All of us have experience watching student presentations that dance around a topic but never settle on a clear message. Text-heavy slides are often symptoms of a student’s uncertainty about what he or she wants to communicate to an audience. A very specific technique for designing slides for technical presentations that I stumbled upon this year–“The Assertion-Evidence Model”–could be used to help our students. The very act of shaping what they want to say to conform to this model compels them to find a central idea and illustrate it meaningfully. You can find a site devoted to promoting the technique here. You may find the site’s recommend books useful as well. Two of them are accessible online through the Ryerson Library. I’m going to ask our subject librarian to purchase another: Academic Slide Design.
The site was created by Michael Alley, who has written excellent, influential books on technical writing.
Admittedly, the contrarian in me thought that if all students used this technique, it would soon cease to appear fresh. I’m also a bit hesitant to recommend that slide titles be full sentences, even if they’re concise, because an audience is all the more likely to momentarily lose focus on the speaker while reading. Nevertheless, the model does clarify in very simple terms how to create a compelling and coherent speech.
Syllabus speed dating as a first-day, ice-breaker exercise? Maryellen Weimer, an emerita professor at Penn State Berks, who is responsible for Teaching Professor Blog, offers this and a number of other activities for the first day of class. You may find resources from Faculty Focus, the site her blog is associated with, useful as well.
For Ryerson resources on what to do on the first day of class, see this handout from the Learning and Teaching Office.
If you’re teaching CMN 314, I recommend Sandra Rosenberg’s ice-breaker exercises, detailed in the “Teaching Tips” page of this blog.
In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, James M Lang weighs the advantages of rich class discussion using online polls against the risk of smartphone distraction. The article links to a variety of valuable resources on online polling and device distraction and includes a brief list of sensible approaches to handling student smartphone use in the classroom.
Coming from a theatre background, I’ve had some good experiences building on performance activities for lesson plans. My favourite is a role-playing exercise that I developed for part of the Negative Messages class for CMN 279, focusing on delivering negative messages in person.
I like that role-play helps students experience and overcome “safe” versions of potential emotional obstacles to delivering effective negative messages. Often, many of them start the exercise feeling confident about the concepts we cover but find that applying those concepts in a face-to-face discussion with another person raises new challenges.
Because this exercise has been helpful in my class, I thought I’d share it with everyone else. The lesson plan has six main parts. I’ve found it leaves plenty of time to go over written negative messages and upcoming assignments at the end of class.
If you’ve taught report writing, you may have found it difficult to explain how to weigh the importance of one solution criterion against another. Filippo A. Salustri, a professor of mechanical engineering at Ryerson, has devised a straightforward pairwise comparison problem-solving method that you could introduce to your students. Thanks to Richard McMaster for drawing my attention to this tool.
You may also want to look at Professor Salustri’s engineering design site. His uncompromising policy on grade bumping requests, entitled “don’t bother begging for marks,” is eye-opening.
Assignment #1: Participation – Your Most Important First Impression
Students are often unsure about how to decide if they will do well in a course. Chances are they have consulted anyone with any knowledge of the course and, importantly, the professor; so it is imperative to be both clear and up front about how the class will run.
The first day is critical, with students assessing how much they like an instructor, and, increasingly, if they will “have fun”. It is the second of these two that worries me enough to ensure “what you see is what you get” in the first assignment, which is typically given before the drop date.
I have found that spelling out clearly exactly how a grade is achieved, with a generalized rubric if possible, helps students know both how to do their best, and why the grade is justified. Complaints are reduced in direct proportion to how clearly the numbers add up.
Here is one version of my participation grade for a skills-based introductory level communication course: Participation
Impromptu speaking is something our texting students will increasingly lose the ability to master. When asked a simple question by a colleague face-to-face, eyes drop and incomplete phrases emerge.
This skill is increasingly important for both job interviews and networking in a live situation. A fun assignment, or even just a new ice breaker for the first day, “One Minute at the Dollar Store” has proven successful in both an introductory communication course, and an advanced professional presentation course (where more is demanded from participants).
Any collection of objects will do. The Dollar Store is used since the assignment originated for a Retail course when this new retailer emerged; but the increasing success of the store and its familiarity for students allows it to be a convenient source of objects. Instructors can even request students bring in an object of their own, without telling them why.
If used as an ice breaker, some object on hand, or even a photo on a phone, can serve as inspiration for self-introduction on the first day. The important part is the shape of the presentation, as outlined in the assignment.
As instructors, we’ve probably heard many tips on teaching and studying throughout our careers. How many of these prescriptions actually hold up in the research? You might be wondering: Should we tailor teaching to different learning styles? What’s the best way for students to review materials for an exam? Do left-brained and right-brained people learn differently?
Extensive psychology research has shed light on these questions. Take this short quiz yourself (below) to see if you still subscribe to any learning myths!
At this point in the semester, there are usually a few tired and teary eyes in class, in offices, and in hallways. While I have come to expect this – first as a TA, then as an instructor – I have remained reluctant to ever normalize this period of high stress, high anxiety, high emotional student life. I try to take a few minutes in class to point out the importance of taking care of oneself, particularly one’s mental health, but as I am not trained to diagnose mental distress or distinguish amongst degrees of intensity, I feel highly inadequate as I do so.
This term, I have also decided to send an email to my students (see below), offering reminders of support and resources (though without referring to course obligations, extensions, or accommodations).
I share it with you, unedited and imperfect, in case you would like to speak to the ways you have addressed this in your own class or in communications with your students.
The email below would have the subject line “CMN279: End of Term and Mental Health.”
Last term I created a successful assignment for CMN 300 (Communication in the Computer Industry) that may have general applicability. Essentially, I asked students to work in groups to create an oral proposal, presented to the class, to recommend a change to Ryerson’s Digital Media Experience Lab.
The inspiration came from a short talk to Procom faculty in August by one of Ryerson’s computer science undergrads, who explained that the lab appealed particularly to students in his department. The groups produced very creative solutions, and they did a great job creating professional PowerPoints and communicating enthusiasm for their hypothetical projects. The written summaries linked to the presentations were less impressive, but the content was essential for assessing the persuasive elements.