Creative Student Assignments: Fast-Paced In-Class Presentations

Students given presentation to a class.

CC Photo by Creative Services: http://spirit.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/student-presentation-ncc.jpg

In our teaching and learning center we talk to a lot of faculty who are seeking to give students assignments that provide authentic learning experiences as well as offer variety over the course of the semester. Instructors like the idea of having students do projects and present the results during class, but often find that the end results are uninspired PowerPoint presentations full of text-heavy slides. One solution is to have student give presentations using one of the popular fast-paced styles such as Pecha Kucha 20×20, Lightning Talks, Ignite Events, or 24×7.

Pecha Kucha is a Japanese word meaning chit chat (listen to various pronunciations by native Japanese speakers).  PechaKucha 20×20 is a presentation format developed by Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in 2003. The concept is to show 20 images, each for 20 seconds, thereby delivering a talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The images advance automatically as the presenter talks along to the images. Klein and Dytham sponsored PechaKucha Nights, informal gatherings where creative people get together and share their ideas, work, and thoughts in the PechaKucha 20×20 format. These events are now held world-wide.

Lightning Talks use a similar format, and evolved in the tech world at Python and Perl conference in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The format varies but typically is limited to 5 minutes, and slides may or may not advance automatically. Barrie Byron, a self-described communications professional and experienced presenter, offers a description of lightning talks and some tips for execution on her blog. She describes a format where slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. Byron notes that the format tests resilience and oratory skills. “A good lightning talk is insightful, inspiring, thought-provoking, useful, humorous, controversial, or enlightening. Lightning talks are almost always fun, for both the speaker and the audience.”

According to Wikipedia, Ignite Events are typically organized by volunteers and have been held around the world. Participants speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions according to a specific format. The event has the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” The presentations are meant to “ignite” the audience on a subject – awareness, thought, and action are generated on the subjects presented. At an Ignite event each speakers gets 5 minutes, and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds, forcing speakers to get to the point, fast.

24×7 presentations, another variation on the theme, allows 24 slides in 7 minutes. Variations allow for slides to advance automatically or manually.

The advantage that these short, structured formats offer is that they help students focus on their key points and important content. Their presentation style matters. The fact that the slides are only visible for a short period of time means that any text used must be short and to the point. Organizing an end of the semester presentation event using one of these methods will challenge your students to get to the point, practice their delivery style, and provide an informative and entertaining performance for you and your class.

Here are a few resources on presentations to help you and your students:

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Photo by Creative Services: http://spirit.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/student-presentation-ncc.jpg

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