publishing is a wonderful facility. We all love it. It enables the maladroit to produce professional-looking worksheets.
Remember the days of hand-written worksheets, reproduced on an old spirit duplicator? They varied from useful to illegible, from elegant to awful. The useful took some time to compose. Elegance and legibility may have come easily to some teachers, painfully to others. For some of us they were impossibilities. Typewriters and photocopiers changed all that. Everyone could produce legible sheets, although for the stubborn who wouldn’t learn to touch type (most) and didn’t have a nimble-fingered slave, there was a substantial cost in time. It would be churlish to suggest that some of that time may have been recovered by a cut-back in care over content and composition.
Word-processors were a great leap forward. Gone were the agonizing decisions whether to start a sheet again or put up with that eleventh typographical error. Now we could put an extra paragraph between the second and third, after we were half way through typing. We could adapt large chunks of old worksheets, bringing them up to date, or altering them for a different kind of class. Time was saved.
DTP has nothing to do with saving time. After we’ve finished typing in the material, and editing the content, we start worrying about a completely new exercise: presentation. The word-processed worksheet is perfectly clear, but the DTP product is beautiful. Back to agonizing decisions. Should I put this paragraph at the top of the next page, or close everything up a little? Would this look better in bold, or italics? Should I put text opposite that table, or would it be better to use this graphic (that I spent an hour getting just right)? Let’s just try this other layout and see what it looks like.
Who can spare the time to think whether the beautiful worksheets are any use in the classroom? Whether the facts are accurate, or the principles well elucidated? Just to twist the knife a little, much of the beauty is in the eye of the creator. Frequently there is precious little in the eye of the beholder. DTP may give us the tools for good presentation, but how many of us have the necessary skills? There is value in good presentation, of course – but unless we are publishing for a large readership it is not worth the expenditure of large amounts of time. DTP is a profligate consumer of time.