Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Two

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In “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One,” I discussed the three major challenges we faced as an instructional team at a university and how we overcame those obstacles.  In today’s installment of the “Teaching Public Speaking Online” series, I want to cover three innovative things we’re doing in our online classroom.

Live Presenting

Public speaking is vastly different in the modern age of technology than it was when Aristotle was doing his thing over 2,300 years ago.  Still, an online public speaking class cannot consist of students filming videos in their bedrooms and uploading those videos to Youtube.  My team and I developed a course with a variety of live 21st century public speaking situations in order to help students learn and practice their communication and presentation skills.  For example, Rebekah Lane suggested a perfect addition to the Public Speaking Online classroom: student Google+ Hangout team meetings. Since our students have two major presentations (an informative and a persuasive), they meet with their Google+ Hangouts teams twice during the month-long class.  During those Google+ Hangout sessions, students are asked to play improv games to help with presentation anxiety and delivery; to discuss parts of their in-progress presentations; and to give each other feedback.  These sessions allow for online synchronous communication in an otherwise lonely E-learning environment, and they also prepare students for potential speaking situations like these in the future.  For example, I am meeting with Phil Waknell this week via FaceTime, and I am using Skype later this month for a project that I will reveal in February.

In addition to peer-to-peer Google+ Hangout sessions, students are also required to attend live GoTo Training sessions.  These instructor-led, one-hour meetings are as close to a classroom environment as possible online, and they provide time for a student to interact live with fellow classmates AND instructors.

Last, but not least, we added a live presentation in front of an audience to our curriculum.  Yes, students still have to learn how to record a video of themselves presenting using PhotoBooth or QuickTime (and, yes, those videos have to be recorded in one take without the magic of video editing).  However, to challenge students in a positive way and to prepare them for the live presentation environment, we asked that they present their final persuasive speech in front of 3 to 5 actual living, breathing human beings.  Since they know this last speech of the month will be live, they have four weeks to find their audience members.  No, they cannot use Google+ Hangouts or Skype; the speech has to be live.  While I am getting some minor pushback (“I’m new to the area and I don’t know anybody!”), most students work with me if they are concerned about finding 3 to 5 people to present for.  The threat of the “0” on the assignment for failing to deliver a live presentation helps their determination to find an audience, too…

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Video Feedback

The online learning environment is a tricky place for giving and receiving feedback.  Fortunately, many programs exist to help with this.  My favorite such program is QuickTime.  I can record student feedback while watching his or her video presentation.  Check out this example.  In the past, I’ve also recorded video feedback for students using Jing, which I loved.

I’ve found in my time as an online teacher that students don’t like to write response posts, and their response posts are typically pretty worthless.  Since asking students to also create video feedback for one another, the quality of constructive criticism has gone through the roof.  Check out this example of one student giving feedback to his classmate.  This kind of feedback allows students to practice the lessons they’re learning; to analyze a speech which will, ultimately, help them with their own presentation skills; and to give their fellow classmates some great advice to consider and to apply.

Assignment Structure 

It’s easy to give an online student written directions for a presentation assignment and to never hear from that student again until the speech is due.  Instead, in our new Public Speaking Online course, we’re focusing on a more clear assignment structure based on preparation and feedback.

First, the student is asked to create a working outline for a presentation.  That outline gets feedback from classmates and from the instructor.  After tweaking the outline a bit, the student meets with his or her Google+ Hangouts team to practice that outline – to talk a bit about the speech.  Additional feedback happens live during those Google+ Hangouts sessions.  After quite a bit of time revising, editing, and tweaking, the student finally delivers his or her presentation.

Now, this assignment structure hasn’t solved all online public speaking problems.  Some students, for reasons unknown, refuse to use the outline they’ve created for their presentation, and those speeches are terrible.  Other students simply read the outline word-for-word, and those speeches are boring.  For one group of students, however, I am seeing strong, engaging, audience-centered speeches as a result of hours and hours of preparation and practice.

In the final “Teaching Public Speaking Online” installment, I will discuss our ongoing challenges and solutions I’d like to work on this year.  Join me for “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Three” next week!

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