“Is this thing on?” What to do with student presentations [from the archives, renamed]

Admit it, student presentations can be a real disaster. I have used student presentations several times in my courses and often wondered whether they are worth the hassle, uncomfortable classroom dynamics during presentations, and the difficult grading process. I believe student presentations are an important part of students’ learning and can enhance oral communication skills. So how can we make student presentations work?

This topic recently came up on the Professional and Organizational development (POD) Network listserv and I want to share with you some of the resources PODers shared on this topic.

Setting up student presentations

If you plan to use student presentations in your course, make sure that you have learning outcomes associated with those presentations. Learning outcomes may be something like: “Create and deliver a presentation on the role that a particular periodical element plays in today’s environment and culture.” Doing this will clarify for you and for students what role presentations play in your course and in their learning process. Be sure to provide clear expectations for how students should present and how you will grade. Even if you are allowing for students to give creative presentations, be clear about your expectations (length, scope, audience, etc.).

Post-publication note: Don’t be afraid of student creativity in presentations. Consider different types of presentation, such as storytelling, role playing, or video production. The important question to ask is, “what can students do in a presentation that would show me what they are learning, while also helping them to extend their learning in creative and meaningful ways?”

You will need to provide guidance, tips, or practice for students before their presentations. Some instructors recommend offering mentoring sessions or practices prior to presentations. Consider that you will need to model the presentation behavior that you want your students to enact. If you do not want students to make boring and ineffective presentations, then you must model how effective and engage presentations look and feel.

Post-publication note: Now that I am at Stanford University, I can talk about a fantastic resource for helping students to prepare for giving presentations. The Center for Teaching and Learning offers an Oral Communication Program staffed by some of the most creative, energetic, intelligent, and downright interesting people I have met at Stanford. The Oral Comm program offers coaching appointments for students, workshops and courses (including Vocal Yoga!), and they will even work with faculty to provide course-level support for oral communication projects. 

Making great presentations

Most students are not naturally-gifted speakers. Many of them do not know how to prepare or deliver effective presentations. As you know, they will often use the PowerPoint crutch to help them with their presentations (and, yes, we see this at professional conferences as well). If you want students to make engaging presentations, consider discouraging (or forbidding) PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote presentations. Expose students to other media for presenting, like Prezi or Glogster. Or if you want to really push your students, have them try Pecha Kucha. You may also consider asking students to build their presentations on discussion and interaction, rather than using technology to present information. Again, whatever requirement you make for student presentations should also be modeled for them.

Another tip I saw was to let students know that you will randomly pick which student will present the information on behalf of the group, forcing each student in the group to prepare adequately for the presentation.

Helping students to make better presentations will help with audience engagement but you may want to use a couple of tools to make sure that other students are paying attention to the presentations. One option is to use an online feedback service like Live Question or Google Moderator to allow students to provide real-time feedback and questions for the presenters. You may also consider giving the students in the audience a peer presentation evaluation rubric that they complete during the presentation. Another tactic I have seen is to separate the audience into the “yeasayers” and the “naysayers.” During the presentations, the “yeasayers” in the audience have to take note of parts of the presentation with which they agree while the “naysayers” take note of parts of the presentation with which they disagree or for which they want clarification.

Evaluating student presentations

The evaluation rubrics recommended by PODers were the most valuable part of the listserv discussion. One colleague from the University of Indiana shared this rubric for evaluating student presentations. The American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) provides an Oral Communication Value Rubric that can serve as a foundation for evaluating student presentations. Finally, Nan Peck from Northern Virginia Community College shared a rubric that she uses for assessing talks given by government representatives. She noted that this rubric is based on rubrics from oral communication courses and the rubric can be easily modified for use in other courses.

How do you deal with student presentations? How do you grade those presentations? Please share your thoughts and tips in the Comments section below.

64/365 Have a Good Weekend image from FlickrCC user photography.andreas, used with permissions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

One Response

  1. I’ve struggled with student presentations in the past, so this year I chose not to have them. As an alternative, every three weeks or so I assigned an informal in-class group presentation that was ungraded. My hope was that it allowed students some time to practice speaking in front of others without the fear of failing.

    However, a colleague of mine who TA’d for the same course this year had a lot of success with student presentations, success that he attributed to evaluating students’ presentation skills rather than the content of the presentation. I know it’s difficult to separate the two, so I’m curious as to what his ILOs (intended learning outcomes) were, and how he communicated them to his students.

    Have you ever checked out http://rubistar.4teachers.org/? It might prove useful in building a rubric that focuses on presentation skills. I’m guessing that this may in turn both lessen the stress on students (and their fear of being treated as experts on something they’re just learning) and raise the bar for their delivery and their ability to engage their listeners (by, for example, writing effective discussion starters, making eye contact, choosing an interesting topic, using technology effectively, actively involving the class in the presentation, etc).

    Anyways, thanks for another great post!

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