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Ditch the Presentation Myths

Kevin Fairchild | September 8, 2014

We’ve all been there. Assigning students a project and class presentation seemed like a good idea at the time. Now you’re a third of the way through listening to those presentations and you’ve seen enough bad PowerPoint and heard enough monotone reading of notes to last a lifetime. “Never again,” you say to yourself. “Next year, I’m assigning something different.”

I’ve found that many teachers still hold ideas about student presentations that aren't true. Here are some myths for you to bust when thinking about your next “presentation” assignment.

1. Presentations take students a long time.
This may have been true in the days of 3-fold poster board and glue sticks. Today, however, even if you give students three weeks to create a presentation, they're likely to do it the night before it's due. Most students with access to computers or tablets can create presentations in about an hour. Such is the power of Google Slides, Prezi, or Haiku Deck.

I recently ran a workshop for principals and assistant principals in our district. As part of it, I asked them to research models of student-centered classrooms and create a presentation for their colleagues. They had 45 minutes in which to do it, and I asked them to use a presentation tool they were unfamiliar with. Every team was able to produce something. If non-tech-savvy administrators can deliver in 45 minutes, surely our students can do likewise.

Now, obviously, you probably don’t want to have every presentation be a quick-and-dirty assignment like that one, but don’t think assigning a presentation necessarily has to be a long-term project for students.

2. Students have to stand and deliver their presentations.
Well, OK, maybe students don’t need that long to create their presentations. But it still takes a huge amount of class time for each group to get up and deliver the presentation, right? I mean, even a 5-minute presentation, times 10 groups in a class, that’s nearly an hour of class, right?

It doesn’t have to be. Sure, there will be times when you want students to present orally in front of groups of people. But that doesn’t mean it’s a requirement every time students create a presentation. Students could use tools like Explain Everything, Screencast-o-matic, or Educreations to make a short video. They can then share that video with you, or with the rest of the class. Homework that night could be to watch three other groups’ videos and write responses.

One of the ways I've had teachers collect links to student productions is through Google Forms. A simple form could include just two questions: “What is your name?” and “What is the link to your presentation?” The teacher then gets a spreadsheet with links to all the presentations -- and can do with that what he or she wants.

3. Presentations have to be linear.
As we ask teachers to move away from the "stand and deliver" model of classroom teaching, we should be asking students to move away from that model as well. Part of that instructional shift means allowing viewers of the presentation to choose how they move through the material. Tools like Thinglink, Padlet, Tackk, and GlogsterEDU allow for a non-linear delivery of information, at the discretion and control of each viewer.

Creating a linear presentation is simple: first this, then this, then that. Creating a presentation that makes sense no matter which order a viewer chooses is much harder, and will require some coaching from the teacher to make sure the student groups can accomplish it. Still, it's a valuable strategy for students (and teachers) to learn.