Shaking Up Student Presentations

Ipad with glare

My Ipad with some glare

Searching for an Alternative to Horrible Slideshows

Recently my colleague over at awritablelife posted about a project her students were doing. While describing the project she mentioned a specific type of presentation called PechaKucha and said that any sort of blog post about it was mine to do since I introduced it to her.  So, this is going to be that post.

A couple of years ago I came to a realization: Student presentations made me want to gouge out my eyes…or at least cry. They were all the same. When it came time for students to stand up in front of the class, the presentations seemed to boil down to putting as much information as possible on a set of slides and then reading those slides to the class. No matter how I phrased the instructions for presentation assignments, they never changed.

Such began my desire to find something different for my students to do when it came to presentations for my classes. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. A former student dropped by one day and was telling me about a college communications class he was taking that turned out to be very challenging. We were mainly talking about photography and how the instructor was really pushing them when it came to the images they used in Powerpoint or Keynote. When we finished talking the former student offered to lend me the book he was using for that class.

The book turned out to be Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. One possible answer to my frustration with student presentations was inside. This is where I first learned about PechaKucha and it struck me as having potential to really shake up how my students handle presentation projects.

My Typical PechaKucha Assignment

When I give this particular assignment the rules are pretty simple:

  • 2o slides
  • Each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds
  • No more than 6 words per slide
  • Must provide a handout
  • Must turn in your notes

A word of warning is probably needed here–the first time you give this to a class, the whining and complaining will be deafening. By the time they have done this 2 or 3 times the complaining will vanish and they’ll actually be pretty good at it.

The way I look at the overall assignment is that is consists of 3 components: 1) the slideshow, 2) the handout, and 3) what they say during the presentation. What I really like about this approach is that is puts the focus on #3–what they say during the presentation. And isn’t that what a really good presentation is supposed to be about? The presenter and what they have to say.

What Works With this Format

I try to explain to my students that when they are putting all of this together they really have to think about their information and the best place for it to be. We talk about how the slides are acting as visual reminders, or bookmarks, that correspond to what they are talking about at that specific time. If the student really gets it and chooses powerful, fitting images, the slides will serve as memory aids. I tell them the handout should contain information that is important–but that they knew they would not have time to cover during the actual presentation. I encourage them to create handouts they contain some reminders of key elements while pointing the way for the audience members to learn more later.

It is in that process of evaluating and ranking the various bits of information students want to bring to their presentation that the true value of this format shines. Students can’t just copy and paste text or images on a slide if they want to create a good presentation. They also quickly realize that they cannot just get up in front of the class and just wing it. They may have to actually–gasp!!–practice what they are going to say. No single student or group dominates the amount of time in front of the class. If they really want to stand out, they just can’t be in front of the class longer than anyone else–what they say. and how they say it, becomes the most important element.

While having a 1-1 Ipad program makes certain aspects of this assignment easier, the first year I did this was before our school’s Ipad program. That group of students handled things just fine with only being able to do everything at home of in the computer lab.

If I can find a way to make my students think a little more, I am always for it. So far assigning this type of presentation has done just that whether it is an individual project or a group assignment.  Plus, I no longer feel the need to hurt myself during every single student presentation.

How do your students handle presentations? What do you do differently when it comes time to use Powerpoint or Keynote?

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