These days many professors require their students (either individually or teams) to deliver presentations in front of the class. Presentations are a great way to give students practice conveying their ideas to an audience. However, “presentation day” isn’t a day off for the audience or the professor. It takes serious planning to orchestrate a class session with student presentations. A professor has to consider what the rest of the class is doing while other students are presenting. Are they asking questions? If so, when? During the presentation? At the end of the presentation?
Aside from the planning involved, some faculty are wary about giving up too much class time for student presentations. This is especially difficult with large classes. For example, if every student gave a 10-minute presentation in a 50 person class this would consume 500 minutes or over 8.33 hours of class time. This translates into 7, 1 hour and 15 minute classes or 1/4 of the semester dedicated to in-class presentations.
An Alternative to the Norm
Online presentations offer an alternative. This works really well if sharing and feedback is important to the presentation process and learning outcomes. For example, students can post their presentations online and then, seek feedback from the instructor and peers over the course of a week.
Online Presentation Options
The format for a presentation in an online class presentation ranges from a live web cast to a simple slide show using PowerPoint.
Tools Used to Support
A student recorded video presentation
iMovie and YouTube/Vimeo or LMS native tool.
A narrated screen cast, or screen recording with audio
A slide presentation delivered via GoogleDocs embedded in a blog for commenting
GooglePresentations and Blogger
Team students up and have the teams present to one another via a web meeting in real time.
Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, WebX, Skype, etc.
Components of Class Presentation
For online presentations, it’s important to consider each stage of the presentation process. The presentation itself, is more than a set of fancy slides or a slick video. It’s about structure, organization, and environments the instructor creates. It’s requires audience engagement and feedback to the presenters.
The professor, the class, and the presenters all play an important role in the process.
Responsibility as the Instructor
The instructor’s responsibility is to 1) organize the online format and guidelines for the presentation; 2) model great feedback to students during and after the presentation 3) and assess the quality of the student work and contributions by others.
The instructor is a facilitator during the online delivery of the presentation. However, beforehand it may be helpful to meet with students to see a draft of their presentation. Also, it’s important create an opportunity for the student presenters to reflect upon their presentations. The instructor can ask the presenters to share their reflections. This can help students self-assess and identify what went well and what didn’t. Finally, it’s a good idea to collect feedback from the class in a structured way. A simple way to do this is through a web survey. Some options include Google Forms, Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, or perhaps the LMS you use has a survey tool. This will structure the feedback (based on your questions) and it can be anonymous and shared in it’s aggregate form as shown below:
Responsibility as a Student Presenter
Presenting is a form of class participation. Student are contributing to larger class dialogue through their contributions. Students should consult resources on making an effective presentation, such as Seth Godin’s Really Bad PowerPoint. Know your audience and to help them understand your message. Encourage students to formulate some questions to ask the audience during the “online” q & a session. Students may find more value in the feedback they receive from their peers if they are ones asking the questions. Also, when student groups make presentations it’s common to ask the teams to assess their teammates. Give them criteria for doing so. Decide whether it’s part of their grades and communicate the guidelines prior to the start of the project/presentation.
Responsibility as an Audience Member
The role of an audience member is to raise questions, offer suggestions, and provide feedback. The audience in this case is the students in the class. Students should review the presentation by their peers. For online presentation, this may include a recorded video presentation with an option to ask questions and make comments. Those comments can be made in the native tool the video is produced in, such as YouTube. Also, there’s typically a place to link/ embed the video in the LMS.
Where Things Could Go Wrong
- Format. Don’t ask students upload a PowerPoint file as an online presentation. PowerPoint is a presentation tool. If one just downloads the file, it’s missing the key component, the presenter. Consider having students screen cast their presentations at a minimum.
- Time. It’s common to forget to set a time limit for an online presentation. Presentations can go long. Keep presentations to a few minutes, especially if they’re online.
- Guidelines. Set guidelines and ensure students aren’t reading off their slides. Also, ensure that the presentation is designed for the format. Refer to the renowned practitioners in visual design such as Edward Tufte.
- Feedback. Don’t forget to set up a space for feedback. A discussion forum, a blog, or even a survey form are good way to structure student to student feedback on presentations.
- Assessment criteria. Share your assessment criteria for the presentation and feedback. It’s a failure to think that students will provide feedback to one another without requiring it. Feedback activities need to be organized. If the class is large, avoid burdening each student to provide feedback to every student in the class. Considering assigning groups of students to comment on particular presentations.
If your students are creating slides, here are some guidelines for creating great slide presentations to ensure the slides don’t overtake the presentation.
- Background. Stick to white.
- Font size. Use 32pt font or larger.
- Font face. Use sans serif fonts like Arial.
- Color. Avoid the rainbow. Use color sparingly.
- Text. Follow 6 x 6 rule. 6 lines per slide, 6 words per line.
- Layout. Select appropriate layout for your content.
- Select the appropriate chart type. Emphasize the data.
- Consider the data-ink ratio.
- Avoid chartjunk.
- Remove the grid or use a light gray grid.
- Avoid fake perspectives (3D).
- Use cross-hatching sparingly.
- Keep color simple.
- Ensure a zero point for bar, line, and scatter charts.
- Keep the scale of Y axis equal or just above the highest value in the data set.
- Labeling directly on the data instead and/or in addition to using a legend.
- Avoid the shadow.
- Minimize the use color.
The next time your students present their work to the class, consider the following questions:
- Why are student presentations important? What learning objectives do they address?
- How do you orchestrate an effective in-class presentation session with students?
- What are some advantages and disadvantages of moving presentations online?
- Who’s doing what? What are the roles of the instructor, presenter, and audience? Ensure that the roles are clearly communicated.
The following resources informed the creation of this article.
Godin, S. Really bad PowerPoint: And how to avoid it. Retrieved from http://www.sethgodin.com/freeprize/reallybad-1.pdf
Goodman. When bad presentations happen to good causes. Retrieved from http://www.agoodmanonline.com/publications/how_bad_presentations_happen
Maeda, J. (2006). Laws of simplicity. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Mayer, R. (2001). Multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge University Press
Sosulski, K. & Bongiovanni, T. (in-press). The students’ savvy guide to online learning. New York: Routledge.
Tufte, E. (1990). Envisioning information. Cheshire: Graphics Press
Tufte, E. (1997), Visual explanations: Images and quantities, evidence and narrative. Cheshire: Graphic Press
Tufte, E. (2001). Visualization of quantitative information. Cheshire: Graphics Press
Ware, C & Kaufman, M. (2008). Visual thinking for design. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Wong, D. (2011). The Wall Street Journal guide to information graphics: The dos and don’ts of presenting data, facts and figures. New York: W.W. Norton & Company