Final Presentations

When they return from spring break, many of our students will begin work on final projects that they will present to the class. These can be remarkable works of creativity and collaboration demonstrating powerful learning outcomes. They can also be grueling exercises in PowerPoint reading that make the semester end with neither bang nor whimper but with “I already gave my presentation, do I still have to come to class?”

When done right, final presentations—by individuals or groups—are an excellent way for students to synthesize and extend learning and practice the real-world skill of getting a group of people to understand something important.  There are many resources for designing good final project assignments; this overview from Stanford’s Teaching Commons lays out some good guidelines and creative ideas.  And since you have been modeling good presentation techniques all semester, your students know what an effective presentation looks like.  But how useful are these final presentations for the rest of the class?  Too often the rest of the class checks out, literally or mentally, from sessions devoted to presentations other than their own. But those last class sessions need not be a waste for all but presenter and instructor.  If the presentations are good—and should we presume anything else?—they should be just as valuable to the students as any other class session.  You may need to help them see this, though.  Here are a few possible strategies:

  • Make completion of a response to the other presentations a required component of the student’s own project. This can be as simple as asking them to fill out a feedback form with “One thing I found interesting in this presentation…” for each project, or as elaborate as requiring peer feedback on each presentation.  If you score the presentations with a rubric, consider having the students complete one for each other.
  • Beyond attaching points to paying attention, try giving added legitimacy to student presentations by entrusting them with real course content. With adequate guidance, students can do the heavy lifting on key course concepts or applications, which makes real the students’ transition from novice to something-beyond-novice learners.  If appropriate, you can use material from the presentations in a final exam.
  • Foreground the importance of interacting with other students’ projects by moving the presentations online and devoting class time to responding to and connecting the projects. PowerPoint, video or other presentation formats can be attached to blogs or discussion threads in Blackboard to facilitate responses. Students might also post viewing guides or follow-up questions for their presentations, so that in-class discussions are primed and ready. Here’s an article from Faculty Focus that lays out this process.

This time next week you may have toes in the sand, hands in the garden, or at least a triple latte at your side while you move through the next stack of papers.  Keep your eyes on the prize.

*  Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.

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