A fun (if somewhat trendy) way to do student presentations

For the second year, I’m teaching a section of the yearlong thesis preparation sequence in my school’s honors program. To ensure continuity of expectations with the other sections, we use the same basic assignments, which in the fall culminate in a presentation of their thesis idea and a sample chapter. The students, by the time I see them in year 3, have become accustomed to using PowerPoint.

You can already see the problem: Unless you’re quite the wizard, PowerPoint doesn’t really encourage interesting presentations, and so what I was getting was these crazed outlines, bullet lists, and citations. The main problem was that they lacked life or energy, and so it was a little hard to tell why people cared enough about their topic to pick it for a yearlong thesis. Plus, people tended to pack lots of different kinds of information into the presentation, to show that they’d been working, so they tended to be long.

This year, I’ve changed things slightly. Instead of asking for a presentation that previews their thesis, I’ve asked them to tell a story about their thesis, one that explains why they’re interested in it, and why people might care. Details are below the fold. I can say, though, that the first couple of these have been great, very energetic, and it was always clear that there was an actual person doing the presentation. It’s not an assignment that would fit every presentation situation, but I do like it as a way of introducing, in a preliminary way (none of the students have completed even a single draft of a chapter yet), one’s work in class.

Honors Presentation assignment

Pecha Kucha started as a fun, informal way to share ideas without falling prey to the various problems associated with Power Point (death by bullet point!) or assigned presentations (unpracticed affairs that drone on, and on, and on).

The rules are:

• 20 slides, each with an image, word, phrase, or simple (short!) declarative sentence
• Each slide is onscreen for 20 seconds. (To do this in PowerPoint: There should be a menu called “Slide Show.” On this menu, there’s a choice called “Slide transition . . . ” When you select it, you’ll see options for advancing the slide. Clear the check box beside “On Mouse Click,” and put “20” in the box: “Automatically after _______ seconds.”
• You thus have 6 minutes and 40 seconds. PRACTICE to make sure that what you’re talking about matches, or relates in some way, to what’s on screen.

Think SHORT, INFORMAL, and CREATIVE. You’re not trying to present the details of your thesis; you’re telling a story about why it’s interesting. You don’t have to have conceived of a full outline yet . . . but you should be able to talk about the kinds of things you expect to do, and what you might expect to find. Don’t be afraid to play around: The idea here is that radical restriction promotes creativity.

Be prepared to take questions after; concomitantly, be ready to ask questions of others! After your presentation, please send me a brief (less than 150 words) write-up of your presentation.

More information: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecha_Kucha; http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-09/st_pechakucha . The last one is the one I showed in class; the Wikipedia entry’s helpful because of the link to “timeboxing” and other benefits.

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