This past semester, I incorporated a discussion-lead component, and I'll say that this has not been as wildly successful as I'd hoped, but hey - it's a work in progress, right? That said, overall I've been pretty pleased with their presentations, and I do think that they worked well in the same ways that my first experiment with them worked well. Students feel a sense of responsibility to one another, and they stop looking to me to be the Oracle Who Possesses All Knowledge. It's all good, right?
Well, but here's the thing. Remember how I was so excited about my enrollment in my upper-level class for spring? Well, I'm still excited, but it's causing some problems related to the presentation assignment. First, this class, unlike my class this semester, will focus only on novels. What this means is that I can't as easily divide up the presentations, having students all follow an identical format. (For example, it would be silly to have students divide up the biographical information of a novelist three or four ways - it makes much more sense to have one student present all of that material in one presentation.) Moreover, there is a bit of difficulty in finding a way to fit in 15+ presentations over the course of the semester while still leaving some days open just for discussion, which I think is one of the reasons that my presentations this semester have worked so well. Let's say we're discussing a text over three class periods - I always leave the third class an open day so that we can get to anything that didn't get covered on presentation days. Now, it's true that some students will drop once they get the 45 pounds of course materials that I will hand out on the first day of class. But as it now stands, even if like 5 dropped, I'd still need to schedule some days with multiple presentations. And that doesn't solve the problem of not wanting students to duplicate material from presentation to presentation.
Here's what I'm thinking that I will do. This is still open to revision, so if you see potential pitfalls and/or if you have suggestions I've not thought of, that's what the comments are for :)
First, I've devised topics for the presentations, to provide students with a bit more direction than I've done in the past. This way (I hope) we'll get beyond the problem of duplication of material, while still allowing students to present on something that interests them. The topics are quite broad, but I think that they will work.
Second, I do have two presentations scheduled on some days. While this is not ideal, I figure that if I take out the discussion-lead component (which didn't work too well anyway) that this will still leave 35-45 minutes for discussion on those days.
Finally, I do think that it will be possible to have uniform criteria for each presentation, even with the more focused topics. I think that having uniform criteria (for the presentation and for the handout that I require to accompany the oral component) is one of the reasons that this assignment has worked well for me. The issue is, though, that I will have to tweak the criteria so that it's not quite so specific in some ways - for example, it doesn't make sense to require each handout to have a time-line of the author's life, but perhaps I can tweak the phrasing of the assignment in some way so that every handout will still have some sort of bulleted, general information at the top.... Hmm.... Still need to think on this.
The things that I don't want to sacrifice:
- Requiring students to consult with two secondary scholarly sources and to summarize those sources' takes on their presentation topic.
- Requiring students to perform a close reading of a passage that relates to their presentation topic and to relate that close reading to the text as a whole.
I'm still planning to do a sample presentation for them in the second week, so perhaps I should prepare my sample presentation before the semester begins and that will influence the way that I design the assignment that I give them?
Sometimes I think I make too much work for myself. That said, the presentations do take work off of me during the semester because I know that on presentation days that the presentations basically take care of all lecturing and background material. That is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Also, I really do think that this is a good learning opportunity for students and that they learn things from doing it that they don't learn from other things they do in my courses. Hmmm.
I don't know. Does anybody else out there do presentations in upper-level classes? If so, do you have a standard assignment or do you change it for each course? Is it unrealistic to do this in a course with more than 10-15 students? Are the benefits really worth the costs of such an assignment (i.e., the time I'm spending agonizing over it)?
Ok, time to feed the Man-Kitty. He's getting very restless.