Campus: University of Washington 

10. Writing About Speaking

Educator: Kate Mobrand, Human Centered Design and Engineering
Context: Out of class, Introductory Technical Communication
Keywords: journaling, presentations
Student Activity Time: 50-minute class period

In a technical communication course, students are prompted to reflect on a presentation that they had prepared and just delivered.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

Many students have experience doing oral presentations before college, often using tools like PowerPoint. However, most have had limited opportunities to think intentionally about producing slides and combining them with speaking in an effective way, particularly in an engineering context. To provide such an opportunity, a technical communication course, required of all engineering undergraduates, includes an oral presentation assignment followed by a brief written reflection.

The assignment asks students to create and deliver a five-minute oral presentation about an ethical dilemma of the student’s choice that is related to a current engineering problem or technology. The goal of the presentation is to inform the audience about the engineering problem or technology, identify and analyze an associated ethical dilemma, and persuade the audience that a particular response or course of action for solving the ethical dilemma has merit. Prior to delivering the presentations in class, students are provided instruction on planning and organizing their content, designing slides that complement their spoken message, and employing delivery strategies that enhance the effectiveness of their presentation.

After delivering their presentation, students are asked to complete a short, written reflection, outside of class, based on the following series of prompts:

Think about the ethics presentation that you recently delivered in class:

  1. Describe your strategy for designing the visual aids. How did you decide what to convey on the slides, whether to use graphics or text (or both), and when to just talk?
  2. Describe how you experienced your design decisions as you delivered your talk. What worked well for you, and what did not?
  3. How might your experience with this assignment affect your slide design for future presentations?

These prompts are designed to help students recognize how the decisions they made while preparing and delivering their presentation affect the presentation’s effectiveness. By encouraging students to think about the function of a presentation and how that can guide preparation and delivery, this reflective exercise hopefully helps students improve their future presentations. With this being the primary intended benefit of the written reflection, grading is based on how substantively the student addressed the prompts and a minimum length requirement of 200 total words, with no emphasis on grammar or other technical aspects of the writing. This reflection is one in a series of similarly graded, short journaling assignments issued throughout the quarter.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Assign students the ethics presentation.
2 Provide class time for students to deliver presentations.
3 Assign the students the post-presentation reflection, prompting to focus attention on the presentation design, interaction with the slides, and the presentation delivery.
4 Evaluate the student responses with attention to substantive engagement with the prompts and entries of an appropriate length.
5 Return graded evaluation to students.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration
Provide students ample time to complete the reflection. I suggest giving students one or two weeks to do their journal entries, especially if students are working on other deliverables for the course at the same time. You neither want it to languish and get forgotten nor press them too much.

Take the time to comment back. As an instructor, you will miss out on the benefit of this activity if you don’t allow yourself the time to read the reflections and answer back. This presentation reflection is one in a series of four or five journal entries that I assign in this course. I encourage you to provide a comment, even if it’s just one sentence, especially on the first journal entry assignment, You don’t have to evaluate the journal entry; you can just Engage with the students’ content, making a positive comment or posing a question. This engagement can help students feel valued and encourage them to continue to engage with future journal prompts.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity?  The main goal was to uncover their design strategy, so that they could demonstrate intentionality. That’s the key outcome – to help them to be explicit and intentional about their design decisions in technical communication.

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