Oral presentation · Pedagogy

Some thoughts on supervising oral presentations

I just finished an intensive course (“Oral presentation – in theory and practice”), in supervising oral presentations, given by the council for educational development at the faculty of science and technology at Uppsala University. The course started on Wednesday last week and ended last Friday. I took this course mainly because I had actually never taken a course especially aiming at oral presentations. Even though I had a lot of prior knowledge when entering the course, due to my many years of working as a teacher in a communications course for first year computer science students at the Royal Institute of Technology, I got quite a few new insights from the course.

One of the most interesting parts was a practical exercise in which we presented something (free topic) during five minutes while we were being filmed. After all presentations, we looked at the videos and thoroughly discussed and gave feedback on the presentations. I actually learned a few things about my own presentation skills from this and I assume the same goes for everyone who took the course. I have filmed student presentations before (provided students accepted it), in a basic communication course at KTH, but only to make it possible to discuss the grading afterwards. After taking this pedagogic course, I’m seriously considering filming to enable student self-assessment and possibly also to enable group discussions on presentations made. You can obviously learn a lot from watching yourself present so this can be very helpful especially if there are several oral presentation exercises during a course so you can continously improve!

We were also engaged in role play in one part of the course, where one person acted supervisor and one the student. It was a whole lot easier to be the supervisor in a case when a student’s self-esteem needed a boost than in a case when an over confident student needed to understand that everything was not perfect. In the latter case it is very important to try to avoid emotions and look at the facts.

We also talked a lot about group dynamics and how to actually examine oral presentations – a big challenge, if you do not film the presentation, is that you have only one shot at making an assessment. This is even more of a difficulty if you are several teachers assessing different students. One interesting idea brought up to discussion in this respect was that you can film students and then look at some of the films in the teacher group to make sure that everyone agree on how to apply the grading criteria for those students. I have not used this method before (i.e. in the communications course at KTH), but will definitely consider it if I in the future will be responsible for a course having oral presentation in the course goals.

The course ended with discussions about how to handle difficult situations. I found the discussion about students who do not want to present orally most interesting. Normally, you cannot make exceptions if there are course goals related to oral presentations, but it turns out that there are special training courses for students who experience difficulties with talking in front of an audience. If the students are taking the special courses they do not have to present orally in ordinary courses (this is at least the case at Uppsala University). I think this is really good!

Overall, I’m very pleased with the course and I learned a lot despite my earlier experience in teaching both written and oral communication skills. I can really recommend the course!

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