Delivering Presentations as Learning Opportunities

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

We all know what a presentation is, right? The teacher presents information, typically thought of as a lecture, to a classroom full of students. A financial officer presents a budget to the board of a corporation. Students, having completed research on a topic present it to their peers. Often visual aids, such as a poster or PowerPoint enhance what the presenter has to say. Multimedia software, along with media hosting sites (e.g., YouTube) gives teachers and their students so many more options than a person with a laser pointer at the front of a room with a captive student audience. Equally important, those same multimedia tools offer the possibility of improving the learning they are intended to promote.

Presentations involve multiple steps; we can think of them as compositions. They require selection of a topic, identification of appropriate sources of information, characterizing that information for the audience, organizing it, choosing the presentation tools, designing the components of the presentation, rehearsing, and finally delivering it to the audience. Delivery is our focus for this blog post. Students are very familiar with traditional presentations using presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint, Keynote). In this format, the student (or a small group of students) prepare a presentation then deliver it to the class as a kind of lecture. Students do need to learn effective presentation skills in a face-to-face environment.

An effective alternative is to ask students to put their presentations online. Some presentation tools live online naturally. Prezi is one such tool, and Glogs make excellent e-posters. Newer versions of PowerPoint easily support audio files and can be converted to videos that may be uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo, and similar services. The big advantage is that students need not sit through all the presentations of their classmates. If the teacher embeds the presentation on a class blog or provides a link in a threaded discussion group, students may then select three or four presentations from their classmates to view. Other social media may also be used–Facebook, Edmodo, Twitter, etc. Using the comment feature of the blog or the threaded discussion forum, they comment on the presentations, adding to the information, questioning it, or suggesting strengths or possible alternatives to the ideas presented.


This format also works well for “dress rehearsal.” A student-created presentation might be shared via a private link to a small group for comment with an eye toward improvement of the product. Andrea Shea (Lapp, Wolsey, & Shea, 2012) taught her second graders to offer “praises” and “pushes” on student writing, and the idea can be used to help students improve their presentations, as well. A push is just gentle feedback designed to offer suggestions, alternatives, and the perspective of a member of the audience. As with written work, students often think of their presentation tools in a once and done way. They may not rehearse what they will say (either recorded or for live presentation) and design elements often benefit from feedback from an audience. Consider PowerPoint presentations with so much text crowded on the slide that the small text is almost impossible to read, or the slide with fonts so fancy they require much work of the audience just to get past all the curlicues and serifs (cf., Reynolds, 2010). Such presentation aids could benefit from some peer response during drafting.
High school teacher Jason Kintner promotes peer feedback on presentations through an Oscar or People’s Choice award format. He writes,

“Something I like to do in my classes to allow students to recognize and reward outstanding performance of the peers in delivering presentation is to designate specific awards. Students pick the top three presentations in the following categories (They are not allowed to pick the same student for each category):
• Einstein Award—Outstanding originality and depth of understanding.
• Rembrandt Award—Outstanding creativity and artistic ability.
• Gestalt Award—Presentation creates an “aha” moment, sudden burst of understanding, enlightenment, or enrichment.

References

Lapp, D., Wolsey, T. D., & Shea, A. (2012). “Blogging helps your ideas come out”—Remixing writing instruction + digital literacy=audience awareness. The California Reader, 46(1), 14-20.

Reynolds, G. (2010). Presentation zen design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

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