Should we assign students to do oral presentations? There are obvious pros and cons. On the one hand, this is an important skill that our students will need in the workplace. Also, learning to present complex philosophical ideas in an oral format requires some impressive skills. Developing an oral presentation before doing a paper can also help students present better papers, if for no other reason than it prevents them from doing the entire paper the night (or the early morning hours) before the paper is due. At the same time, student presentations are often dull and mechanistic, and they eat up a large amount of class time.
Public Speaking Skills
Although we gave up teaching rhetoric after Aristotle and the Sophists, one of the things about student presentations is that we should use them as an opportunity to teach or reinforce basic public speaking skills. Fortunately your friends at TΦ101 have a handy rubric on presentation skills that can help you help your students in this area.
Often enough you will want the students to do a powerpoint presentation. We have two suggestions for improving student PowerPoint presentations.
Keep 'em guessing. Typically if three students are assigned to do a presentation, they will divide up the presentation in three parts and each student will prepare his/her section separately. When they give the presentation in class, typically the students will have no idea what the other students are going to say. One obvious solution is to tell the students that all students will be responsible for the whole presentation and that you will tell them, at the last minute, who is going to present which sections.
Try "pecha kucha." The biggest problem is that student PowerPoint presentations are likely to be just as dull and dreary as the ones they see everyday in our classes. Fortunately, help may be on the way from Japan. Some Japanese-based architects have developed a new approach to oral presentations that has some intriguing possibilities. This technique is called "pecha-kucha" (sometimes pronouced as "pet cha koo cha") and was developed to help young architects make more interesting and exciting presentations. The idea is that a presentation must consist of a specific number of slides, with each showing for a pre-designated designated time. The usual format is 20 slides, at 20 seconds for each slide (for a total of 6 minute and 40 seconds). The slides are on a timer rather than being advanced manually by the speaker, so the presenter must rehearse carefully to keep the presentation on track with the slides. Typically each slide has only one idea, illustrated with a graphic (rather than the typical PowerPoint slides crowded with endless bullet points). The 20 slides for 20 seconds each is the classic style, but the rules could be set for any designated format (such as 10 slides at 20 seconds each).
TΦ101 believes that there is an enormous educational advantage in having students work on condensing and shortening their ideas, since this is exactly the opposite of what they have gotten up until now in most of their academic classes (hence the universal question, "how long does it have to be?). Pecha-kucha can perhaps help with this. There is a lot about pecha-kucha on the web, but for starters there is a nice video clip about the approach generally and also an interesting demonstration. Ignite has a great website site with some even snappier demonstrations. There are also a number of other fancier software packages for doing the same thing.
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: April 26, 2010