This month marks my first break from both campus and online teaching since October. This is usually a time for me to review my approach to teaching the campus and online iterations of Professional Communication and Presentation. In addition to teaching, two of my most fulfilling roles as the lead instructor for this course are instructional designer and curriculum developer. The campus version of PCP changes a bit each month because I can note new areas for growth and opportunity, can consult with campus students on what works and what doesn’t work, and I can see live whether or not a lesson resonates with the students and translates into positive results. The online course, however, requires a bit more time, objective assessment, and analysis to adapt. This usually means that during the months I am not on campus I coordinate a major reboot of the overall structure, lessons, learning materials, and assignments based on the big challenges I noted for the previous six months or so of a previous iteration.
In analyzing the course this time around, I noted several challenges, opportunities, and action items. Alex Rister and I are firmly in the research and development phase. As she noted yesterday on Creating Communication, we’ve found a few amazing sources to draw from including Pamela Slim’s Body of Work. In this post, I’ll cover the big challenges this course faces now. Next, I’ll cover how I’m working to turn those challenges into opportunities, and finally share how the course will adapt and change over the next two months.
Challenge #1: The lack of synchronous communication
As Alex discussed in her public speaking online series, teaching a presentation and communication class online is a real challenge. Everything we teach students is based on developing, designing, and delivering a presentation to a live audience. From audience analysis and slide design to “naked” delivery, the need for a live audience engaging with a presenter is ever present. Furthermore, students learn better when given an opportunity to present in the way they will likely do so in their everyday professional lives. However, we’ve been tasked with teaching this course online, despite the body of evidence that emphasizes the importance of synchronicity in online learner success (Source). So, it will be important in the next two months to bring in more instances of synchronicity. Currently, the PCP team uses iChat/Aim, Skype, and GoTo Meeting to add a synchronous element to the course, but we have not found the solution to helping students present synchronously to their classmates/teachers or to a physical audience.
Challenge #2: Understanding and engaging in presentation as a process
The biggest reason for the last reboot was to help alleviate a serious deficiency that we’ve managed to work on successfully in the face to face iteration of the course–students do not understand either the importance of or the need for engaging in a presentation process. While we talk about Nancy Duarte’s presentation ecosystem and structure the course so that students develop a portion (outline, slides, rehearsal) of their major project, an Ignite presentation, each week, many students still wait until the last minute to develop that piece and are often confused when their PCP instructor asks them to revise their outline and then implement that revision in the storyboard/design for the slides. Helping students understand how each piece fits together and also building in opportunities for them to take their time before submitting official drafts of their work is our second challenge in the reboot.
This visualization of the presentation process by design firm Idea Transplant has been and will become an even stronger cornerstone of the course.
Challenge #3: Streamlining content
Perhaps it’s my background as a learner (I devour as much information as I can about a subject and love when there’s something new to learn and explore about a subject), but I can definitely recognize that both on campus and online I share too much information, which just leaves students feeling overwhelmed. Yes, it’s all great information, but if any of it is redundant, too complex, or repetitive, what’s the point in including it? So, our third challenge will be to reduce the number of lessons and assets to the most important and needed learning materials.
Challenge #4: Universalizing the experience for multiple degree programs
PCP began as a course offered only to music business and entertainment bachelor of science students. In the past five years, the course has expanded to other programs–computer animation, game art, game development, internet marketing, music production, media communications, and software development. While the course’s current structure, develop, design, and deliver, a persuasive speech is definitely general enough to encompass all of these programs, our students’ needs have changed. Whereas some students present informative and persuasive presentations on a regular basis to audiences, some students will only ever have to present their body of work to a potential employee or client. This leaves them wondering just how this skill will help them in the future. So, how do we communicate to students just how important and necessary strong professional presentation skills are? That’s our fourth challenge.
Challenge #5: Emphasizing the first P in Professional Communication and Presentation
Professionalism is important at my school, but it’s even more important in a class with the title Professional Communication and Presentation. Currently, the campus class devotes a week or so of in class time to the concept of a professional persona and communicating professional brand via a visual resume. However, this was removed in the last reboot of the online class to help streamline the approach and give students more time on the Ignite presentation. This means that our online students spend very little time if any truly exploring and practicing what it means to be a professional communicator. Our final challenge will be to refocus persuasion and presentation towards building professionalism.