Lectures vs Student Presentations

My “eCommerce & eGovernment” course is drawing to a close and the time comes for a moment of reflection on the way in which the course was handled. This time in order to engage the students in the subjects I decided to let them take more space in the course. Instead of having my (I know it’s politically incorrect to speak of my students) students sitting passively through my lecturing I wanted to activate them.

In order to do this they had three larger pieces of work to present and a written examination at the end. The first presentation required them to pick a government agency and assess the website from different perspectives such as clarity, openness, human computer interaction, technology used and services offered. The second project focused on the digital divide and the students had now to pick another government agency website and evaluate if from different digital divide perspectives such as age, computer literacy, language skills, physical handicaps and more.  The third presentation required that the students presented a chapter each from the book. The point here was that the students both understand and communicate the content and add external thoughts (both their own and those of others).

Letting the students become more active requires a different approach from me. I need to support them and to critique what they do. At the same time it is difficult (and unfair) to critique people when they are maybe presenting material to a group for maybe the first time.

The results were predictable. Some students seemed to enjoy presenting, they had good presentations and a relaxed attitude towards the situation. While others were very uncomfortable with whole process and the task of standing up to speak in front of others.

While sitting and listening to all these presentations I was forced to think about the point of this system. While I really believe that the students profit from a more detailed reading of the material which a presentation requires I was unsure as to what the learning effects have been. This naturally leads to the whole question of what the point is of any teaching situation. In particular what is the point of the lecture.

Most of us are hard pressed to remember anything specific that a lecturer has said. We remember an astonishingly small amount of what we hear. At the same time memories tend to revolve around the performance rather than the content. A good lecture contains a lot of showmanship. But then what is the point of requiring this from the students? Does the course really deal with showmanship?

Of course not. None of the credits are awarded on the ability to perform live. I still believe that this system actually does promote a better level of student participation and understanding among the students but it is difficult to think of this when some particularly nervous students are attempting to survive their time at the head of the class. The learning part entailed in preparing the lecture is effective and important. But there must be a better way of relieving the anxiety of the students who dislike standing center stage?

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