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Presentation reform (Chapter 2)

End of the year.  Time to reflect.  Time for honesty.

One of the big initiatives of our year was school-wide presentation reform.

Some things worked. Others didn’t quite.  We had stellar examples and we had some real disappointments.

On the positive side, nearly all our presentations improved in terms of the students’ slide design, their efforts at storytelling, their use of rhetorical devices, their efforts to engage their audience.  No one fell asleep.  These are all very good things.

On the negative side, particularly with our Senior Seminar presentations, some students focused more on the bread.  That is, their sandwiches had little meat. 

Somewhere along the way the students neglected to present their arguments, their evidence, their conclusions, their journey. 

Their teachers and I are trying hard to figure out how we lost the meat.  We put it in the rubric.  We talked about its importance all along.  For most of the students, it appeared in their required formal papers.  But, when it came to pulling all the pieces together for the presentation, somehow it disappeared.  Could it be because presentation technique was the last thing we taught?

For just a few of students, the idea of losing the bullets and the templates they used for ten years was just too traumatic. Interestingly, audiences for those particular presentation noticed that difference, bigtime.  They reacted to bulleted slides negatively, a reaction that was often physically visible. 

One other positive was that I made a point of capturing all of the presentations for one of our senior classes.  We also captured their reflections to the process. With the students’ permission, we’ve posted them on a private Ning. We now have models (of all sorts) to discuss and critique with this year’s students and those who follow them.

Another interesting story. 

Brian, a junior, is completing production of a video for us to use with our presentation reform efforts.  (I will share that video with you in a future post.)  It’s become usual practice here for students to contribute to the learning with their own communication products. 

But Brian and I have been arguing.  After talking about how distracting moving text and frequent, flashy transitions can be in presentations, Brian opted to employ every sort of LiveType animation available to him in Final Cut Pro in the video’s credits. 

When I suggested that wasn’t exactly walking the walk, he reminded me this was NOT a PowerPoint.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Joyce,
    I applaud your quest to eradicate bad presentations. How many of us have gone to seminars with the same old bulleted power point slides and handouts generated so beautifully via the print options only to be disappointed by the lack of real ‘meat’ as you call it? Speech, oral presentation and communication as a subject has fallen on really hard times of late.
    The high school in which I teach dropped teaching speech as a subject a few years ago because, and I am quoting a former administrator “it is no longer tested in the state of Illinois, so it is no longer going to be part of the curriculum.” And the next year, we were adding a few oral presentations in to some of our English courses, but speech as a subject is no longer a requirement. Speech was the class where students worked through all of the mechanics of presentations including visual aides and handouts. Students learned the basics not of putting together power points, but of putting together compelling content in an oral communication situation. It seems that pretty little bullets and slides have taken the place of real communication when students are told to make a class presentation as part of an assignment.
    One of the biggest losers in all this flurry of testing is the area of oral communications. I am all for supporting student’s use of a variety of presentation tools and techniques, but,
    until and unless we as a nation either calm down and take a step back away from standardized testing or include oral communications as part of the test, speech as a required high school subject will not reappear in my school.
    You continue to be far ahead of the rest of us when it comes to all this great Web 2.0 material. Thank you for that and for your ongoing quest to helping all of us utilize those tools with our students to the best of our ability.

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