Kenkel, C. S. (2011). Teaching presentation skills in online business communication courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 412-418. Retrieved from https://jolt.merlot.org/vol7no3/kenkel_0911.htm
This article discusses the importance of finding ways for students to practice presentation skills in courses that are primarily online. Many business courses drop the communication skills aspect when they are moved to the virtual realm, and as Kenkel (2011) notes, this is problematic: “Given the rapid growth in online programs, this deficiency could have serious consequences for business graduates.” Good interpersonal skills are something that employers and managers rate highly, but often students do not get much training beyond a single basic speech course, if one is even required.
The author proposes that to successfully integrate presentational skill-building into an online course, an instructor needs to provide a detailed rubric and direct students to use feedback from an initial presentation to improve subsequent presentations. Part of that feedback should be peer assessment that can “verify and reinforce” faculty feedback. Rubrics, reflection and peer editing exercises long have been recommended for face-to-face classes as well, so this is nothing new.
As a case study, results were presented from the development of online options for students in management courses at a large Midwestern campus. The online students had to post three videos of presentations for instructor and peer feedback. Students were given the option of using a private campus-hosted service or public video hosting sites like Facebook and YouTube. Students had to share feedback with each other on a discussion board. A rubric was given so that students could rate themselves and each other, and they received feedback from the instructor based on the same rubric. I was surprised that the students seemed willing to provide detailed feedback when it is all on-record and not anonymous. However, the author explained that only the instructor feedback counts toward the students’ grades. The peer feedback just gives them more of an idea of how an “audience” reacted to their speech, and often helps to reinforce the instructor’s grade (if several people mentioned lack of eye contact, for example).
What I really appreciated about this article is that it didn’t just stop at mentioning some potential challenges or areas for future research. The author actually includes a list of helpful tips/lessons learned. For example, some of the challenges faced in developing a course with online options for presentations included finding tech support, getting students access, and making expectations clear from the beginning. The author notes how common problems were addressed, such as describing the equipment needed in the syllabus with information on library checkout options; having students identify a friend who can assist them as a camera person; and sharing successful videos from previous semesters so students have a better idea of what their own recording should look like.
My major concern is with the student feedback example that the author uses to deem the class structure a success. From an evaluation, “I learned the same, if not more than I would have learned in a traditional classroom setting and I think it made it easier to do speeches not having 20 eyes staring at you while you prepared and gave your speech.” I have taught speech courses for seven years, and in my opinion, the student has not learned the same or more as in an FTF class if they have not worked through anxiety regarding audience gaze. The different types of communication apprehension, and ways to address them, is something I spend the first full day (3 hours) discussing in my FTF classes. If you aren’t aware of public speaking’s status as something more feared than death, please watch this funny but informative video from CBS news: https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/facing-fear-public-speaking-improv-city-21565437
So, how would I address the potential shortcoming of not practicing eye contact and controlling gaze-induced anxiety? I would do the same thing one of my instructors at UAF did when I took a fully-online Business Training class. You record a video of you speaking, but there must be at least 5 other people in the room serving as the audience at the time. That also deters students from doing 50 takes until they get their speech perfect. You never know when your boss will call on you with short notice to talk about a project in front of new employees or investors. If you are truly trying to become a better presenter in the professional realm, you have to be prepared for a live audience.