Students master and retain learning more effectively (than many other methods) when they present their work to others. Essentially all of us (no matter our age) can remember details of a school presentation we made long ago. Regardless of the discipline area, your students will likely benefit from making presentations also – that is, as long as you follow sound practices.
First, remember that the number one fear of adults is public speaking, so your students, regardless of whether they are 18-year-old freshmen or 68-year-old graduate students, are likely to need a fair amount of reassurance. One key form of the reassurance that will support them (but that many professors overlook) is providing students with an adequate overview of the assignment. When students don’t have the ‘big picture” they need, they are likely to make unfocused, disjointed presentations – which contribute to their feelings of inadequacy the next time around. Therefore, students should be provided – in writing and well in advance – the goals and objectives of the presentation, as well as a detailed scoring rubric.
In a large course or when building teamwork is an especially desirable goal, you might consider having students make presentations in a group setting, for example, as a member of a forum or panel discussion. Presenting to a small group is less frightening than presenting to a large group, particularly if the chosen subset of the class has been working together on various projects through the semester.
If yours is an introductory course and/or students voice considerable anxiety, provide individual coaching or model presentation skills, showing students how to gain viewers’ attention, use visual aids, form a powerful conclusion, and so on. You can also have a student with a proven track record in another professor’s class demonstrate effective presentation skills. Videos (off or on-line) on how to develop an excellent presentation are another possibility. A final, but far less desirable, option is to deliver a full presentation yourself, emphasizing in advance the key techniques students should look for. Some students are likely to have difficulty separating such a presentation from regular lecture or demonstration, while others might view such a presentation as *the* model and work so hard to duplicate it that they appear unnatural. Note: This is, of course, assuming that you are a model presenter.
Viewers and speakers can derive full value from presentations only when feedback is plentiful, objective, and consistent. We recommend allowing viewers to contribute to the evaluation of their peers. One frequently used method is to give viewers index cards on which they are asked to do a “three by three”; that is, they are to write down three strong points and three suggested improvements for each presentation. These are turned in at the end of the presentation and then attached to the evaluation form completed by the instructor.
The student who makes the presentation is not the only one who is learning. Therefore, you should measure the learning that occurs among the audience. This helps to indicate to the student presenters that the effectiveness of their efforts matters – not only to them but to their classmates. It is sometimes worthwhile to base at least a portion of the presenter’s grade on how much the other students learned. Remember, what gets measured gets done, and students value those measurements (i.e., grades) highly.
Deliver specific praise for student presentations in public, and give constructive criticism in private. This way of delivering feedback is part of creating a supportive environment. Keep in mind that such an environment increases students’ retention of the material that they have already presented, as well as what they have heard their fellow students present. It also contributes to the enhancement of student efficacy and self-esteem.
Finally, remember that nearly any good idea can be overdone. Unless yours is a public speaking course, resist the increasingly common tendency, especially in graduate courses, to have students learn the majority of the course content through various types of presentations. Consumer-oriented students are likely to perceive that such an arrangement denies them access to the expertise of a professor for whom they invested considerable financial resources.