Student Presentations: Do They Benefit Those Who Listen?

Almost everyone agrees that student presentations benefit the presenter in significant ways. By doing presentations, students learn how to speak in front a group, a broadly applicable professional skill. They learn how to prepare material for public presentation, and practice (especially with feedback) improves their speaking skills. But those of us who have students do presentations in class know there’s a downside—and that’s how the rest of the class responds to these presentations. When the teacher talks, students more or less have to pay attention, at least some of the time, but when their classmates present, they can be comatose. Not only does this make it more difficult for the presenter, it means the students listening are not likely having any sort of learning experience.

Peer evaluations are one way to get students listening and learning from the presentations of others, as the authors of the article referenced below have documented. Students attend more carefully to what their classmates are saying when the evaluations they are doing “count.” In this article, which describes the use of peer evaluations in ten 300-level political science courses, students evaluated every presentation and those evaluations constituted between 3 and 5 percent of their course grade—an amount the authors describe as “just enough to make the students take this assignment seriously.” (p. 806) The quality of the feedback students provide is improved when they use criteria (in this case the same one the teachers used) to assess the presentations. Without much experience critiquing presentations and with no specific guidelines, they are likely to offer feedback that is generic and not particularly helpful, such as “Good presentation.”

These authors had students in each of the 10 classes evaluate the peer evaluation assignment, and that feedback indicates the merit of having students do the evaluations. Seventy-three percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that completing the evaluations made them pay more attention to the presentations. Almost 60 percent said doing the evaluations gave them a different perspective. “Students indicated they gained a different insight into the process, rather than just sitting through presentations without having any objective or direction as an audience member.” (p. 806) Another sizable majority, almost 74 percent, agreed or strongly agreed that completing the evaluations clarified expectations for the presentation assignment.


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