Chemistry (senior) undergaduate students’ presentations in English can be more than satisfactory when it comes to organisation, opening phrases and transitions, academic content and delivery (pronunciation, pace, volume, posture, eye contact etc.). Yet, it often bugged me that when I had to organise lessons in preparation for scientific presentations, students seemed to nod in agreement with what they were presented with and then most of them deliver an otherwise “good” presentation that did not really meet scientific standards. Not surprisingly, there were many times I felt unable to pin down the exact reasons for their lack of “appropriacy”, and yet every time I did so, I felt I was not explicit enough.
This year, I decided to scaffold their transition to scientific presentations with a series of rather simple classroom activities that involved participatory and collaborative learning, peer feedback and teacher feedback.
The first lesson aimed to help students notice different approaches of “transferring” content from a text to a visual (powerpoint slide). They were provided with the transcript of a speech/presentation and had to work in pairs to produce visuals they would use if they were the speaker.
The presentation was not scientific (strictly speaking) but it contained many science-related concepts that undergraduate science students would not grapple with. Given the time limit, I asked three students to come and draw/write on the board the content or scheme of two visuals only. They did so at the same time so that there was no spillover effects.
Not all students came up with the same “from text to slide transfer” approach. There were students whose visuals were very neat and to the point. Others who had the main idea but crammed too much content in one place, and others that didn’t know that they shouldn’t really copy chunks of “text” in their visuals.
Not surprisingly, when I asked the rest of the class to say which approach depicted the content in the most succinct, concise and appropriate way there seemed to be unanimous agreement. Following that, students then had to identify and explain what made one visual better than another. Interestingly, senior science students seemed to agree that their preferred visuals were the ones that were to the point or those that contained schemes, figures, tables, word-tables and diagrams and fortunately, this seems to agree with current guidelines and trends.
Students made a few slides ( a, b) using powerpoint or keynote and apparently, it did not seem very daunting. Even the ones that seemed to struggle at first, hit the nail on the head later on.
Really happy to see that this deductive scaffolding method worked better than my usual “conversational” lectures.