Authenticity in Classroom Presentations

Bored AudienceNina’s recent post about students’ tendency to default to infopedia-style presentations reminded me of my own horrible experiences with students incoherently regurgitating information. It occurred to me that many of us — because of the nature of our academic experiences — incorrectly regard writing and presentation design as unrelated processes. They both are forms of communication, so why not apply the principles of one to the other?

I’ve written previously about how a good writing assignment clearly specifies the role of the author, the audience for whom the author is writing, and the format that the author is supposed to follow. We can construct guidelines for student presentations the same way:

  • What role are you performing when giving this presentation? What’s the presentation’s purpose?
  • To whom will you be delivering this presentation?
  • What is the format with which you will deliver the presentation?

If your instructions for presentations allow a class to answer the above questions with “student, other students, data dump,” then that’s what you’re going to get.

I find it easiest to grade format, so I assess that first. Student teams upload files of their presentations before they deliver them, and I grade the files using this rubric:

Presentation Rubric

After my feedback via the rubric, teams have time to improve format if they wish before delivering the presentations in class.

The audience for the presentations is the rest of the class, not me, so I use peer evaluation. Teams compete and whichever team students select as the best earns points. For a sense of how these competitions have evolved over time, check out my posts here, here, here, and here, and there’s also Amanda’s and Simon’s big-picture posts on the subject. Or just click on the Presentations category in the right-hand sidebar column on your screen.

As for role, I’ll be the first to admit that it can be very difficult getting students to step outside of themselves and take on the identities of government officials, corporate executives, or journalists. But providing clear expectations about audience and format goes a long way toward helping students achieve this third goal.

One thought on “Authenticity in Classroom Presentations

  1. The biggest problem with presentations is the software usually use for them: Powerpoint.

    Use of PPT should be discouraged at every instance and in every class. Here’s why:

    http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html

    Yes. PPT is evil. It actively makes people do really bad presentations where they don’t think about what they are doing.

    I have a standard rule for my classes. If you do a presentation – no matter what the app – you are restricted to the graphs, tables, and causal diagrams you use in the paper that backs it up. The usual format is: title, basic model, hypotheses, presentation of results, your conclusions. You present 1, 2, and 3; you talk about 4. Then you ask for questions and they had better be good ones for the stiffs in the audience. (They get graded too, of course.)

    This makes for short, pungent presentations that get to the point and focus on the results. Let’s all aim for that, shall we?

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